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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Grindhouse (Blu-ray)
Grindhouse (Blu-ray)
Vivendi Entertainment // R // October 5, 2010 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 27, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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I'm not
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really looking for the authentic grindhouse experience. I mean, I would've had to hop into my Wayback Machine, head all the way over to a part of town that looks like something out of a Mad Max sequel just to squirm around in a ratty seat for a few hours straight, and...y'know, I'm starting to think that sticky stuff on the floor isn't a spilled cup of Sprite after all. There were plenty of amazing exploitation flicks out there on the circuit, sure, but a lot of the other movies making the rounds didn't come close to living up to their lurid posters and infectious taglines, so I'd be stuck twiddling my thumbs for another twenty minutes waiting for a catfight or a machete to start swinging.

Grindhouse doesn't set out to be an authentic recreation of what it was like to catch a double feature on 42nd St. in 1982; it's better. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have put together an idealized version of that experience. Okay, okay, the only shameless nudity is in the trailers, but other than that...? Hordes of zombies. Barrel drums of splatter. A glorified stripper writhing around for a couple minutes straight. A machine gun pegleg. Helicopters. Explosions. Epic car chases. Dismemberment. Werewolves. Nazis. Grandma's head has been lopped off, what's left has been roasting in the oven for the past few hours, and a meat thermometer's crammed up her ass. All I do is sit around and watch movies, and I can honestly say that the greatest cinematic experience I've ever had is catching Grindhouse on opening night. It felt as if Tarantino and Rodriguez had put together this fifty-however-many million dollar homage to sticky exploitation cinema expressly for me, and...well, looking at the box office receipts, it looks like they might as well have. Maybe that's why it took three and a half years for the theatrical cut of Grindhouse to finally make its way to home video on these shores. At least Vivendi and The Weinstein Company did just about everything they could to make this two-disc Blu-ray set worth the wait.

In case you weren't copied on that memo, Grindhouse is a double feature, serving up the splattery zombie homage Planet Terror and the slasher-flick-at-200-MPH Death Proof. A few trailers for exploitation flicks that don't exist -- but you really wish they did -- have been tossed on as well, directed by the likes of Edgar Wright, Eli Roth, and Rob Zombie. Also scattered around in here are rated-R bumpers and coming attractions tags to really sell the verisimilitude of this whole thing.


Planet Terror
Robert Rodriguez' half of the Grindhouse experiment took a little Lucio Fulci, a fist-sized chunk of early John Carpenter, and two scoops of Nightmare City, shoved 'em all into a blender with a couple gallons of Red Bull, and mashed down the "Purée" button until Planet Terror oozed out. This is the most hyperkinetic, cacklingly brilliant schlock-horror homage this side of Slither and a huge part of the reason why I fell so hard, so quickly for Grindhouse.

So, in the first few minutes of Planet Terror, you're lookin' at Rose McGowan writhing around in leather
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skivvies on the main stage and Bruce Willis muttering "where...is...the...shit?" while a few hundred thousand bullets and a jarful of testicles splatter across the screen. Who needs some extended run through the plot? That's the hook right there. Oh, and for anyone playing along at home, "the shit" is a nasty green gas that creeps out of a mostly-abandoned military base on the outskirts of Austin and zombifies pretty much everyone in town.

You know the drill: a straggling handful of survivors pitted against hojillions of the ravenous undead. Or infected. Whatever. Who's on the hit parade this time around...? First to bat is a frigid anesthesiologist (Marley Shelton) who wants to drag her five year old son away from her domineering husband (Josh Brolin) so she can do the whole sapphic erotica thing with her busty lesbian lover (Fergie). There's a hardassed sheriff (Michael Biehn) hellbent on snatching a barbecue recipe from his laidback brother (Jeff Fahey). Also crammed in here are a money-grubbing geneticist (Naveen Andrews) and a squad of superdeformed soldiers (headed up by Bruce Willis). Oh, but the movie really revolves around Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), an unstoppable badass who's a deadshot with anything with a firing pin, and his ex, Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), a go-go dancer with a parade of crushed dreams and a neverending string of useless talents. That long list of talents scores another new notch after her leg is yanked off by flesh-starved zombies, and...well, you've already scrolled past that first screengrab I've tossed onto this review, so you know what she winds up with instead of grabbing a standard issue prosthetic leg off the shelf...

Rodriguez never eases
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off the throttle. The whole thing's sopping with splatter, churning out one depraved, gross-out effect after another. The flick hardly ever goes more than a couple of minutes without a megaton explosion, ten foot geysers of blood, or at least an armful or two of spent shells clinking to the ground. I mean, go-go dancing, skewered eyes, helicopter-fu, oozing scrotums and balls-in-a-jar, Bellagio fountains of the red stuff, a grenade-launching machine gun for a leg, some sort of top secret black ops guy tooling around on a pint-sized motorcycle...I didn't know Robert Rodriguez had this in him. As you could probably pick up from that laundry list, he has a hell of a sense of humor about it all too, and Planet Terror still manages to score a steady steam of laughs even with as many times as I've torn into it over the past few years. He pokes fun at all the finger-wagglingly clever callbacks first-time screenwriters always seem to shoehorn into their scripts, and in one of the movie's best gags -- and definitely one-upping Tarantino's lame stab at doing the same -- he guts out pretty much all of the exposition and backstory. Rodriguez gets it. I'm not in it for an explanation: I just wanna see legions of infected cannibals mowed down with machine guns.

