Monday, August 22, 2011

'Planet Terror' is worth landing on

Planet Terror (2007)
Starring: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin, and Jeff Fahey
Director: Robert Rodriquez
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

"Planet Terror" is a sci-fi/horror flick starring Rose McGowan as a tragic stripper, Freddy Rodriguez as a bad-boy tow-truck driver with a mysterious past, and Bruce Willis as a Army lieutenant with a dark addiction that results in a chemical that transforms those exposed into flesh-eating, pusstule-festooned zombies. McGowan and Rodriquez join with other survivors in fighting their way to safety.

The best part of "Planet Terror" is its very John Carpenter-esque musical score and its subplots involving a psychotic doctor (chillingly portrayed by Josh Brolin) and his unfaithful wife, and that surrounding the town sheriff and his BBQ-cooking brother. Unfortunately, these subplots swirl around in the general chaos that is the flow (or rather complete lack thereof) that makes up "Planet Terror" and just as they get going, we go back to the main story of puss-filled zombie fights. The film also serves nicely as a send-up of over-the-top action movies, but it drives this aspect so far into the ground and is so heavy-handed about it that the hilarity gives way to tedium by the time the film is over. It's a nice effort, but it barely clears that bar of average. (And it doesn't help matters that the director chose to intentionally leave out a chunk of the movie to recreate the atmosphere of a cheap movie theater.)

The actors are good all around, with Rodriquez, Willis, Brolin, and Jeff Fahey (as J.T., master Texas BBQ chef and zombie killer) being particularly noteworthy. The true star of this film, though, is the Carpenter-pastiche soundtrack. It is what truly gives the film its 1980s horror flick air.


  1. I like this one too. It's got some wonderful atmosphere. The actors all seem to be in on the joke and that's fun, but it does undermine the scary feeling the movie might be able to evoke. If you don't care about the people, you don't get scared for them, and in this one as much fun as I was having watching it, I never ever got scared.

    It's way much more interesting than its companion Death Proof, which gets downright tedious.

    Rip Off

  2. I’m glad you liked Planet Terror, Steve, despite your minor quibbles with its perceived flaws.

    I saw Planet Terror the first time in the best way possible: In the theater with a group of like-minded fans in its original form as the Grindhouse film. When you watch Grindhouse with its trailers, grainy-scratched film stock and all, it really reproduces the feeling that you might have gotten watching a horror or Blaxploitation film in some grimy theater on 42nd St. in the seventies. I have also watched the extended cuts of both Planet Terror and Death Proof. Oddly, Death Proof benefits more from the extended footage, as the plot is more reliant on characterization than Planet Terror.

    Purportedly, Robert Rodriguez first came up with the idea for Planet Terror while making The Faculty, which is a sci-fi horror film clearly influenced by the cheap sci-fi films of Rodger Corman. Rodriguez’ From Dusk ‘til Dawn – not-coincidently scripted by Quentin Tarantino – is an obvious homage to the exploitation cinema of the 70’s. I agree that the violent action sequences of Planet Terror do go on longer than perhaps is absolutely necessary, but it is consistent with the tenor of the films Rodriguez is trying to emulate. As for whether Planet Terror offers any real emotional gravitas, I cite the sequence in the dinner: Jeff Fahey as J.T Hague and Michael Biehn as his brother Sheriff Hague, where J. T. shares his BBQ recipe just before they blow the dinner to hell. It gives me the chills every time I watch it.

    I too admired the soundtrack music to Planet Terror. So much so that I bought the CD the day after I saw the film! I agree that the soundtrack’s music, with its heavy use of synthesizer, is similar to John Carpenter; especially since they both have a habit of writing and performing the music. However, there are many tracks that are more guitar-centric; like “Go Go, Not Cry Cry”, “Helicopter Sicko Chopper” and “Killer Legs”. I also love Rose McGowan’s vocals on "You Belong to Me" and the electro-clubby Rodriguez originals "Useless Talent #42" and "Two Against the World." The soundtrack definitely added another dimension to Planet Terror.

    Anyone interested in the history of grindhouse films should watch the documentary American Grindhouse – 2010 by director Elijah Drenner. It’s available for instant viewing on Netflix and DVD as well. It covers the full gambit of the history of the exploitation film genre and grindhouse films in particular; with clips from hundreds of films and interviews with the directors who made them or were influenced by them.