‘Grindhouse’ pairs satire with horror

Ben Raymond

“Grindhouse” is just plain wrong. It’s sleazy and degenerate, an amoral ode to depravity. It’s drenched in blood and swathed in filth. It’s grimy, ignoble and chock-full of sin. Bring holy water, and it’ll boil.

From directors Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”) comes the most explosive, over-the-top film of the year. And what a ride it is.

The movie is fashioned and titled after the back-to-back exploitation films that played in the shoddy drive-ins of the ’70s and ’80s. Both satirizing and venerating this archetype, the film is a half-parody, half-celebration of the discarded subgenre.

The first film of the double-feature is Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror,” a down and dirty zombie flick packed to the brim with cleavage, severed limbs and naughty bits. The plot is about as funny as it gets. Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), a retired stripper and promising stand-up comedian, is torn out of a tow truck by a pack of flesh-eating zombies who tear off her right leg before her boyfriend, the deadly El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), is able to rescue her.

Her dreams crushed and her leg missing, she must hack her way through the zombies to escape. Now that’s creative!

“Planet Terror” is more amusing than anything else. I expected to have fun, and I did. The violence is absolutely absurd, really a sight to behold. Heads explode, torsos are ripped apart and throats are slashed in glorious, arterial fountains. Rodriguez uses a full arsenal of bloody pomp and circumstance to achieve his gruesome aim. No chance is wasted to slash, disembowel or scythe off a limb. And it makes for a great time at the movies.

The filmmakers do a fantastic job of capturing the grind house atmosphere. The film is grainy and soiled, dotted purposefully with scratchy imperfections. “Missing Reel” inserts are played strategically. Classic parental cautions and content warnings before each movie add a charming tackiness to the experience.

After nearly 90 minutes of cheap voyeurism and viscera, audiences are treated to a short intermission. But, please, don’t get up. A special surprise awaits: three fake grind house trailers, each as ridiculous as the next. First, Edgar Wright’s “Don’t,” a clever mockery of the horror trailers of yesteryear, followed by Eli Roth’s farcically-titled “Halloween” parody, “Thanksgiving.”

The last trailer, from gore-happy maverick Rob Zombie, is the most absurd of them all. “Werewolf Women of the SS” is the story of a Nazi scientist who transforms a squad of half-naked, anti-Semitic hookers into a lethal army of werewolves bred to conquer Europe for the Third Reich. Wow.

Then rolls the grand finale; Tarantino’s car chase actioner, “Death Proof.” A pulse-pounding, pedal-to-the-metal drag race from start to finish, it accelerates past the tired thrills and spills of other chase epics, smashing headlong through an exhausted genre.

Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a jaded ex-stuntman turned homicidal psychotic who seduces young, well-endowed women into his “death proof” muscle car only to purposefully crash full-speed in a spectacular, mangled mess of wreckage and gore. But he meets his match after terrorizing a group of thrill-seeking stuntwomen (Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms) who turn the tables and chase him down.

The chase sequence in “Death Proof” is nearly 20 minutes of the most eye-popping, jaw-dropping action imaginable. Everything is authentic: real cars, real crashes and real danger. No shortcuts. Steel behemoths collide at blistering speed, careening down the asphalt, melding together into a twisted, sparking heap of flames and shrapnel.

The authenticity of the action is positively extraordinary. Everything (and I mean everything) is real, unpolluted by camera tricks or CGI. The woman you see on the hood of the car going 80 mph, holding on for dear life as she is sideswiped and rammed by another car … she’s real. That’s “Kill Bill” stuntwoman Bell, my hero of the month. It would be a great discredit to explain just how nuts this woman is. So, I won’t try. Suffice it to say, this woman has huge balls. I feel emasculated.

“Death Proof” is an exhilarating, high-octane jamboree that’s impossible to forget. And all the credit goes to Tarantino. Few can match the potency and sheer excitement of his films. He is not only a master of direction but also of knowing what he wants and having the balls to do it. He wants a sexy, no-excuses chase flick; he makes it. Not many possess such renegade creative license. From “Pulp Fiction” to “Death Proof,” Tarantino is well-entrenched as one of cinema’s finest working directors.

Simply put, “Grindhouse” is a blast. It’s stylish, fun and unadulterated. A retrospective homage to the shameless cinema of B-movies past, it’s a modern take on the timelessness of trash.