Remember Grindhouse? Essentially Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s celebration of the sleazy exploitation double-bills of the 1970s, each director crafting their own segment before sandwiching the two together as one film. And it looked good. That was until it underperformed spectacularly at the box office. Reports of people leaving dazed and confused after the first half or complaining about picture quality flooded America come its release, all this leading to Planet Terror and Death Proof being released (sans trailers) separately on these shores. That is until Saturday 8th March 2008, where I was lucky enough to be one of 200 people at the Prince Charles Cinema, tucked away in one of the quieter corners of Leicester Square, watching the English premiere of Grindhouse. And what a night it was.
The preceedings were kicked off by a famous face; Edgar Wright, the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Funny, charismatic and pleasingly enthusiastic about his subject matter, I could not think of a more perfect host for the event- as, after all, weren’t the aforementioned Brit-flicks similar to Grindhouse in their celebration of beloved genres? After a brief but fascinating speech recounting the background of the film and the general ethos behind it, Wright shyly stepped aside and allowed the film to take centre stage.
The first segment is Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, which focuses on a group of scientists and knife-wielding civilians fighting off hordes of the undead. Oh, and a stripper with a freakin’ gun as a leg. Out of the two, this was the better crowd-pleaser, the excitable audience baited along by frantic pacing, ridiculously exaggerated gore and a bearded, Bin Laden-hunting Bruce Willis. Exciting, silly and featuring a so-bad-its-good mugging cameo from Mr. Tarantino, Planet Terror is, simply put, stupidly fun.
However, it wasn’t my highlight of the evening, as this was to come in the middle of the screening. Grindhouse contains several “fake” trailers, directed by Rodriguez, Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright himself. These are utterly, utterly brilliant, and constitute some of the most uproarious moments I’ve ever had in a cinema. Best of all is Zombie’s offering, Werewolf Women of the SS, which delights in featuring half-naked Nazi crooners and random shots of werewolves firing machine guns into the air. But nothing prepares you for the sight of Nic Cage playing Fu bloody Manchu, inexplicably assisting the Nazis, screaming “this is my Mecca!” before laughing manically. Actually, this is probably Cage’s most subtle and nuanced performance, as anyone who has seen Ghost Rider will testify…
Soon enough the audience had calmed down and settled into Tarantino’s Death Proof, which, I should add, is considerably more serene than its preceding feature. Detailing the exploits of Kurt Russell’s brilliant Stuntman Mike, a man who enjoys shoving women into his “death-proof” car and killing them for a laugh, the film doesn’t fare as well when shown adjacent to its punchier counterpart. It’s not that it’s the weaker of the two, it’s just its slower, rambling pace didn’t sit as well, despite the fact it is probably truer to its pulpier origins than Planet Terror. At least it’s not as bloated as its uncut, 2-hour incarnation which devotes 20 minutes to a scene about Kurt Russell touching women’s feet. I wish I was joking.
But even Death Proof is saved by an utterly wonderful finale chase scene, and all in all this was one of the best nights of my life. Edgar Wright quietly closed the ceremony with a few words and a promise that Grindhouse will soon reach cinemas nationwide, and as I stumbled out of the cinema into the London rain I reflected that that was exactly the way the film was meant to be shown; in a seedy cinema populated entirely by film geeks who would pick up every reference to Apple Cigarettes and foot massages- people who were in on the big joke. It wasn’t about the films or the trailers- it was about the experience. The Grindhouse Experience.