Planet Terror Blu-ray review

Now you can watch Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror without the scratches - in glorious high definition...

Well, this is a contradiction, a movie designed to be watched through the grit, grain and cigarette burns of a 1970s drive-through projector being converted to high definition. And, whether you want to watch it in the way that director Robert Rodriguez wants you to, or the special ‘scratch free’ edition, you will be in for a treat. For in what other movie will you see Rose McGowan sporting a machine gun for a leg or see Quentin Tarantino melt?

Plant Terror, as most of you know, is one half of the ‘Grindhouse’ double feature project from directors Rodriguez and Tarantino. While Tarantino went for the stunt driving, muscle car smashing girl-on-girl action of Death Proof and, in my opinion, wasted a great idea on a hour and a half vanity fetish movie, Rodriguez went in the right direction with a movie that combined all the very best elements of bottom shelf straight-to-video releases and produced a gore-filled masterpiece that Palace or Medusa home video would have been proud of.

With a plot that involves strippers, grifters, mad scientists and Bruce Willis as a leader of a troop of undead zombie soldiers, this is a film that packs lots it. Oh,  did I mention a pair of psychotic doctors, a toxic zombie-creating gas, a grouchy bartender, smoking hot babysitters and a town full of chemically infected undead? Well, they are all in it too, all blended together with the very best Tom Savini-style prosthetic make-up and a trailer featuring Donny Trejo as Machete, the baddest Mexican you will ever meet.

As you can probably tell, this is a film that I adore, an insane mix of the very worst and best the 80s has to offer and now, on Blu-ray, you can see all the effects, purposely left in wires, stunt people and the buckets of fake gore, all in glorious detail.

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Choosing to watch the film for the first half hour in the original grainy copied VHS style, I switched to the special ‘scratch free’ version that, according the movie, is a recently found clean reel of the movie that has never been played, and I found the entire experience a whole lot more enjoyable.

The idea of adding damage was all well and good when the movie was released for cinemas and DVD and the joke and ideas of degrading the film was quite a unique one, but switching across to the 1080p version you realise just how much junk was added using digital means. And, while there was a fear that the movie would be like watching an adult film when you can actually see what they are doing (rather than a copy of a copy that was filmed in the cinema and through snow), I was very surprised and rather happy that I could actually see all the work that went into the movie, especially the zombie effects: the bulbous skin, flayed and melting bodies, the homage to the end of Robocop, and all the buckets of goo.

The interactivity of the first disc is excellent – the menus system is in keeping with the rest of the film, allowing you to jump into wherever you want in the movie or adjust your viewing or add commentary through a cool, grimy and dirty pop-up menu accompanied with machine gun fire and ‘re-load’ noises. It isn’t just the picture or interactivity of the film that is greatly improved, and while you cannot add or change the sound of the movie as you can with the picture quality, the 5:1 Dolby and TrueHD sound will do very nicely, thank you.

On the second disc (why do Blu-rays need a second disc – aren’t they around 50GB worth of capacity?) you also get a pile of great gore-soaked extras full of badasses and babes, all packed up and designed in a similarly-styled gritty schlock horror way. Rodriguez is known as an innovator of guerrilla filmmaking and this disc really shows that. Still, even with studio backing and millions of dollars of funding, that rebellious filmmaker responsible for El Mariachi remains and a superb 10 minute doc goes to prove that even with friends like the Weinstein’s, and Dimension films, Troublemaker studios still has a rebellious indy feel to it.

Added to this you also get a ton of behind the scenes action and documentaries, ranging from casting the eclectic stars of the film (where else would you see Lost’s Naveen Andrew and former Goonie Josh Brolin in one picture?) through to the special effects of the film and the reliance on make-up, physical effects, prosthetics and pyros and the shunning (where possible) of digital effects to give the film a more authentic ‘Grindhouse’ feel.

I could go on and talk about the film’s missing reel, the clever jump in narrative and the cool John Carpenter-like soundtrack. I could also go on about what a find Freddy Rodriguez is or how gorgeous Rose McGown is, but I won’t; the film itself does that – being a hour and a half of full on ‘80s action. With the second disc just backing up the coolness credentials of the whole affair Planet Terror on Blu-ray is just superb.

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While some say the film is un-justly overshadowed by Tarantino’s half of the Grindhouse experiment, which, in itself, was lambasted by critics and film-goers alike (and you can understand why…Quentin, enough with the feet!) this movie, by itself and watched as a single piece of filmmaking, works better.  It’s improved without all the critical baggage and the bum-numbing run-time that it was lumbered with and should be enjoyed for what it is – namely, an over the top, insane piece of ‘80s horror action.


4 stars

3 February 2009


2 out of 5