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Zombies and Hot Rods and Spoofs — Oh, Guys!

Souped-up hot rods, buckets of gore, sexpots, car chases, zombies with exploding pustules — I mean, seriously, what's not to love? Who could resist a movie where the leading lady loses a leg in an attack of the living dead, and her boyfriend replaces it with the perfect B-movie accessory: a snap-on, lock-'n'-load prosthetic machine-gun.

Welcome to Planet Terror, a spoof of zombie gross-outs in which director Robert Rodriguez has fun overstating what you might call the essentials of the living-dead genre: carnage, cannibalism and cleavage. Here and there, the director also adds innovations of his own. (I don't recall another zombie movie featuring melting genitalia, for instance.) And what filmmakers can do with body fluids in an age of digital manipulation goes way beyond the spattered-ketchup school of filmmaking. Doesn't sound like your cup of bile? Well...it's admittedly not for the faint of heart, or of stomach. But how do you feel about car chases?

They're the draw in the second half of the Grindhouse double bill. Actually, the second half of the second half, because Quentin Tarantino's car- and babe-crazed epic, Death-Proof, starts off with some seriously extended talk, filmed in seriously extended takes. It's Tarantino showing off, both in the dialogue and in the camerawork, in ways that the no-budget movies to which he's paying homage generally didn't. But never mind that. Eventually, some doomed young beauty is bound to forget she shouldn't accept rides from strangers, and get into Stuntman Mike's supercharged Dodge.

This is, let's note, Tarantino spoofing Tarantino movies, not films you'd have seen on a double bill decades ago, but hey, it's energetic. And it sets up — after a second bout of chatter with a second set of gorgeous young women — what is maybe the most rip-roaring chase ever captured on film. It's a chase you're free to enjoy just as a thrill ride or for its "cinematic" virtues — swooping, continuous shots where cars disappear and erupt from clouds of dust, white-knuckle stunt work that's clearly not being digitally faked, and so on.

Now, to make this movie experience resemble what you'd have gotten in a real grind house, both halves of the double feature have been carefully marred with deep film scratches, broken sprocket holes and even missing reels. (The sex scenes, naturally, which in the old days might well have gone missing, off in some projectionist's private collection.) No doubt they'll be on the DVD version.

There's talk that when Grindhouse is released overseas, it'll be as two separate films, and at that point, each will have more material. Might work there, but together, at three-plus hours, including real "period" popcorn ads and interstitials, plus hilarious fake previews created by prominent young horror directors, Grindhouse is a bit too much of a good thing. If each of its films were shortened by 15 minutes, the overall package would be stronger. But it's hard to argue with filmmakers who are so in love with such disreputable subject matter --so in love that they just can't bear to let it go.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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