Alongside Spidey’s sooty suit-change and Thomas Turgoose flicking the ‘V’s, it’s one of 2007’s most iconic cinematic sights: leather-minied, boob-tubed amputee Rose McGowan packing major heat where her right shank used to be. But the question is, does Planet Terror – aka Grindhouse Act I – stand on its own with a missing leg? Yes: a bit wobbly in places, but still kicking. True, it still smarts that one of the movie events of the year didn’t happen on our shores because of poor US box office. Yet Robert Rodriguez’s zombie-invasion flick is such a puppy-dog frenzy of exploitainment, it’ll leave half the audience more ready for bed than any other film – let alone one as leisurely as Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (aka Grindhouse Act II).
A homage to drive-in horror’s cheap ’n nasty heyday, Planet Terror snaps, crackles and pustule-pops with ideas. Mutant soldiers, evil doctors, star cameos, Iraq satire, cannibalism, lesbianism, the search for the perfect barbecue sauce… At the eye of the shit-storm is, of course, McGowan’s Cherry Darling, a broken-hearted go-go dancer who finds her true, ultra-violent calling when the apocalypse comes to her tiny Texas town. Machine-gun plugged into her stump, she’s smokin’ in every sense, yet McGowan occasionally misses the comic-ironic beat, mugging like she’s still on the set of twitty witch-com Charmed. Luckily, she’s propped up by a game support cast, including sharp-shooting drifter Freddy Rodriguez and embattled sheriff Michael Biehn.
And if their enthusiasm doesn’t bowl you over, then writer/director Rodriguez’s will, the multi-tasker filtering Troma-style toxic trauma and John Carpenter’s B-movie menace through his own pulpy, broad-brush dynamism. Mind you, he’s a bit overzealous in weathering the footage to look as crummy as the real deal (great ‘missing reel’ gag, though). And you could argue that he peaks early. Proceedings ignite with the garish glory of ‘Machete’, a mock-trailer that’s as tonally correct as the feature (“They just fucked with the wrong Mexican!”), but does the job in three minutes instead of 105.