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Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" was released in the U.S.A. with Quentin Tarantino's "Deathproof" under the double feature banner "Grindhouse," which refers to the movie theaters of the 60s and 70s which served up back-to-back exploitation flicks. The filmmaker buddies have replicated the raw, unpolished look and feel of those old B movies in order to reproduce the viewing atmosphere of a different era and genre. Trailers for fake B movies, scratchy film, missing frames, and missing reels enhance the experience.
With its loner protagonists, hammy dialogue and over-the-top gory violence, "Planet Terror" is an homage to the trashy zombie films of yesteryear. It's set in a small town in Texas where a biological agent has begun infecting humans, first making their skin bubble and then rendering them flesh-eating creatures of the night. Rose McGowan plays Cherry Darling a go-go dancer who looks like a 50s starlet. Together with her ex, El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), who's quite agile with a pair of knives, they defend the uninfected against the onslaught of the killer zombies. When Cherry loses her leg, El Wray eventually replaces it with a machine gun. The climactic scene has our hot mama sailing through the air and wasting zombies with a hail of bullets and missiles spewing from her machine gun leg. The scene is frivolous and sexy and fun all-in-one.
"Planet Terror" is indeed as preposterous and perverse as the films it imitates. Humans get eaten alive. Heads get blow up. Zombies explode like packs of jelly. It's more cartoonish than gruesome. And when it works, as in that climactic scene, it's wildly entertaining. McGowan is perfect in the role of the icy super heroine. There are cameos by Tarantino and Bruce Willis, although Tarantino's monologue is painful to watch because you are never quite sure whether his bad acting is intentional or just chronic. He's not without self-deprecation, however, as his soliloquy ends with a vividly tasteless emasculation scene. I didn't love "Planet Terror." But as a romp down the memory lane of low-brow B movies, it does have a strange and curious appeal.