Grindhouse: 10 Years Later

Grindhouse via Troublemaker Studios
Grindhouse – 10 Years Ago
Original Grindhouse Viewing Order

Trailer (YouTube): Hobo With a Shotgun (Canada Only)
Trailer (YouTube): Machete
Film (Amazon): Planet Terror
Trailer (YouTube): Werewolf Women of the S.S.
Trailer (YouTube): Don’t
Trailer (YouTube): Thanksgiving
Film (Amazon): Death Proof

I was visiting my parents for the weekend, taking a break from the college lifestyle. I happened to be channel surfing one evening (an activity that is quickly become outdated) and I stumbled upon an episode of Ebert and Roeper. These shows always aired late at night, the time in which viewers like myself were desperate for something to watch. For whatever reason, I didn’t change the channel. Not that I disliked Ebert and Roeper, only that it wasn’t common viewing for me.

During this episode, the two critics reviewed a film called Grindhouse. I was tangentially aware of the film’s existence, mostly from trailers on television that made it look awful. The film wasn’t anything I thought twice about. But this episode of Ebert and Roeper delved a little further into the conceit of the film. First, it wasn’t just one film, it was a double feature. And it wasn’t some poorly created camp, it was an homage to films of that era. There was also a mention of fake trailers, which seemed like a novel idea. I don’t remember what the review ultimately was (I’m guessing mixed), but it sounded interesting enough to stick in my head.

Later that week, back on the college scene, I discovered that Grindhouse was playing at my favorite local theater, the Neptune. The space has since been converted into a fantastic music venue, but at the time it was a historic one theater movie house. I would use any excuse to see a film there. It had an intimate and unique space which I loved. When I saw Grindhouse was playing, I figured, let’s check this out. My good friend and fellow movie nerd joined me. What followed was completely unanticipated. Simply put, it was the single best film going experience I ever had.

Grindhouse opened with the fake trailer for Machete (which was later adapted into two feature films). It was campy, over-the-top, and downright ridiculous. The narrator nailed it. “If you’re going to hire Machete to kill the bad guy, you better make damn sure the bad guy isn’t you!” It perfectly set the tone for what was to come and I knew I was going to enjoy it.

Planet Terror, directed by Robert Rodriguez, was the first film of the double feature. The film is a zombie movie, if that zombie movie was found in a 70s Blockbuster bargain bin. The film is entertaining from start to finish. As the crowd sat and watched, we interacted with the film together. We laughed at the insanity and groaned at the eye rolling scenes. It was a roller coaster and we were all in it together.

But Planet Terror was never, “Wow this is so terrible, why did someone make this?” The film wasn’t poorly created. It was bad on purpose. The film “got it” and so did the audience. Planet Terror didn’t take itself too seriously. It was camp with intention. You could see it was a labor of love. A love letter to horror films of times gone by.

As the credits to Planet Terror began to roll, I was already exhausted. I couldn’t believe how great this movie experience had been. And there was still another film to go!

But before the second film began there was another string of fake trailers (and an intermission of course). Werewolf Women of the S.S. by Rob Zombie, Don’t by Edgar Wright, and Thanksgiving by Eli Roth. The trio of trailers served as a great breather, but each were entertaining and hilarious in their own right.

Then there was Death Proof. The film is Quentin Tarantino’s take on the slasher genre. Unlike Planet Terror, which is intentionally bad, Death Proof is very much pure Tarantino. There are the classic long strings of suspenseful dialogue with quick bursts of action. The film itself is structurally unique, in that it basically resets halfway through. It is definitely slower than Planet Terror, but the ending car chase more than makes up for any lull in action.

When the final credits began to roll, I felt a sense of disbelief over what I had just seen. I was not alone. I don’t think anyone expected to have such an entertaining and unifying film experience. It was late for a weeknight, but my friend and I were so amped up we needed a debriefing session. We couldn’t just end the night without recapping what we just saw.

We walked over to a late night coffee shop and went through the films all over again. “I couldn’t believe they did that!” “The kid in the car!” “Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage, Kurt Russel!” We couldn’t stop talking about how much fun we had watching a movie. It felt like we were kids again, incessantly talking about our favorite parts of a movie. It was a film experience I have only had once and doubt I’ll have again.

Grindhouse – 10 Years Later

The legacy of Grindhouse has never really lived up to my film going experience. And looking back on it, that doesn’t really surprise me. Grindhouse was very much created to be viewed in a theater, surrounded by like-minded people. That experience is hard to replicate now for a variety of reasons.

Grindhouse was a flop. Many people point to poor marketing, which is definitely a contributing factor, but the target market is also incredibly niche. How many people out there are looking for a double feature homage to low-budget exploitation films? Even if the film was marketed properly, it would have still been relegated to “cult classic” at best.

The eventual home release didn’t do the film any favors either. In an attempt to increase sales, the film was split into its individual parts and all but one fake trailer (Machete) disappeared. I understand there were issues with directors owning rights to their individual trailers, but it’s a real shame they couldn’t make it work. The trailers worked as the perfect framing device that really tied the whole experience together. A definitive release is what is missing to appreciate Grindhouse today. And really, I don’t think there is a market for one.

Outside of a definitive release, I believe the films have faced more criticism than deserved. Instead of viewing Planet Terror and Death Proof as parts of a greater whole, they are poked and prodded at individually. Do they have faults? Sure. But they weren’t meant to be works of art, they were meant to be exploitation films. You are meant to enjoy them for what they are, not critique them on film merits. I think that has become somewhat lost in the years since its release.

Unfortunately, it is near impossible to recreate the theatrical Grindhouse experience from 10 years ago. I feel lucky enough to have caught lightning in a bottle. Through a series of coincidences, I managed to see it in the theater, as it was meant to be seen. It’s something I’ll never forget.

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