Saturday, October 10, 2015

24 Hours: Planet Terror

On a fateful Friday night and Saturday in May of 2013, I went to four movies in just over twenty-four hours and managed to squeeze in a workout too boot. As fate would have it, I've embarked on a similar quest of cinematic, muscular pumping, junk food eating, booze swilling adventure as today I randomly woke up at 3:47 AM feeling fresh and terrific. Perusing Facebook I noticed that Friday night was The New Beverly's From Dusk Til Dawn marathon screening all three films plus Grindhouse: Planet Terror in 35mm from owner Quentin Tarantino's personal collection. I figured I had nothing else to do, hopped in the car, braved no traffic, passed Danny Trejo's under construction taco joint and arrived in West Hollywood just before 5:00 AM. From Dusk Til Dawn 3: Hangman's Daughter was barely a third of the way in so I plopped down to check out two-thirds of a flick I've never seen. To refresh, Dusk was a collaboration between F/X wizard Robert Kurtzman and writer/directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Released in 1996, the film is notable for being half a heist movie and half a vampire horror masterpiece. It was also George Clooney's first starring role after breaking out on hit TV show, ER. Suffice to say, the moody, funny, sexy and gory thriller has long been one of my favorite films and provided me with one of my life mottos: "I may be a bastard but I'm not a fucking bastard."

Part 3 takes us back to the beginning as the pre-Titty Twister serves as an outpost in wild west style Mexico 100 years ago. We witness the origin of Santanico Pandemonium (played by Salma Hayek in Dusk and Ara Celi here), future vampire queen of the joint. I missed both direct to video sequels back in 1999 but was impressed at how good it looked on the big screen. With an estimated $5 million dollar budget, the costumes, sets, gore and mayhem all still hold up between a few cheap looking F/X shots. A few familiar faces pop up like Michael Parks, Rebecca Gayheart, Danny Trejo and Orlando Jones while Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero's KNB EFX Group takes care of severed limbs, fake blood, beheading vampires and slashed throats galore. I'll have to go back and check out both sequels now and relive the glorious Direct to Video 90's. Right after the credits, Planet Terror started up with fake trailer turned real movie, complete with sequel, Machete starring recurring theme of the night, Danny Trejo! Then it was time for the main event. I saw Grindhouse in it's entirety in 2007 and absolutely adored Robert Rodriguez's John Carpenter style zombie flick Planet Terror while utterly despising Tarantino's talky Death Proof (it's grown on me, great car chases, Kurt Russell for life). A costly flop at the box office that allegedly rattled Tarantino's confidence, I've rarely seen it screened around Los Angeles. It recently played at Hollywood Forever during Cinespia but I loathe the crowded and crappy experience that is their outdoor events.

Opening on a dark and scary night in an unnamed town, we meet various military, science and shady business types (played by Bruce Willis and Naveen Andrews among others) as they discuss "the shit" before tanks of green, toxic gas get exploded and sent into the air. From here, anyone who comes into contact with the green shit mist starts to decompose and violently attack the uninfected. We meet a motley crew of townsfolk from the local strip club, police department, soon to be award winning BBQ joint and hospital that includes Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton, Josh Brolin, Rose McGowan, Jeff Fahey, Tom Savini and mother fucking MICHAEL BIEHN. Yes, folks, the main reason I went to see a movie at 5:30 in the morning on a Saturday was to see The Biehn up on the big screen. Rodriguez gives him a terrific entrance as Sheriff Hague with a moving hero shot showing the badass leader and his ample crew. From there it's pus filled, bone breaking, shovel smashing, finger biting, car exploding, machine gun leg, dick melting, helicopter chopping, pocket bike racing mayhem at it's finest with a terrific synth score inspired by Carpenter work from the 80's. The film still plays great with it's awesome cast, gross out f/x and throwback movie vibe that comes with fake scratches, poor color timing and missing reels.

Watching the film and knowing it was made more or less in Robert Rodriguez's backyard in Austin, Texas was inspiring as it was disappointing. As the film was an experiment and a pretty solid value, $50 million for two films featuring loads of movie stars and could have been the return of something really cool in Hollywood, a night out at the movies with something for hopefully every genre fan. Instead of being a modern throwback to star studded affairs like The Great Escape how Ocean's 11 was, Grindhouse sadly did not find it's audience. Everyone involved does a terrific job, it looks fantastic and you get all kinds of bang for your buck. Plus it was arguably Biehn's last meaty role in a decent sized movie. Here's hoping Aliens II remedies that in the next couple of years. Two more movies on deck for the day, pass the coffee and doughnuts!

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