Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog



8 out of 10

When I was stationed in Orlando going through Nuclear Power School, just off base there was a drive in, called the Colonial I think, that used to show triple features every weekend. Three movies, one B-grade and two D or worse grade movies (Anyone see Star Crash, starring David Hasselhoff, mercifully hiding his face in a gold mask for 90% of the movie? I have. ), all for $8 a carload. At the time, I was driving a 1970 Cadillac DeVille convertible, and we would load up 4 couples and spend the evening at the movies. $8 to get in, and $20 or so for concessions made for a very inexpensive evening out, which worked out well for us, since we sure weren't getting paid much during training. I remember one particular evening, the three movies all featured the same scene, and I don't mean that they were written similarly, I mean the exact same footage was used in all three movies. We were surprised when we saw the scene the second time, in a completely different movie, but not as surprised as when it came up a third time.

Then again, we only paid $8 for three movies.

You also have to remember that when you went to a drive in, you didn't always see much of the movie. Drive ins were social places, where you went to see and be seen, or not seen for the lucky ones who actually had dates. (Don't worry, I'll get to Grindhouse in a minute. Just setting the stage, so to speak.) Movies tailored for the drive-in/grindhouse crowd had to be short on plot and long on action so distracted viewers could pick up the threads of the story whenever an explosion or particularly gruesome mutilation interrupted their, err, social activities.

When I was stationed in Great Lakes for boot camp and 'A' School, a bunch of us would take the train in to Chicago on the weekends, and hang out downtown, checking things out. One particular evening, we went to see a movie and saw Avenging Angel. (Law student by day, hooker by night.) The theater was somewhere near downtown, and was the first and only true grindhouse I'd ever been in. The crowd was in to the movie in a big way, yelling at the screen, talking to the characters, and swallowing the most unbelievable plot contrivances because it was fun. Nobody cared if it made sense or not.

Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have brought that sensibility back to the movies with Grindhouse, a big, dumb, loud movie with no socially redeeming graces, and it is about time somebody did it! For anyone who has missed the $30 million dollar marketing blitz from the Weinstein brothers, Grindhouse is an homage to those cheaply produced drive in movies of the 70s and 80s where production values and plot continuity were considered secondary to explosions, blood, gore, and of course, bare breasts. They're the kind of movies Joe Bob Briggs would love, and in Grindhouse, we get two of them crammed into just over three hours of entertainment, along with some phony trailers of movies that are just begging to be made.

The first and best of the two features is Planet Terror, an over the top zombie flick that manages to include nearly every B-movie cliche from the hero loner with the secret past to the psychotic doctor to the stripper, pardon me, go go dancer, with the heart of gold.

Oh yeah, and some damn good barbecue.

The second feature, Death Proof, about a psycho stuntman who kills pretty ladies with his car, isn't quite as good, and tends to drag in spots. For a splatter flick, there's an awful lot of scenes of people sitting around and talking. I have a feeling Tarantino did this on purpose though, because B movies often had to pad the movie to get to an acceptable length for the distributer and it's a heck of a lot cheaper to film dialog than action sequences. If a movie was running short on time, and the budget was gone, the director could write a talky scene or two to get to the magic 90 minutes or so.

Both films are artificially aged, with scratches, smudges, and so on, which can be distracting for the new viewer who isn't used to how bad old movie theaters used to be. I have a feeling this may be off putting for many audiences, and I'm certain it will negatively impact DVD sales. After all, who wants to buy a crappy looking movie after spending a couple of grand on an HDTV? It's the visual equivalent of playing a vinyl LP to an audience who've only heard CDs.

I haven't said much about the plots, mainly because there's not that much to say. Movies like this aren't about plot, or character, or CGI effects, or anything like what we've become used to seeing. Instead, they are about provoking a visceral reaction in the audience. I'm not talking about an emotional reaction, but almost a pre-emotional reaction. We're not invested in the characters; they barely exist except as a vehicle for mayhem and maulings. In most movies, this would be a flaw; in these movies, it's a feature. We're not rooting for the humans to win out over the sickos because the humans are the good guys, we just want to see a pretty lady with a gun for a leg lay waste to the zombie horde.

If you go into Grindouse with the attitude that you're going to see a triple feature at a drive in, you'll have a blast. If you're looking for Pulp Fiction, or Sin City, you'll hate it.

I liked it.
Posted by Rich
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