As deliriously over-the-top as Planet Terror is -- again, machine gun pegleg! -- the cast plays it straight. That's exactly how a campy flick oughtta be...I mean, if you're doing your job right, the audience already gets it, so there's no need to have all of the actors on-screen winking back at 'em. That stonefaced approach lets Rodriguez sprinkle in some genuine suspense and thrills without it ever being deflated by the ridiculousness that oozes into pretty much every last frame. The cut of Planet Terror featured in Grindhouse is shorter than the standalone DVD and Blu-ray discs from a couple years back, but none of that extra stuff is missed all that much. I would've preferred to have a few of those additional frames of splatter spliced back in here, sure, but otherwise, I like Planet Terror this swift and lean.

Planet Terror isn't the kind of horror flick that'll leave you dusting off that old blue canary nightlight when you head off to bed, no, but it's exactly the movie Robert Rodriguez set out to make: a sleazy, overcaffeinated zombie flick kneedeep in a couple hundred thousand spent shells and sopping from head to dismembered toe in stage blood. I love damn near everything about Planet Terror: its hyperkinetic pace, that cacklingly depraved sense of humor, a pitch-perfect synth score that could've been nicked straight out of a 1981 John Carpenter flick, the dizzingly over-the-top action... Planet Terror is just a hell of a lot of fun from start to finish, and no matter how many times I plow through it, I always wind up with the same goofy grin plastered across my face.


Death Proof
Death Proof plays kind of like a double feature in its own right...as if there were a slasher-in-a-muscle-car flick called Thunder Bolt, a sequel with the same killer was churned out a few years later, and the two were stitched together down the road under a different title to squeeze another few bucks out of the grindhouse circuit. If you look at Death Proof as two separate flicks respliced into one, then I can kinda tolerate the first half of the bill and really, really dig the second.

Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) has rolled into Austin from the Big Apple,
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and her old pals are celebrating with a girl's night out: grab some Mexican food, hit up a dive bar, and close it all out by tearing off to a lake house for the weekend. Death Proof may be a slasher at heart, but the only remotely disturbing thing Arlene has to suffer through for a while there is her friend Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) playing an absurdly complicated prank on her radio show, offering up a lapdance from 'Butterfly' if someone rattles off some Robert Frost to her. Arlene, Julia, and their pals are way too distracted by pot, a couple gallons of booze, and a bunch of wannabe hipster types to pay all that much attention to the fiftysomething guy wolfing down a nacho platter at the bar, but he's been keeping a close eye on them. His name's Mike McKay (Kurt Russell), but you...? You can call him Stuntman Mike. The couple of folks who do bother to ask can't say they've heard of any of the TV shows he worked on however many decades ago, but...hey! He does have a death-proof stunt car in the parking lot to prove that his story's legit: a heavily reinforced '70 Chevy Nova complete with a crash box, roll cage, and camera mount. As the liquored-up girls stumble out of the bar to that lakeside cabin, Mike hops into his Nova, revs up the engine, and splatters their little sedan all over the blacktop. 'Course, as far as the D.A. can tell, there isn't an actual crime. Hell, even the broken, battered corpse in what passes for a passenger seat can be neatly explained away. A country-fried Texas Ranger (Michael Parks) has his suspicions, sure, but there's not a damned thing he can do about it. Stuntman Mike is a little worse for wear after the crash but lives to stalk again another day.

...and following a title card flashing forward a year later, that's exactly what he does. A little slice of Hollywood has set up shop in the sleepy Tennessee town of Lebanon. There's not all that much there: a Days Inn, a diner, and...hey, a white 1970 Dodge Challenger with a 440 engine. To bubbly, wide-eyed starlet Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and make-up artist Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), that doesn't mean much of anything, but to stunt-crazed gearheads Zoë Bell (playing herself) and Kim (Tracie Thoms)...? That's Kowalski's car from Vanishing Point. Zoë doesn't want to step behind the wheel of this backwater mechanic's legendary muscle car, though. No, she sets out to dupe Kim into letting her play Ship's Mast: holding onto a couple of belts tied to the front doors while she lays on the hood of a car screaming along at eightysomething miles an hour. It's a stupid, dangerous thrill ride as it is, but when you have Stuntman Mike -- this time tooling around in a black, sharklike Dodge Charger -- plowing into you at those kind of breakneck speeds...? Then again, this time Mike's chasing down women who know how to handle themselves in a muscle car, and this pervert's going to have a hell of a time blowing his load when he winds up on the receiving end...

I get what Tarantino is trying to do. Both halves of Death Proof stick to a kinda-sorta similar structure: introduce a half-battalion of nubile twentysomethings, toss in a couple of ominous shots of Stuntman Mike, run through thirtysomething minutes of dialogue, and then rev up the engines to some Detroit muscle. Sticking to that same framework lets Tarantino
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contrast how Stuntman Mike and each gaggle of girls react when they collide. The girly-girls are slaughtered, but the few of 'em who are savvy about thirty-year-old car chase flicks and can hold their own on the road against Mike: they earn his respect...until the card table's flipped over and Death Proof shifts gears into a women's revenge movie. If I were looking to hammer out an essay for a film class or a semi-pretentious movie blog, then...yeah, that parallel would be something to explore. For someone hoping for more of the "white hot juggernaut at 200 miles per hour!" splattered across the poster...? Not so much.

