Its box office "failure" has become a story, but I think that's 100% unfair. That entire story is more about attacking the Weinsteins, or the tracking numbers, than the film. Weird cultish stuff like this rarely breaks out anyway; to expect otherwise is silly. It's doing about as well as a three-hour garbage fest ought to do.
Anyway, let's actually look at the movie, beginning with the hilarious and ingenious trailers. From worst to best, I'd go Werewolf Women of the SS, Don't, Machete, and Thanksgiving. The only worthwhile element of Werewolf Women (besides the celebrity cameo) is the starring role for Udo Kier. Dear reader, if you think you don't need more Udo Kier in your life, you're wrong. And Thanksgiving is just incredible. It doesn't really go for the "grindhouse" theme as much as the "creepy, seedy, cheap 80's video horror" theme, but the quality of the work forgives its mismatched period. Eli Roth should get some kind of special Oscar for the part where the killer fucks the turkey.
On a related note, the filmmakers get serious props for digging up those interstitial bumpers. The use of the song that was later sampled by DangerDoom for "Old School" was pretty awesome, according to me.
As for the double-feature itself... nothing against Planet Terror, but Death Proof wins in a landslide.
Planet Terror is a spectacular zombie film, and one of the more disgusting films I've ever seen. Robert Rodriguez certainly gives it his all. It's definitely as over-the-top as it gets. And I enjoyed it. There's some really classic stuff in there, like Jeff Fahey's hilarious disembowelment gag. And the "medical" photographs of what happens to people's genitals as a result of exposure to Project Terror is as big a fuck-you to the audience as possible. Hilarious stuff.
Unfortunately, Planet Terror only works as a take-off on other zombie films. You kind of need that context, because the movie's stupid and puerile otherwise. You need to say "oh, right, this is a parody, therefore I need not be embarrassed to be watching that dude from Lost slip around in the disembodied testicles he collects." And even on that front, it's too slick and stylized to really work as an el-cheapo zombie movie. Everything happens at night. There's no inconsistency, no actual grit, no unforced errors. All the errors are forced. Like the whole "missing reel" thing: cute, but at the same
Death Proof, on the other hand, is not only the truest in style to the theme of the project, but also stands on its own as an entertaining flick. 30 minutes of pure dialogue immediately after Planet Terror and the trailers is a dicey proposition. Anyone besides Quentin Tarantino wouldn't have been able to pull it off. But pull it off he did.
Then there's the much talked-about chase scene. There's a special giddy look I get on my face whenever I can tell that some crazy-ass classic shit is about to go down, particularly at the Uptown. The part in the Helm's Deep sequence where they topple that huge orc ladder apparatus... the asteroid belt/sonic charges sequence in Episode II... and the moment when Stuntman Mike appears with his binoculars, checking out the white '70 Dodge Challenger, smiles, and hops into his car. Just totally, totally awesome, all the way until the brilliantly sudden credit roll.
All the comparisons being made about that scene are pretty fair, although I don't think it's quite on the level of Bullitt or The French Connection. Those films' seminal chases derived their thrills exclusively from the cars themselves; Tarantino needs to put someone on the car in immediate danger in order to generate the same emotional response. Still, masterful stuff.
While we're nitpicking, I don't really buy Death Proof's perceived "chick power!" message. It's about as feminist as Charlie's Angels, which is more in line with the Russ Meyer feel that QT is after. The female protagonists are entertaining and plausible, but their primary source of appeal is their more fantastic qualities... looks and sass. That's true of the first flock of chick meat more than the second, whose appeal has more merit and depth by design. But even with Rosario Dawson and friends, the appeal comes from having charmed the (largely male) audience into falling in love with them, which in turn leads to a rooting interest once Stuntman Mike rolls along. That's not feminist... that's characterist. And ultimately that's not only fine by me, but also totally appropriate for Death Proof and its influences.
In conclusion, it's a hell of a fun time, and a sure-fire cult hit on video. I give Grindhouse 3 1/2 dismembered testicles rolling around on the ground out of 5.