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Titillation at the Grindhouse!

By Bert Ehrmann
March 30, 2007

Grindhouse PosterBefore DVDs, even before VHS, people had to go to movie theaters to see movies, even bad ones. Though popular movie theaters would show traditional films, there was a market for, shall we say, "untraditional" movies. Be it an ultra-violent gore-fest flick too bloody to run in a conventional theater or a sexy comedy featuring loads of bodacious cheerleader vixens and their shapely pom-poms. Today, these movies might premiere on DVD or late-night Cinemax, but 30 or more years ago, these movies could have premiered at the grindhouse.

To be honest, before the Grindhouse movie was announced last year, I was unfamiliar with that term. According to the writer/director Quentin Tarantino, the term "grindhouse" is used for an old, run-down theater in the 1960s and 70s that showed non-stop b-grade movies. Movies like Shaft (1971), the original Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) or Women in Cages (1971) would have all been considered grindhouse fodder.

Typically, a grindhouse movie was of low quality, featured lots of action/titillation and was made as quickly and cheaply as possible in order to maximize its earnings potential. In addition, film financiers only had a few prints of each movie made, meaning that these copies were shipped between theaters playing the movie for months at a time, wearing down the film stock with each run.

For the most part, original grindhouse movies have been lost to time. Most would have disappeared quickly after the initial theatrical run. Some might have gone onto appear on VHS in the early days of home video only to be forgotten in the bargain bins of the 1980s with a select few earning the “honor” of appearing on Mystery Science Theater 3000 years later. But writer/director Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez aren't counting the grindhouse out yet; in fact they're trying to bring back the spirit of the grindhouse with their aptly titled film Grindhouse due out April 6.

This new Grindhouse movie is really two films played back-to-back double-feature style, sandwiched with faux movie trailers in the grindhouse style.

Half of Grindhouse is a movie called Planet Terror that is directed by Rodriguez, best known for Desperado, Spy Kids and Sin City. Planet Terror follows the accidental release of a chemical agent on a military base that turns people into boil-infested zombies. Starring Rose McGowan, Michael Biehn and Bruce Willis, Planet Terror features a stripper (McGowan) who looses a leg to the creatures and replaces it with a machine gun in order to mow down the baddies.

The other half of Grindhouse is a Tarantino film entitled Death Proof. Death Proof stars Kurt Russell as homicidal stunt man Mike who, rather than using a knife or chainsaw, uses his car as his instrument of horror. Mike has designed his car in such a way that no matter how badly he crashes it he won't get hurt, he's "death proofed" part of his car. The twist is that although Mike won't get hurt, everyone else in the car WILL get hurt, if not killed, in Mike's intentional crashes.

Reportedly, the tone and story of these two movies isn’t the only thing in the spirit of the grindhouse. These films will also be artificially aged so that the film stock looks worn and used and entire segments of film/story will be missing as if they were lost in shipping between theaters. Rodriguez said on EW.com, “A sign comes up in the second-half that says ''Missing Reel.'' It's like you went on a 20-minute bathroom break and you come back and all hell's broken loose."

Even the faux movie trailers between these two movies are of interest. Rocker/director Rob Zombie and Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright will each be directing trailers for never-to-be-seen grindhouse films. The title of Zombie's trailer is very much in the vein of traditional grindhouse features; Werewolf Women of the S.S. Am I the only one that would pay good money to see that film?

After seeing the movie trailers for Grindhouse and reading about the movie, it seems to me that Rodriguez and Tarantino are hoping that the audience for Grindhouse will kick back and have some fun at their local multiplex turned grindhouse. Count me in!