Robert Rodriguez' half of Grindhouse is a hell of a lot more fun, but it's an exaggerated, hypercaffeinated version of what an early '80s exploitation flick ought to have been: a breakneck pace that screams ahead for almost an hour and a half straight, twenty or thirty barrel drums of splatter from a first-rate effects crew, and a maniacally depraved sense of humor. It's kind of jarring to go from that to Death Proof. Unlike pretty much every slasher, ever, there's no opening kill. You could watch the movie from its first frame to right at the 35 minute mark and have no clue that it's about to turn into a slasher flick. It's gruesome and depraved for a couple of minutes there, and then Tarantino introduces a new set of girls who sit around and gab for close to another half hour. I've heard it said that Death Proof is more of a slasher deconstruction than an homage, and I don't disagree.

Of course, if you want to be really authentic to the whole spirit of the grindhouse, Tarantino arguably comes closer than Rodriguez does. Sure, a vintage exploitation flick would've thrown in a catfight and had at least a couple of the girls yank off their tops. The fact that so little actually happens -- that 75% of the movie is a bunch of pretty young women sitting around and yakking -- is a lot like the movies Tarantino's paying homage to, though. How many grindhouse flicks actually lived up to their posters? They hammer out maybe three or four really great scenes, padding out the rest with meandering dialogue and long, long stretches of nothing. Sure, they'd toss in some steamy sex scenes or...y'know, a soldier in a tutu being devoured by zombies to keep the crowd from dozing off, but a lot of these flicks really were pretty dull. Quite a few reviewers griped about Tarantino's half of Grindhouse's double feature, saying that real grindhouse movies were never this boring, but anyone who'd say something like that clearly hasn't sat down with all that many exploitation flicks.

The first half of Death Proof is okay. I really didn't think much of any of the girls, none of their dangling subplots really grabbed my attention -- I mean, text messages to an M.I.A. boyfriend and a Robert Frost poem? -- and since this is my seventh time through the movie in one form or another, I really just wanted to mash the 'Skip Chapter' button to head straight to the good stuff. Tarantino toys with a "missing reel" gag here at one point too, and it feels like a lazy retread of the same gag Robert Rodriguez had already pulled off. At the same time, though, I'm a lifelong slasher fan, and that's really what Death Proof is at its core. I'm used to suffering through long, rambling scenes with boring, one-note characters who I'm just waiting to be carved into tiny, bite-sized chunks by a depraved killer. Still, a real exploitation flick would've churned out some sort of slaughter before the opening credits, and at least one or two of the girls would've gotten the axe before hitting the halfway point.

Easily the best thing about the first half of Death Proof is Stuntman Mike. Kurt Russell makes that opening chunk of the movie what it is, hammering out a character who's kind of likeable -- a charmer who's beaming with pride of his days in Hollywood even though they're far, far in the rear view mirror -- but still more than a little creepy at the same time. That setup is essential seeing as how Stuntman Mike winds up being more of a
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spectre in the second half of the bill. Once the last of this second batch of girls is introduced, there's no sign of him for close to a half-hour: he just swoops in for the kill. Even though the second half is still too top-heavy and plows through page after page after page of nothing but dialogue, I hafta admit that I didn't mind all that much. This other group of girls is a lot more compelling. They're capable of holding a conversation about something other than booze and blowjobs, and these four have ::gasp!:: actual personalities that are much better fleshed out. The two halves of the movie are bridged by a long barrage of exposition about how Stuntman Mike slaughters these girls as some sort of sexual dysfunction. If you roll with that analogy, the kill that closes out the first hour is Mike popping after twenty seconds. The chase in the second is practically tantric by comparison -- prolonged, passionate teasing until Mike...y'know, takes it up the ass and goes flaccid. Both sides of the climactic chase clock in a little over fifteen minutes in total, but they feel longer and more epic than that, and I obviously mean that as a compliment.

Even with as many DVDs and Blu-ray discs as I choke down for DVD Talk, I'm having a tough time thinking of the last movie I saw with a car chase that comes close to approaching to this. I mean, aside from the legendary stuff from the '60s and '70s, the most recent movie I can think of with a chase in this league would probably be John Frankenheimer's Ronin, and that was twelve years ago. The cat-and-mouse is long and intense, and there's a certain inherent thrill that goes along with knowing these are real cars with Zoë Bell genuinely holding onto the hood of a Challenger screaming along at 80 mph. It looks and feels as real and dangerous as I'm sure it really was, and sparkling CGI churned out in a render farm in Palo Alto just wouldn't have been the same.

Death Proof is really uneven, but to its credit, it plays much better in this leaner cut than it does in the bloated "extended and unrated!" release. It still feels as if it could've stood to have had another reel or two yanked out, though. There are enough glimmers of brilliance in its first half to keep my attention, and the more compelling characters and heavier emphasis on high-octane thrills in its second half are really what make Death Proof what it is. This is probably my least favorite of Tarantino's movies to date, but Death Proof is buoyed well enough by its stronger moments that it still comes recommended.


