a critiQal film review Planet Terror (2007)

Plot: A doctor (Brolin) finds his graveyard shift inundated with townspeople ravaged by sores. Among the wounded is Cherry (McGowan), a dancer whose leg was ripped from her body. As the invalids quickly become enraged aggressors, Cherry and her ex-boyfriend Wray (Rodriguez) lead a team of accidental warriors into the night.

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After missing Grindhouse in theaters, we had to wait to see the latest Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino films separately on DVD. Missing the zany previews that were mixed in between the two films when they made their run together in theaters, we checked out Death Proof (2007) recently, and enjoyed it’s mix of horror and comedy. Now, Planet Terror has hit DVD, and we couldn’t wait to see if this second half of the Grindhouse was as good as the first.

With Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez gives his new fling (and former “Charmed” (TV) star) Rose McGowan the limelight. While she isn’t on a par with some of her co-stars (Bruce Willis among them), she does do a pretty good of making her way through the movie, thanks in part to help from her co-star Freddy Rodriguez. The two work well together, and, despite some incredibly cheesy dialogue, help entice the viewers into sticking around to watch the film.

With the back story of Rose and director Rodriguez’s romance making all the buzz lately, it’s tough to watch Planet Terror without thinking about it. Given that background, the viewer feels a little uneasy with the opening sequence involving Rose in her stripper guise. It seems more like something one would see in a home movie than something that ties in with the storyline.

However, that uneasy sequence helps put the viewer a bit on edge, and gives the viewer the first taste of the grittiness of Planet Terror. That slightly dirty feel of the movie continues throughout, and the grainy look of the film just helps add to that. This film, much more than Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007) revels in the less positive aspects of old horror flicks. It’s dirty, it’s disgusting, and the viewer feels in need of a shower by the time it’s through.

The plot, like a lot of cheesy horror flicks, is a bit out there. Some sort of toxin seeps into the town and normal folk get infected, die, and come back as raging zombies with bad complexions in short order. Suddenly, the heroes are facing throngs of the undead, and some of the faces they see are loved ones gone bad. Typical, done a million times, and dripping with cheese by this point. But, Rodriguez is counting on that cheese factor, and loves every second of it. It’s typical bad horror movie – and that’s exactly what it’s aiming for. While most horror films aim for something original and terrifying, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror revels in the campiness of itself, and invites the viewer to bask in it’s ridiculous plot and incredibly bad dialogue.

That’s tough for a filmmaker to accomplish, as most films that aim for bad film-making (the Scary Movie series, etc.) aim for as low-brow as they can go, and end up looking just plain stupid. With Planet Terror, however, Rodriguez is able to again show he knows exactly what he’s doing, and his film is able to walk that extremely thin line between homage to bad horror films and a just plain awful film.

The special effects help to further the grotesqueness the film is trying to showcase. With pus-filled blisters bursting left and right, and damage from firearms and other weapons seen up close and personal, the special effects people had their hands full coming up with enough realistic blood and grisly gore for this film. Toss in Rose McGowan missing a leg for most of the film and filling the space up with everything from a stick of wood to an automatic weapon, and having it look as if it’s actually attached to Rose in place of her leg, and the special effects crew seems overloaded. Thankfully, however, despite all the work needed to be done to bring the effects of Planet Terror to the screen, they seemed to double-check every detail, and produced some flawless, if a bit gore-soaked, special effects.

While Planet Terror isn’t really that good taken at face-value, it’s brilliant homage to B movies of the past make it worth a look. Just don’t eat first: this gore-packed terror fest isn’t easy on the stomach.

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