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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

PLANET TERROR (article first published : 2008-04-7)

Originally released in the US, to lacklustre success, as part of a double-bill called Grindhouse – which also featured the recently released single film, Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s nod to 70s trash cinema - Planet Terror is an in-your-face homage to cheap, tacky, action-horror flicks of the same period. We’re talking films which exploited gore, sleaze and frantic action.

If the thought of all that, has you considering not reading further, this film is certainly not for you.

However, accept it for the lovingly tongue-in-cheek exploitation-movie send-up that it is, and writer-director Robert Rodriguez’s flashy horror emerges as quite the giddy rollercoaster ride.

It’s truly a guilty pleasure – but provided you can stand the heavy gore element, which includes such shockers as a man’s testicle being tossed into a road after being removed with a nasty looking knife; a bloke having a stake driven through his eye; and a doctor having pus spatter over, then drip from, his spectacles while examining the abscess-covered tongue of a man whose flesh bubbles and blisters during the consultation. Eeuwh!

Even before the film starts, Rodriguez turns his tongue to his cheek. He presents a variation of one of those “Forthcoming Attractions” trailers of yesteryear which, with its faded and jumpy old-print feel, leads into a fake trailer for Machete, a fictitious movie about an unsmiling killer with a gazillion machetes in the lining of his coat. A spot-on mickey-take.

We then go into Planet Terror and Rodriguez goes to great pains to recreate the feel of seedy 70s schlock. He opts for severely scratched print (here all digitally added). We get jumping film revealing sprockets, sound wobbles, an instance of slow-burning film. There’s even a whole, intentional missing reel moment –a heated love scene suddenly giving way to a building on fire. Very amusing.

It’s very much like watching a battered print on a screen in an old, run-down, smoke-filled cinema, much like those Durbs bio cafes of my youth. Hands up those who recall the long-gone Capri, Oxford and Roxy which ran weekly double-features throughout the day and night!

Planet Terror's plot is very much D-grade zombie horror meets action frenzy, the living dead arriving after an experimental bio-weapon is released. Our core couple is sexy go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) and her broody former love, El Wray (Six Feet Under’s Freddy Rodriguez), who find themselves on the run from grotesque, flesh-eating zombies.

Also hurled into the mix are Josh Brolin as a doctor ticked off with his wife, Michael Biehn as a sheriff, Lost star Naveen Andrews as a posh-voiced scientist and Jeff Fahey as a dirty diner chef obsessed with making the best barbecue sauce in Texas. Seasoned actor Michael Parks and Sin City's Marley Shelton also feature, while singer Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson has a cameo as a piece of “road kill” and Bruce Willis appears as a gas mask-wearing military man with a secret. Other casting includes Rodriguez’s estage agent, Skip Reissig, as a tough strip-club owner, and Rodriguez's family doctor, Felix Sabates, as a doctor.

Expect outrageous nonsense and constant surprises – scenes ranging from a woman with a machine gun where her severed leg should be, to Quentin Tarantino as a rapist soldier whose family jewels literally start to drop off – and fans tuned into the experience will be rewarded with lots to grin and grimace about. Rating 7/10 - Billy Suter




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