...And Then There Are The Trailers
The flipside of the
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case may not mention anything about Machete, but don't fret: that Mexploitation trailer is on here too. What with it actually having been produced as its own feature-length flick and carving a path of destruction onto a few thousand screens, you probably don't need a runthrough of what goes on here. The short version...? A Mexican day laborer grudgingly takes a job gunning down a U.S. senator, but it turns out to be a frame job: an excuse for a lily-white politician to rally his xenophobic voting base. They call him Machete for a reason, though, and this former federale makes Jason Voorhees look like one of the Golden Girls. Machete reads like a highlight reel from a deliriously over-the-top and shamelessly exploitative action flick. This is the one trailer I really wanted to see spun off into a movie of its own, even though in the back of my mind, I knew it'd be impossible to sustain that kind of batshit-unhinged manic energy for an hour and a half. Wow. Very glad to say I was wrong there since Machete the movie completely lives up to the promise of Machete the fake trailer.

The three remaining trailers are sandwiched between Planet Terror and Death Proof. Werewolf Women of the S.S. has what looks to be the greatest premise of the bunch. I mean, I like women. I like werewolves. I like...well, I don't like Nazis, but you get where I'm going with this. Rob Zombie's work here feels really stiff and labored, though, coasting too much on the concept and its parade of familiar faces like Bill Moseley and Udo Kier. How can a trailer that has a fucking werewolf in a heavily-Bedazzled suit playing the piano not be fun? Sad, really. This is immediately followed by Don't. It's Edgar Wright's riff on the way European genre flicks were promoted in the U.S.: given a really generic title with a trailer that carefully avoids any dialogue or...well, anything but the money shots. Don't is cacklingly incomprehensible, pretty much nothing but a barrage of quick shots of people being butchered by every type of British supernatural fright flick beastie you could name. The specific homages are a blast to try to pick out too, especially that nod to Suspiria. Love it, love it, love it. The last of the trailers is Eli Roth's Thanksgiving. It seemed like pretty much every other holiday had at least one slasher flick themed around it, and since Turkey Day wound up with the short end of that stick, Roth decided to slap one together himself. Severed heads, jiggling boobs, turkey-grandma-fucking...beats the hell out of going around the table and saying what we're thankful for this year.


Video
Y'know, people will complain about damn near anything. When it was first announced that Grindhouse would be coming out on Blu-ray, several of the message boards I lurk around were littered with posts asking why. "arent grindhouse movies supposed to be grainy and grimy? its meant to be beat up. what are they going to do, restore the moivie and get rid of all the specks and stuff????//?" Some people just don't get it. When Grindhouse made the rounds in theaters a few years back, there was still a resolution and definition there that DVD couldn't reproduce. This Blu-ray set more closely recreates that experience. Culled from the digital intermediate, Grindhouse looks about as perfect on Blu-ray as...well, a flick meant to look as if it's been beaten to Hell and back realistically can.

Planet Terror was shot on digital video, and the melting film, warping, clunky color separation, worn sprocket holes, heavy grain, and brutal speckling were all digitally added in after the fact. The image is still impressively crisp and well-defined, and it's far more richly detailed than the standalone DVD from a few years back. There's a thick veil of artificial film grain in pretty much every frame of the flick, and seemingly every last granule of it is clear and distinct. Even though that sort of texture had to be borderline-nightmarish to compress, the encoding never once stutters or hiccups.

Grindhouse is billed as a double feature but feels more like three separate movies. See, Death Proof plays kind of like a double feature in its own right -- as if a vintage slasher and one of its sequels had been spliced together into one flick -- and it kind of looks that way on Blu-ray too. Rolling with the whole grindhouse experience where the same dozen prints of a flick would be schlepped around from city to city until they crumbled apart, Tarantino had the first half of Death Proof beaten and battered. That first half or so is awfully soft and marred by splicing tape, nicks, flecks of dust, skips and stutters, heavy film grain, and washed out colors, as if someone had grabbed an armful of reels that'd made the rounds up and down the East coast and shoved them in a closet for a couple decades straight. The second half, on the other hand, stands on the brink of perfection. There's virtually no wear at all. Its colors are vibrant and pack more of a wallop than they do on DVD. The image is crisper and much more detailed, and there's really never any question there that this is a shiny, newly-minted high definition disc.

Below are a few screenshot comparisons to highlight the differences. First up...? Planet Terror. Pay particular attention to the fake film grain in the second shot; the definition is worlds removed.
Blu-ray

DVD

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...and here's Death Proof. The differences aren't quite as dramatic, no, but there's still a marked improvement in texture, detail, and definition in the Blu-ray shots.
Blu-ray

DVD

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Grindhouse is presented on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc and has been encoded with AVC. The image is letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 from its first frame to the last, and that includes Planet Terror, whose previous DVD and Blu-ray releases had the mattes stripped away.


Audio
Chances are you've already
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stumbled across plenty of bitching about the fact that Grindhouse doesn't bother with a lossless soundtrack. Most Blu-ray discs that are saddled with Dolby Digital audio at least use a really high bitrate: 640kbps, which is more than DVD can handle. Grindhouse, meanwhile, isn't just limited to Dolby Digital, but it uses the standard DVD bitrate of 448kbps. This is literally DVD quality audio. To make it sting just a little more, there are around 8 gigs of space free on the disc, so it's not as if there isn't room for a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.

