So, in the first few minutes of Planet Terror, you're lookin' at Rose McGowan writhing around in leather 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 runthrough the plot? That's the hook right there. The "shit", by the way, is a nasty green gas that creeps out of a mostly-abandoned military base on the outskirts of Austin and zombifies damn near everyone in town.
You know the drill: a straggling handful of survivors pitted against hojillions of the ravenous undead. You're lookin' at a frigid anesthesiologist (the always adorable Marley Shelton) who wants to drag her five year old son away from her domineering husband for a life of sapphic bliss with her lesbian galpal (Fergie). There's a hardassed sheriff (Michael Biehn) hellbent on snatching a barbecue recipe from his laidback brother (Jeff Fahey). Heck, there's even 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 with a secret past, 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 gets another 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 prosthetic righty off the shelf...
Rodriguez never eases 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, 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, a Bellagio fountain prick,
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 will already be smirking, so there's no need to have all of the actors on-screen winking back. 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. Oh, and like Tarantino's half of last year's double feature, Planet Terror also turns up extended and unrated here on Blu-ray, same as it was on DVD. It mostly seems to be transitions between scenes and better setting up some of the plot points that'd come into play down the road. Most of the differences come fairly early on, although there is at least a little more splatter, including a pal of Rodriguez' getting his guts munched on (I still keep waiting for him to shout "choke on 'em!") and a more gruesome shot of some brains being scarfed down.
Nah, Planet Terror isn't some horror flick that'll leave you dusting off that old blue canary nightlight, 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 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 from a twenty-six year old John Carpenter flick, the dizzingly over-the-top action... Planet Terror is just a hell of a lot of fun, leaving my face plastered with the same goofy grin my sixth time through that I had when I first gave Grindhouse a whirl. Highly Recommended.
The whole point of Grindhouse is to carry over the experience of sitting through a double feature of vintage exploitation flicks in a sticky, rundown theater, and a big part of that is the weathered, tattered look of the prints that'd unspool. Robert Rodriguez shot Planet Terror on shiny high definition video cameras, though, so all of that wear and tear had to be digitally added in after the fact. This Blu-ray disc serves up two options: you can plow through the movie with all of the artificial wear intact, or you can sift through a "newly discovered negative" that's still sparklingly clean. Both versions of the movie are presented in full 1080p, and to get a sense of just how drastic the difference is...
I've gotta admit that the heavy film grain and battered look are kind of a defining part of the experience for me, and Planet Terror really isn't the same movie without 'em. This shiny, glossy version is a heckuva extra, though, and it is pretty intriguing to compare the same shots in each version. The original photography is so sharp and clean that I can't help but be impressed by just how much time and effort must've gone into running it through the digital wringer. Oh, and to beat you to the punch, even though the menu lists it as a "scratch free version", the reel missing in every other version of the flick is still axed here too. That middle stretch was never even written, let alone filmed; c'mon, that's the joke.
Even the cut of Planet Terror that's been digitally beaten all to hell -- with melting film, warping, clunky color separation, worn sprocket holes, heavy grain, and brutal speckling -- still looks phenomenal on Blu-ray. The image is much more crisply defined and richly detailed than last year's DVD. There's a thick veil of artificial film grain in pretty much every frame of the flick, and even though that sort of texture had to be borderline-nightmarish to compress, the encoding never stutters or hiccups. Both versions of the movie snag straight digital transfers, so the presentations are about as perfect as they're gonna get.
The bruised and battered version of Planet Terror is encoded with AVC while the cleaner cut leans on VC-1. The bitrate is a lot lower on this alternate version, although the image is clearer, smoother, and less demanding this time around, and I couldn't spot any compression hiccups in either case. Both versions open up the mattes from Grindhouse's scope theatrical framing to Robert Rodriguez' preferred home viewing aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and the composition doesn't seem to be any worse for it.
The worn and weathered version of Planet Terror scores most of the audio options, headed up by a 24-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Because this movie pays homage to flicks ten or fifteen years more recent than the ones Tarantino gave a nod to in Death Proof, the hyperaggressive sound design here in Planet Terror 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 and crashing into damn near anything with at least one wall, the meaty thuds of slugs 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 wiry little fingertips. Rodriguez' score sounds pretty incredible on Blu-ray too, from the big, booming Grindhouse theme to the banks of vintage Carpenter synths.
Subtitles are included in English (SDH) and Spanish along with traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, French, and Spanish.
Because the "newly discovered negative" of Planet Terror clocks in at a different runtime than the digitally weathered version, it can't share that same extensive set of audio options, and it's limited to just a 640Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
Planet Terror snags all of the extras from last year's two-disc DVD special edition. The bulk of them are ported over in standard definition, but one featurette does get an upgrade to high-def. The sparklingly clean version of the flick is the only notable new extra, although this is a BD Live enabled disc, so something worth tracking down might make the rounds online once Planet Terror actually rolls into stores. Because packing on two versions of the movie with so many audio options gobbles up nearly all of the space on even a dual-layer Blu-ray disc, the featurettes spill over into a second disc. Disc One
The Final Word
Even though I miss the trailer spoofs and the whole experience of a double bill of barely-feature length exploitation flicks, Planet Terror still holds up ridiculously well on its own. I mean, the two great loves of my life are schlock cinema and batshit crazy zombie movies, and Planet Terror is the most deranged and deliriously campy undead flick this side of Nightmare City and Hell of the Living Dead. Planet Terror is what grindhouse flicks knelt by their futons and prayed they'd grow up to be like one day. Highly Recommended.
A Few More Screengrabs Just for the Hell of It