Madhouse: “Grindhouse” is wonderfully absurd

Ridiculous. It’s the first word that comes to mind as I leave the theater with a goofy grin and my chest hurting from laughing for more than three hours straight. The airwaves are clogged with celebrities gushing about how much fun they had making their new movie, but in the case of “Grindhouse” I’m inclined to believe them. How could you not have a good time running around as archetypes of horror with your tongues so in cheek a hot go-go dancer winds up with a missile-launching machine gun for a leg? Zombies, car crashes, scantily clad girls with guns, and a level of amazing fan service you wouldn’t think possible makes “Grindhouse” the most fun you’ll have in theaters for months and months to come.

Watching the comically absurd movie trailers interspersed between the two films, Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” you can’t help but imagine the night the two directors came up with the idea for the movie: too much tequila on Halloween night and a movie marathon of slasher and sci-fi flicks from decades ago leads into the all-too-familiar Tarantino style discussion on the nature of horror and what makes people enjoy the films so much. But unlike Tarantino’s other films, the long-winded speech about why the girls can’t kill the masked psychopath doesn’t occur. Instead, the two movies overplay the major themes and subplots of all basic horror films to the point that the audience can’t help but recognize them and come out of the theater like a mob of Mr. Pinks.

The films themselves do all they can to draw attention to the genre and the old feel of the Grindhouse itself, a dilapidated theater that would run double bills of B-movies. Whether it’s through missing reels, film discoloration, or fluctuating sound quality, the two movies have been stylized to hearken back to the old days. The techniques are not, however, merely an homage to the basis for the films, but enhance certain scenes with intensity or draw a sharp commentary on how plots are constructed.

“Planet Terror,” Rodriguez’s film, is a zombie flick about a go-go dancer named Cherry Darling and her former lover El Ray as their small town in Texas becomes saturated by walking corpses and gooey looking monsters. The plot concerns a wide range of characters and shows how the small band of survivors find each other and rally to escape the horror. The action is on full tilt as Rodriguez asks a question NRA lobbyists dream about, how will we defend ourselves from an uprising of the living dead unless everyone is allowed to own multiple guns and automatic weapons? From shotgun toting babysitters to boyfriends with sniper rifles, the pace of the movie never slows down and never lets the audience catch its breath.

“Death Proof” is Tarantino’s take on the slasher genre where the killer uses a car instead of a knife to take out his victims. The film oozes sex and female empowerment as the characters build suspense and thwart danger. While there is Tarantino’s signature use of music, jukeboxes, and interruption-based dialogue, the feel of the movie as a whole is not as clean or polished as “Reservoir Dogs” or his other films.

“Grindhouse” is perfect as the centerpiece of a great night out with friends. After a quick dinner and maybe a stop at a bar, head over to the movies, and walk out babbling to each other for hours like the overzealous film geeks Tarantino wishes we all were.

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