There's been lots of grousing about all this, and plenty of people have threatened to cancel their preorders and boycott this Blu-ray disc in protest. Look, I'll agree that there's no excuse that there isn't a lossless soundtrack on this disc. Lossless audio ought to be standard issue on Blu-ray, including it wouldn't have negatively impacted the quality of the video, and it shouldn't have rang up any meaningful costs in production either. Plain and simple, they were wrong for not including it. At the same time, you're out of your fucking mind if your idea of protesting is to avoid Grindhouse on Blu-ray altogether. It's the first domestic release of the theatrical cut in these shores on any format. You won't get the trailers for Don't, Werewolf Women of the S.S., or Thanksgiving anywhere else aside from Starz airings, Japanese DVD imports, and online bootlegs. You're not gonna get lossless audio out of any of those either, plus you're losing out on everything else this set has to offer in the process. Considering that we had to wait three and a half years for the theatrical cut to show up on home video in the U.S. at all, I'm not balled up in the fetal position holding my breath or anything for a re-release. The good so very, very far outweighs the bad. Write a letter or something so Vivendi knows not to do this going forward, and with enough meaningful feedback might come the slim chance of a lossless reissue to correct this. If your idea of protest is to not pick up Grindhouse, period, you're not sending a message: you're just screwing yourself out of an otherwise extremely impressive Blu-ray release that I was convinced would never see the light of day. Okay. Rant over.

...but yes, the lack of lossless audio really is apparent, and this Blu-ray disc doesn't approach the thunderous, cinematic sound I hear in the 24-bit, six-channel TrueHD tracks on the individual Planet Terror and Death Proof BDs. The lossy Dolby Digital audio isn't as booming and doesn't engulf every square inch of the room, no, but that's hardly a dealbreaker.

The difference is most
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apparent with Planet Terror. Because this is a movie that pays homage to flicks ten or fifteen years more recent than the ones Tarantino gives a nod to in Death Proof, the hyperaggressive sound design here doesn't seem like all that much of a cheat. Neverending streams of gunfire, a couple hundred megatons of explosives blowing everything all to holy hell, Humvees and trucks flipping over, pretty much every building with a wall has a car plowing through it at some point, the meaty thuds of punches to the face, legions of snarling zombies...hell, even a creaking elevator in an abandoned army base: Planet Terror is bolstered by a colossal low-end and assaults every speaker at its infected little fingertips. Rodriguez' score comes through really well too, from the big, booming Grindhouse theme to the banks of vintage Carpenter synths.

Death Proof, meanwhile, really isn't all that aggressive, but maybe that's the point: it sounds like one of those remixes of a mono flick that scores a kinda awkward boost up to full six-channel audio decades down the road. This is such a dialogue-driven movie that the sound design is expectedly rooted front and center, and the rears are mostly there just to belt out some light atmosphere: cars whizzing by in the background, the torrential downpour outside the Texas Chili Parlor...that sorta thing. The vintage songs scattered throughout the first half of Death Proof convincingly sound as if they're being played off an old vinyl record, and they're still backed by a reasonably punchy low-end. The subwoofer really kicks in when Stuntman Mike floors it and the throaty growl of Detroit muscle rattles the room. The chases also make more effective use of the surround channels, even if it's still a good bit lighter than average. A kinda-sorta subdued mix seems as if it suits this sort of movie, though. I mean, speckled, battered visuals paired against a hypercaffeinated soundtrack with effects zipping from channel-to-channel alongside an hour and a half straight of foundation-rattling bass...? Wouldn't seem to fit here as well as it does in Planet Terror. Death Proof's audio is kind of low-key but packs a wallop when it needs to.

The short version...? Thanks to the lack of lossless audio, Grindhouse doesn't sound as good as it ought to but is certainly still good enough. If I had to compromise somewhere on this disc -- video, audio, or extras -- I'd personally settle for lossy audio rather than shortchange any of the rest. I'll live. Also included here is a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in French. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.


Extras
So yeah, this is gonna take a while. First of all, this Blu-ray set carries over just about everything from the standalone DVD and Blu-ray releases. The extended cuts of each film are not included, of course. The scratch-free version of Planet Terror remains exclusive to its standalone Blu-ray release. For whatever reason, the international trailers of Planet Terror and Death Proof didn't claw their way onto this two-disc set either. Otherwise...? It's all here, and that includes just about everything from the six-disc Japanese DVD boxed set as well. I'll try to group this whole thing for Grindhouse completists to make it clearer what's new and what isn't. Except where indicated otherwise, all of this is in standard definition.

Seen It Before
Planet Terror
  • Audience Reaction Track: This alternate
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    soundtrack captures the crowd at one screening in full Dolby Digital 5.1, with the applause, snickers, cheers, and screams scattered across all of these individual channels. It's a novelty, and I really can't picture myself sitting through the whole flick from start to finish this way, but...hey! If you're interested, there it is.

  • Audio Commentary with Robert Rodriguez: Planet Terror's writer-slash-director isn't quite as chatty as usual on this commentary track, but it's still a solid listen. Rodriguez notes how he wrote Grindhouse's theme before he sat down to hammer out the script, belts out stories like Marley Shelton accidentally stabbing one of his pals with actual needles rather than the retractable props, shooting two actors separately during their piano ballad sex scene, and explaining why, exactly, the movie has "Planet" in its title. Some of these same talking points are covered elsewhere in the set, but I still dug this track enough to find it worth setting aside an hour and a half. Despite accompanying a different cut of the movie, this is the same commentary you've heard on the extended Planet Terror DVD and Blu-ray sets.

