A view from the cheap seats

Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino team up for ‘Grindhouse’ and attempt to recreate the ’70s theater experience

Michael Garberich

Revel in your iPods, MySpaces, cell phones and “pirated” downloads of any-and-everything compressible dear friends, but once, so I hear, long before the day went digital, young people embarked on – and I’ve only a vague notion of what I’m about to describe – loosely strung series of events with distinctive and consistent characteristics that, when organized and reflected on together at a later time, were called “an experience.”

“Grindhouse”
DIRECTED BY: Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino
STARRING: Rose McGowan, Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson
RATED: R
PLAYING AT: Area theaters

Take, for example, cinephilic (and archeological) directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, roguish preservationists, fetishists and revisionists of cinema’s past whose double feature, “Grindhouse” excavates all the gritty, sexy, violent senselessness of the ’70s B-grades and the defunct theaters (grindhouses) that screened them.

They’ve revived, as best they can (and that’s pretty damn well), all the loose sprockets, scratched and burnt film stock, missing reels and hammy splices that signify to us in the reclining, ergonomic, cockpit seats with ample leg room, arm rests and cup holders to either side, what must have been the grindhouse experience; or something of the sort, as close to it as today’s digital simulation can bring us.

I have it on good consultation (the Internet, naturally) that skipping class with some buddies or perhaps a young amour, tossing back, and back and forth, a bottle of booze and lighting up (with a lighter, not the LCD display on your Nokia) is a fundamental element to the experience. The ratty seats and sticky floors also up the ante, so seek the lowliest theater you can; they’re still out there, though dwindling.

This evening’s bill features two schlocky horror exploitation pics for you and your buddies’ tix.

First is Rodriguez’s zombie camper “Planet Terror.” It’s a true pastiche recycling every defect from smoldering film (at the sex scene, no less!) to a perpetually degraded image quality with celluloid flecked and marked by dirt and dust and probably a few of the projectionist’s pubes.

Bruce Willis is an AWOL lieutenant who releases a deadly virus into the world after the government cold-shoulders him, despite his assassination of Ö Osama Bin Laden! The virus’ source is, you guessed it, severed testicles (kept in a pickling jar, I think). At low doses, it forms giant, gooey pustules most noticeably quaking on the forehead and cheeks and bursting at the neck. And at high doses, it creates cannibalistic zombies.

Only a few are not infected, including Cherry (Rose McGowan), a go-go dancer who replaces her leg with a machine gun (and one-ups all of Hitchcock’s men with canes); her ex-boyfriend, El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a sharp shooter, jujitsu master and all-around badass; and Dr. Dakota Block (Mary Shelton) a clandestine lesbian who cuckolds her husband and holsters anesthetic needles to her thigh.

“Planet Terror” is the most gratuitous and therefore faithful to the genre of the two, devoting about an hour of its 90 minutes to shooting zombies, burning zombies and mutilating zombies with a helicopter.

But Tarantino’s serial-killer stalker offering is something of a Tarantino-reflexive masterpiece wrapped in a super-compressed (for him) hour and a half, with one of the most immediately gratifying endings, directly following a car chase of such physical demand and surprise that to describe it would be unfair.

Kurt Russell plays the ominously generic-named “Stuntman Mike” with a scar from his hairline to his jaw line. He carries himself with a casual swagger inspired by John Wayne and cruises in his “deathproof” 1971 Chevy Nova, stopping at dive bars along lonely country roads – to kill girls.

His first victims are a group of women, including Rose McGowan in another role, who mostly spend their time talking sex. Tarantino masterfully orchestrates their conversations to raise the sexual tension before Stuntman Mike’s vehicular assault, stylishly shown four times, depicting, precisely, each girl’s death.

Though it includes a cleverly missed reel here and some ersatz clumsy editing there, the tricks that began to feel overused in “Planet Terror,” by this time vanish, and Tarantino settles into a genre-subverting, auteur state.

The second group is all movie biz gals, including two stuntwomen (Tracy Thoms – spouting the so-Tarantino blaxploitative “nigga pleez” and actual stuntwoman Zoë Bell) who seek out a pristine white 1971 Dodge Charger for a test drive. The rest is good vs. evil, white Dodge Charger vs. Black Dodge Charger (Stuntman Mike’s new wheels), women vs. men, and Tarantino delivers a breathtaking ride.

“Death Proof” is essentially split into three parts, and the first and half of the second are motored by Tarantino’s trademark dialogue-driven ruminations, while the rest is driven, literally, by adrenaline.

Also in the mix is a faux-trailer for a “Mexploitation” film called “Machete” and an intermission featuring authentic theater management announcements and three additional trailers from directors Rob Zombie, Edgar Right (“Shaun of the Dead”) and Eli Roth (“Hostel”). Roth’s “Thanksgiving,” a hilariously lewd take on slasher films like John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” is justification in itself for “Grindhouse’s” entire three hours and eleven minutes.

The double feature’s length in the ’70s (so I’ve been told) was a bang-for-your-buck bargain, something you could experience coming and going, another cool way to blow off a day.

With such a significant runtime, “Grindhouse” might try a few audience members’ patience. But it’s worth every appalling, ludicrous moment, and the closest thing short of reconstructing a dingy, cigarette smoke-filled movie house that we’re going to get.