15 Years Later, Grindhouse Is a Double Feature That’s Still Worth Watching

In April 2007, principals Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez joined forces for an explosion of lewd schlock entertainment they ended grind house. This lavish endeavor, an homage to vintage exploitation fare named after the movie theaters known for screening such movies, was comprised of two feature-length films, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Deathproof, plus a bunch of parody trailers. The ambition was higher here, but the box office numbers turned out terribly. Though it couldn’t live up to its fullest aspirations of making Grindhouse movies into an object of mainstream fascination, grind house is still well worth looking back on despite its undeniable flaws.

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Before breaking down this project’s upsides, though, it’s important to understand why grind house struggled so much at the box office. After all, its two directors were hot off big box office hits, namely the Kill Bill duology and Sin City, which were also ultra-violent and homages to classic cinema. Why did those connect with audiences while the same moviegoers gave grind house the cold shoulder? The key difference here was that the marketing for those earlier films gave the general populace something to chew on beyond just pastiches of grimy B-movies. Kill Bill had more nods to classic kung fu movies than a William Shatner line delivery has pauses, but its marketing could also sell it as an enticing standalone revenge thriller.

the grind house marketing, meanwhile, was largely just focused on the sheer spectacle of delivering two provocative movies to audiences for the price of one ticket. In the process, specific details about the individual films got lost, forgoing the sort of character details or intriguing story elements that drew people to the most lucrative Tarantino and Rodriguez movies of the past. Plus, the visual motifs and storytelling hallmarks of features that played at Grindhouse theaters aren’t as universally well-known as, say, blaxploitation movies, kung fu films, or other genres that these two directors have paid homage to.


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In the years since these box office woes, grind house hasn’t quite taken on as much of a second life as one might expect. This is partially because of how difficult it is to replicate the original theatrical grind house experience at home. Planet Terror and Deathproof would initially be released as separate titles when they were first brought to home video in 2007. It would take until 2010, well after any of the hype over grind house had vanished, for the original double feature and all the trailers to get a proper physical media release. How could grind house take on a second life after theaters when it took so long to get a proper DVD release?

That’s a true shame because grind house does have many perks that deserve to be recognized more. For one thing, the internet hype is indeed true, Tarantino’s Deathproof is one of the director’s finest features. A twisted tale of a serial killer stuntman (Kurt Russell) and his seemingly impervious car, the film already functions well as a subversive slow-burn thriller in its first half. The bold choice to basically abandon the original main cast halfway through the runtime in favor of a new central group is audacious while Russell has got intimidating to spare him in his eerie performance.


Deathproof is already an enjoyable riff on old-school slasher movies anchored by lively lead performances from Zoe Bell and Rosario Dawson. However, once it becomes clear in the final half-hour, though, that the gender norms of these types of features are getting flipped on their head, with a bunch of female victims would-be chasing after Russell’s antagonist, it turns into something downright Irresistible. The final shot of the film is a thing of thick beauty, a perfectly violent yet also unexpected capper to a feature that lives up to both of those terms.

Deathproof and Planet Terror’s accompanying fake trailers also hit the spot nicely for those looking for a fun throwback to the days of exploitation cinema. Especially entertaining is the eli roth directory effort Thanksgiving, which finally asks the important question of why Halloween and Christmas get to hog all the holiday-themed slasher movies. There’s an amusingly aggressive nature to the debauchery here, as there’s constant nudity, geysers of blood, and heads getting chopped off around every corner of this trailer. Thanksgiving packs in more vision entertainment in a handful of minutes than many movies do in two hours.


Of course, a production this ambitious and lengthy in runtime can’t hit it out of the ballpark constantly and grind house, to be sure, has its share of shortcomings. Most notably, Planet Terror can’t help but feel like a more rudimentary take on the zombie movie genre, especially compared to the bolder takes on this domain in the 2000s from the likes of Shaun of the Dead. While far from a disaster, Planet Terror and its more rudimentary approach to the zombie film (right down to maintaining the traditional gender roles of such titles) can’t help but feel less satisfying compared to Deathproof or the best of the fake trailers.

Even considering these kinds of shortcomings, though, 15 years after its initial release, one can’t help but admire Tarantino, Rodriguez, and everyone involved in grind house for taking a risk on such an unorthodox project. In an age where Disney has no interest in releasing acclaimed PIXAR movies like Turning Red onto the big screen, it’s nifty to imagine a moment where something this unabashedly strange and grotesque could fill up thousands of movie theaters across the country. grind house wasn’t interested in being a crowdpleaser, it just wanted to share a love for old exploitation cinema and give moviegoers some ribald thrills. It’s hard to quarrel with those kinds of ambitions.


It’s hard to tell what the future of Grindhouse’s reputation will be. Its scarcity on home video, not to mention how the film wouldn’t quite work on streaming services like HBO Max or Netflix, means the odds are slim that the original presentation of Planet Terror and Deathproof will be getting a massive resurgence anytime soon. Still, even if it’s not quite the best thing produced by either of its two central filmmakers, grind house offers plenty of entertainment and, in the case of Deathproofepitomizes how well Tarantino can take old molds of cinema and inject them with new life.


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