  • 10 Minute Film School (12 min; HD): 10 minutes, 12 minutes...who's counting? This featurette narrated by Robert Rodriguez crams a heckuva lot into its lean runtime, including raw footage from the effects-heavy shoot, different stages of CG renders, slews of effects tests and comparisons, animatics, videomatics, raw plates, different elements that would later be composited together, an early morning sky doubling as an oversized bluescreen... Yup, its focus is mostly on the standouts of the 450 effects shots (!) scattered throughout Planet Terror, explaining not just how -- but why -- these shots were constructed this way.

  • The Badass Babes of Planet Terror (12 min): This casting featurette serves up stories about how so many of the characters didn't really take shape until after some early casting, Tarantino biting Fergie in a zombified frenzy and continually ruining her takes, Marley Shelton's double jointed wrists making her literally born to play the part of this hardassed anesthesiologist, and Rodriguez casting his own nieces as "The Crazy Babysitter Twins" who pack some pretty heavy artillery.

  • The Guys of Planet Terror (17 min): Kind of a ditto, only swap the gender around. Some of the notes this time around include how Planet Terror is really the story of one intrepid cook's quest for the perfect BBQ sauce, Naveen Andrews finally bringing to life a script Rodriguez had scribbled down ten years earlier for an unproduced videogame, Freddy Rodriguez' character taking a complete 180° after his audition, and
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    assembling a "badass police force" with El Mariachi, Michael Biehn, and Tom Savini.

  • Casting Rebel (6 min): Rodriguez cast his own kid Rebel as Marley Shelton's on-screen son, and the writer/director mentions here how he shot takes of certain scenes that wouldn't cast Planet Terror in...y'know, quite so dark and fucked-up a light. Some of the other actors chime in too, boasting about how Rebel isn't just adorable: he's fearless, fiddling with a tarantula and a scorpion without flinching at all.

  • Sickos, Bullets, and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror (13 min): This featurette runs through Planet Terror's grueling stuntwork, from gun and knife training to its enormous pyrotechnics to empowering the actors to tackle their own stunts whenever possible.

  • The Friend, the Doctor, and the Real Estate Agent (7 min): Rodriguez chats about how casting a pal of his as an oddball surgeon caught the attention of Dimension execs, bringing his own doctor into the flick after he'd so effortlessly rattle off medical lingo about squirmworthy lesions and sores, and inviting his real estate agent to bring his thick Texan drawl to the sleazy manager at the go-go club.

  • International Poster Gallery: This collection of lobby cards and posters tackles Machete as well as Planet Terror.
Death Proof
  • Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof (20 min.): Tarantino piled together as many of his favorite stuntmen (and stuntwomen) as he could for Death Proof, including legends like Buddy Joe Hooker and Terry Leonard. Their work on some of the key sequences in the movie -- a Chevy Nova flipping over again and again in a roll that would've taken weeks to nail again that perfectly, a mid-air collision, and a near-miss with a truck -- are briefly touched on. It doesn't really dig all that deep into the nuts and bolts of the
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    actual stunts, though, and fans hoping to get more of a sense of how these crashes and collisions were pulled off will have to turn to the Grindhouse hardcover book instead.

  • Introducing Zoë Bell (9 min.): A bunch of the folks on both sides of the camera gush about casting such a talented stuntwoman in her first acting role and...y'know, still having her tackle her own stunts.

  • Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike (9 min.): Tarantino kicks things off by rattling off a story about how the idea to cast Kurt Russell came during some noodling on the Planet Terror shoot. A big chunk of the rest of this featurette is a big, glittery Valentine to Kurt Russell, and some of the other notes scattered around in here include how everyone who worked in Hollywood in the '60s and '70s knew someone like Stuntman Mike and how much of his own driving Russell handled himself.

  • Finding Quentin's Gals (21 min.): This pretty great casting featurette runs through the long, long list of actresses in the movie: the sheer number of roles written with specific women in mind, the freewheeling choreography behind the "reel missing" lapdance sequence, recycling cast members from the other half of Grindhouse's double feature as a nod to the New World Pictures stable, how real-life pals Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms auditioned together, and Tarantino realizing that he'd written a further-fleshed-out character in Lee than he thought after Mary Elizabeth Winstead auditioned. Even stacked up next to the 'extended and unrated!' cut of Death Proof, there's clearly still some additional footage that's collecting dust somewhere; this featurette has a shot of the gals picking Zoë up at the airport that isn't in either version of the movie.

  • The Guys of Death Proof (8 min.): Yeah, yeah, the guys in Death Proof get some face time too with their own casting featurette. Tarantino explains why he tossed in that Psycho-style exposition to bridge the two halves of the movie as well as why he opted to play Warren the bartender. Eli Roth, Omar Doom, and future Scott Pilgrim vs. the World screenwriter Michael Bacall are also featured.

  • Quentin's Greatest Collaborator - Editor Sally Menke (5 min.): This
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    kinda-sorta-featurette opens with some really brief comments by Tarantino about his long-time editor, but it's mostly a montage of the cast as they sneak "hi, Sally!" into a bunch of outtakes. Nah, it's not some cutting insight into the editing process or anything, but it's kinda clever and enough fun to make it worth a spin.

