If you're looking for proof that America is a nation dangerously low on brain cells
, then don't look to their president, their love of NASCAR or the success of Two And A Half Men - look at the cinema-going public and their increasingly erratic choices. In April last year, cinema patrons spectacularly failed to recognise a great deal when they saw one - Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's old-school double bill Grindhouse (two films for the price of one!) suffered a lousy opening weekend and was beaten to #1 in the US box-office by, among others, an Ice Cube family comedy. Later, Meet The Spartans would blow away the competition. Trying to make sense of such cinematic chaos is like trying to solve a bent equation - it's just bad maths.
The consensus thereafter was that 'the people' weren't ready for an experiment like Grindhouse, and the movie was unceremoniously lanced in two for overseas release, with Rodriguez's zombie apocalypse Planet Terror
debuting separately from Tarantino's gearhead thriller Death Proof
- minus the fake trailers, and arguably, the whole point of the movie in the first place. Thanks, America. Both movies are undeniably fun, but free from the context of Grindhouse, made little impact. If UK viewers wanted to see both movies as intended, they'd either have to ship over the Region 1 DVD or just plain cry themselves to sleep.
Or, if they were on top of their game, they could have attended the premiere of the full-fat Grindhouse experience in the Prince Charles theatre in the West End on 8 March. Finally, both movies were screened together (complete with trailers) with the added bonus of an intro from contributing director and Official Hero Of The People, Edgar Wright. The movie is screening for the rest of the month in various West End cinemas and it comes highly recommended from this cinephile - seen in it's entirety from start to finish, it's a giddy, guilty pleasure the likes of which you've never seen.
First up was Rodriguez's own trailer for Machete ("They just fucked with the wrong Mexican!"), a relatively amusing mock-macho revenge flick starring Danny Trejo (the joke is slightly less amusing when you know it's being made into a full-length feature).
Rodriguez's Planet Terror gets things started with a scorching lap-dance from Rose McGowan and doesn't let up until her leg is outta bullets. Take your pick from an embarrassment of iconic characters - McGowan's feisty go-go dancer Cherry, Marley Shelton's bedraggled Doctor Block, Freddy Rodriguez's ass-kicking hero El Wray - and some impressively gooey effects, both practical and computer-generated. The movie's truncated form is largely the same as its standalone theatrical release - the missing reel is still missing - although on a second pass, you'll have time to appreciate the excellent support, particularly from Michael Biehn, whose gruffer-than-gruff cop gets to spit some of the most audience-pleasing lines ("I'm riding with you!"). It's a hugely satisfying buffet of gore, grot and great lines, and even better, it's just for starters.
The interlude, complete with the rest of the fake trailers, is your real draw here. Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women Of The SS gets a few laughs but kind of misses the point, bigging up a 'star' appearance from Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu - a bit too knowing for this sort of thing. Eli Roth's Thanksgiving is much more like it, striking the right tone and avoiding out and out parody - the trampoline scene is a real wincer. The biggest cheer of the night, however, came from Edgar Wright's own trailer, Don't. Featuring a voiceover from Will Arnett ("If you... are thinking... of opening... that... door... Don't!") and cameos from Nick Frost, Mark Gatiss, Jason Isaacs and pop star Katie Melua ("It's the closest thing to crazy she has ever been," deadpans Wright), it's a real crowd-pleaser.
And then, Death Proof. It starts with the sound of roaring engines, but you can't help the feeling that, following the break-neck pace of Planet Terror, Tarantino's second half effort jams on the brakes. Although it undoubtedly benefits from the editor's knife - there's less Mary-Elizabeth Winstead and less needless girl talk - it still hangs heavy with unnecessary dialogue and tiresome chatter. Whisper it, but it's almost a d-r-a-g - Kurt Russell and his death-proof automobile can't turn up quick enough, and the first major crash and smash is no less spectacular (and no less welcome) the second time around. The following car chase segment however, with a new bunch of girls turning the tables on Stuntman Mike, is still a blast, with stunt-girl Z÷e Bell stealing the movie and cementing her status as an Absolute And Total Fucking Star in the process. The movie, and therefore the entire Grindhouse experience, finishes on a wonderful, breathless high.
When the credits finally roll, they bring over three hours of pure, unadulterated entertainment to a close. It's unthinkable to think that the movie bombed in America and even more depressing to think that its failure to light up the box-office means it'll probably be a beautiful, unique one-off. But perhaps, in retrospect, that's what it deserves - it's the biggest, most star-studded cult film ever made and comes with its very own sob story. Not just a movie but an event in its own right, Grindhouse is simply unmissable in its complete form - a five-star experience and no mistake. Fellow Brits, seek it out
ASAP. America? Hang your heads in shame.