Planet Terror pays gleeful tribute to B zombie movies

Planet Terror pays gleeful tribute to B zombie movies

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: World War Z inspires five nights of the living dead.

Planet Terror (2007)
Grindhouse may be better remembered for the films that weren’t in it—the fake trailers complementing its 1970s double-feature gimmick—than for the films that actually were. As for the features themselves, the lions’ share of attention went to Quentin Tarantino’s stripped-down stunt thriller Death Proof, instead of the enormously entertaining Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez’s delightful paean to B zombie movies. 

Like the rest of Grindhouse, Planet Terror nails the over-the-top, low-budget aesthetic of the 1970s exploitation films Rodriguez and Tarantino grew up watching. Besides the damaged-print look of the film—which was shot on digital, masquerading as beat-up celluloid—and a “missing reel” that replaces the most predictable part of the narrative, Planet Terror works like hell to evoke its bleak, rural Texan setting, and is packed with gore and hammy punchlines.

The characters are delightfully broad caricatures, most notably Rose McGowan’s stoic go-go dancer with a heart of gold, and Bruce Willis’ smirking Army lieutenant. Willis is just one of several human antagonists supporting the lumbering hordes of zombies (created by a government chemical agent called “Project Terror”). The other heavies include an evil doctor (Josh Brolin), a testicle-obsessed scientist (Naveen Andrews), and two soldiers (Tarantino and Greg Kelly) who plan to rape McGowan. The attempted sexual assault ends with McGowan planting a stake in Tarantino’s eye (arguably the most graphic scene in a film with multiple castrations); it’s a moment indicative of Planet Terror’s fascinating undercurrent of female action-heroine empowerment.

Besides the staking and castrations, Planet Terror features everything from mass zombie decapitation by helicopter to graphic surgery. And, in the most memorable aspect of the film, McGowan’s leg is torn off and replaced first with the wooden stake she uses to stab her would-be rapist, then an M4 Carbine with a grenade launcher attached, which she can somehow fire at will. Planet Terror takes routine gore and zombie action so over the top it’s hard not to be infected with Rodriguez’s enthusiasm. 

Availability: There are several DVD and Blu-ray editions, some of them featuring just Planet Terror, others the whole Grindhouse package. The film can also be rented or purchased from the major digital providers and obtained through Netflix’s disc delivery service.

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