  • Uncut "Baby, It's You" by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (2 min.): This is the full version of Lee belting out "Baby It's You" -- a song co-written by Burt Bacharach and recorded by everyone from The Beatles to Pia Zadora -- while blasting her iPod in Kim's Mustang. It's longer than the truncated version in the extended Death Proof, at least; this scene isn't in the Grindhouse cut at all.

  • Double Dare Trailer (3 min.): The documentary Double Dare aimed its cameras at stuntwomen Jeannie Epper and...hey! Zoë Bell a few years back, and the trailer for it is featured here. Oh, and DVD Talk has a review of that too, naturally.

  • International Poster Gallery: This still gallery cycles through a set of lobby cards, although there's nothing all that overtly international about 'em.

  • Extended Movie Cues: More complete versions of three cues are also included here: Ennio Morricone's "Unexpected Violence", Guido and Maurizio De Angelis' "Gangster Story", and Franco Micalizzi's "Italia a Mano Armata".
New to Me, At Least
Planet Terror
  • 10 Minute Cooking School (8 min.; HD): Robert
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    Rodriguez guides viewers through the finer points of authentic Texas BBQ with this look at beef ribs, brisket, and...hey, even the sauce.

  • The Makeup Effects of Planet Terror (12 min.): Greg Nicotero -- the "N" in KNB FX -- tears into the splattery practical effects that seep into pretty much every last frame of Planet Terror. He starts off by delving into the research into rashes, leprosy, and pustules that informed the design of the infected zomboids. From there, Nicotero tears into a melting rapist vomiting up his intestines, liquefied faces revealing the musculature underneath, ten foot streams of blood, how unnerving a chipped tooth can be even with all the barrel drums of splatter being sloshed around here, and how you kids at home can make your own pus-filled black tongue.
Death Proof
  • The Hot Rods of Death Proof (12 min.): Again, this featurette really isn't interested in the mechanics of executing the stunts. This time, it's all about exploring the art of the car chase: Tarantino continuing his drive to recreate the heights of vintage action cinema, what separates American flicks from the Australian car chase renaissance of the '80s and '90s, ensuring that the audience would always remain inside the chases in Death Proof, along with peeks at the elaborate Escalade camera rig and noting the challenges of maintaining a dozen versions of each car.

  • From Texas to Tennessee - The Production Design of Death Proof (8 min.): The production design of the cars is very briefly touched upon in "The Hot Rods of Death Proof", and that's expanded upon greatly here. The entire production being inspired by various pieces of art selected by Tarantino, rolling film at the actual Texas Chili Parlor but constructing its non-existent back porch on a stage, filling a fever dream version of Guero's with Tarantino's own poster collection, the dazzlingly bright colors that burst out after the transition out of black-and-white (which doesn't apply to the Grindhouse cut), the Jungle Julia billboards, the trademark Tarantino self-referential nods, how the extensive stuntwork influenced production design, dreaming up breakaway gags on the set: yeah, there's quite a bit to gnaw on here.
Werewolf Women of the S.S.
  • Extended Trailer (5 min.; HD): Rob Zombie
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    basically shot a third of a feature-length flick when putting together Werewolf Women of the S.S., although this extended cut of the trailer doesn't run quite that long. It's kind of repetitive, really, and a lot of the additions really are more of the same. More torture. More singing (although if you're not a Sheri Moon Zombie fan, I guess you could chalk that up under "torture" too). A longer Fu Manchu intro. The trailer is presented in gleaming high definition without any of the digitally-added age and wear.

  • Audio Commentary: Rob Zombie chimes in with commentary for the extended trailer too, and I dug it quite a bit more than watching Werewolf Women of the S.S. on its own: setting up shop on the set of a kiddie summer camp flick, WWII enthusiasts offering up their own Nazi suits and tanks, a Nazi gorilla cameo I completely missed, and explaining what's going on with the unscripted dialogue by Werewolf Women's (sshhhh!) secret guest star.

  • The Making of Werewolf Women of the S.S. (9 min.): This making-of clip feels kind of heavy-handedly promotional, really, wasting too much time recapping the premise and featuring too many excerpts from the trailer. Udo Kier shows off his wardrobe, there's some brief marveling at such cacklingly demented imagery as topless women in gas masks and a Liberace-inspired piano-playing werewolf, putting together the original song that Sheri Moon Zombie is belting out, and ensuring that the performances are played completely straight.
Don't
  • Extended Trailer (2 min.; HD): Don't also scores an extended trailer, but with as fast and furious as its all-killer-no-filler onslaught is, I couldn't really tell what's changed. This longer version is presented in HD and clocks in at 95 seconds. Presented separately is a complete set of credits.

  • Audio Commentary: Director Edgar Wright chats about the incomprehensible American trailers for European genre flicks that led him to
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    create Don't, and he also rattles off the names of some of the cast as well as the specific movies that inspired him. 'Course, with just a minute and a half to play with, Wright doesn't have a chance to say much.

  • Storyboard / Trailer Comparison (2 min.): Pretty much as advertised, although it does optionally offer...::drum roll::...

  • Another Audio Commentary: When was the last time you heard Edgar Wright settle for one audio commentary anyway? This second track plays over the storyboard comparison, and here Wright runs through the collaborative storyboarding process, shooting nothing but money shots for two and a half days, and the, um, hands-on process of adding in all that wear and damage.

  • The Making of Don't (10 min.): Edgar Wright tears into how his deliriously incoherent trailer came together, including a peek at an unrecognizable Simon Pegg in full make-up, how the trailer opts for a different actor in pretty much every shot (and quite a few of 'em are interviewed here), the overall art direction, and how much of a blast it is to be a filmmaker when you don't have sound or continuity to get in the way.

  • Storyboard Gallery: The individual storyboards can be viewed outside of the comparison as well.

  • Don't Poster: A static shot of Don't's fake theatrical one-sheet has an extended version of David Arnold's score playing underneath it.
Thanksgiving
  • The Making of Thanksgiving (6 min.): Most of the making-of pieces for these trailers swirl around talking head interviews, but Thanksgiving's is heavier on more candid behind-the-scenes footage from the set. 'Snot every day you get to hear a guy direct a bunch of extras as to how to kick around a severed head in a turkey costume, so there's that. It tackles the whole thing with Thanksgiving being the only holiday without its own slasher flick, how to properly garnish a roasted human body, and just how many takes you need
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    to nail a cheerleader bouncing topless on a trampoline.

  • Audio Commentary: The commentary with director Eli Roth and co-writer/actor Jeff Rendell pretty much runs through what you've already heard in the making-of, although they do touch more on how the production of Hostel 2 influenced their trailer.
Nope, Not Done Yet...
  • Times Talk with Lynn Hirschberg (65 min.): Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino tackle some familiar ground here: their longtime friendship, how the concept of Grindhouse originated, and trying to deliver on their bad-ass posters the way genuine grindhouse flicks rarely did. From there, the two of them chat about how they dreamed up the concepts for their super-specific sub-subgenre homages, Tarantino adopting a very different writing process for Death Proof than usual, how Tarantino wound up being cast as a rapist, dissecting and fawning over car chases, and how integral a role Tarantino's record room plays in his creative process. You can probably guess from the sheer number of "Tarantino"s in that summary who does most of the heavy lifting in this roundtable. Also, Times Talk closes with an audience Q&A, including a couple of questions lobbed out by Bob and Harvey Weinstein themselves.

  • Comic Con 2006 (24 min.): This massive Comic Con panel was shot in between the two halves of the Grindhouse double feature, shortly before cameras started rolling on Death Proof. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino once again take center stage, and they're joined here by Marley Shelton, Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, and ::swoon!:: Mary Elizabeth Winstead. If you waded through Times Talk already, you've heard most of the discussion here, although this time Rodriguez seems to grab hold of the mic more. The gaggle of actresses don't have all that much to say, which is understandable: no one in the audience knows enough about the movie for them to participate much in the Q&A, after all. Among the highlights are Tarantino being asked if he'd put together his own kids' movie, the appeal of celluloid vs. digital, how the rhythm of pieces of music influence their direction, and Zoë Bell stepping in as her own stunt double (or her own acting double, depending
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    on how you wanna look at it)
    .

  • Hobo with a Shotgun (2 min.): Finally, the last of the many, many extras on this Blu-ray disc is another spoof trailer that was attached to Canadian screenings. The title of this fan-created clip pretty much sums it all up, so I'll skip the synopsis. The trailer is encoded in HD but clearly sourced from standard-def video. Oh, and like Machete before it, this is being developed into an actual movie too...


Despite the sheer volume of extras piled on here, completists will still need to pick up the Grindhouse hardcover that come out a few years back if they haven't already. There's quite a bit that didn't make its way onto this Blu-ray disc, and you've probably already noticed the complete lack of anything about the making of the Machete trailer in this set in particular.

Grindhouse comes packaged in a two-disc case the same width as most everything else on Blu-ray. It arrives inside an embossed cardboard sleeve with an opening flap, and a heavy stock booklet tucked inside details all of the many, many extras.


The Final Word
I've had a few genuinely amazing cinematic experiences over the past few years: catching a preview screening of Serenity in a theater packed wall-to-wall with Browncoats...making the trip up to Retrofantasma to catch movies like The Beyond and Demons on 35mm...that sort of thing. Still, seeing Grindhouse for the first time might be the single most memorable experience I've ever had in a movie theater, and I've been wanting to recapture that ever since. Extended and individually released versions of Planet Terror and Death Proof found their way to DVD and Blu-ray soon enough, but for whatever reason, the theatrical cut of Grindhouse remained elusive. After three years, even most of the film's most ardent fans seemed to have given up hope for a home video release on these shores.

...and yet, here it is, staring at me square in the face. Grindhouse is so much greater than the sum of its two parts, and taken as an experience rather than just a splattery double feature, it's still pretty much impossible to top. Even with as beaten and battered as the movie's meant to be, Grindhouse still looks spectacular in high definition, and the hours and hours of extras demand the better part of a day to be fully explored. Even just the way Grindhouse is packaged is first rate. This Blu-ray disc is in every way a love letter to the movie's small but fiercely rabid fanbase, and the only thing separating it from pretty much complete and total perfection is its lossy soundtrack. In the running for the most exceptional Blu-ray release of 2010: DVD Talk Collector Series.
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