The idea for Planet Terror came up while Robert Rodriguez was making The Faculty. He told the young actors that zombie movies were ready to rise from its grave and he wanted to get there first. He was more than correct and he missed his chance to be the first of many modern zombie films.
When Tarantino and Rodriguez came up with the idea for Grindhouse, his zombie film idea came back to him. The name of the film pays homage to the late night horror movie show that aired in the director’s hometown of San Antonio on KENS-TV during the 1970s and early 1980s.
Many of the cast members had previously worked with Rodriguez, with Marley Shelton and Bruce Willis appearing in Sin City, Savini in From Dusk Till Dawn and Michael Parks reprising his role of Earl McGraw from that film (he also plays the same role in Death Proof). However, Harvey Weinstein didn’t want Rose McGowan to be cast in the film. That’s because she had raised alleged sexually assault allegations against him and as a result, was blacklisted from any Miramax movie. Rodriguez was her at the time and specifically cast her knowing that it would enrage Harvey while his brother Bob would still release the film, as he controlled the Dimension releases.
McGowan would accuse Rodriguez of exploiting her, but the director supporter her statements against Weinstein. He said that she signed on to the script and whenever she’s threatened by men, she always ends up taking them out.
McGowan plays Cherry Darling, an exotic dancer who leaves behind her job and runs back into her ex, El Ray (Freddy Rodriguez) in the midst of a growing zombie invasion that leads them to the Bone Shack. There, the last remnants of humanity — J.T. Hague (Jeff Fahey), his brother Sherrif Hague (Michael Biehn) and his deputies (Tom Savini and Carlos Gallardo) — are battling the living dead.
This is all happens because Lt. Muldoon (Willis) and his men — who killed Osama Bin laden — are making a transaction with chemical engineer Abby (Naveen Andrews) for mass quantities of the gas that keeps them alive, which is called Project Terror. The gas gets released, soon mutating everyone.
There’s also a very Halloween 2 hospital, which is presided over by Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin) and his soon-to-be estranged wife Dakota (Shelton), who is trying to get their son (Rodriguez’s son Rebel) and her lover Tammy (Fergie) out of town. That’s where Cherry ends up after an accident and zombie attack, losing her leg and gaining a gun for an appendage.
Dakota ends up being the daughter of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, but her son Tony shoots himself in the face when she gives him a gun (Rodriguez made a happy ending, the one he has shown to his son, which plays after the credits). As Cherry and El Wray start to rekindle their relationship, the reel for the film is missing — just like a real grindhouse movie — and when we come back, the zombies have attached the Bone Shack and the rest of the film basically turns into a John Carpenter movie, stacking the deck against the heroes with near impossible odds. Rodriguez used the soundtracks to Escape From New York and The Thing to get the actors in the mood on set. The director wanted Carpenter to write the music for this movie, but that never happened.
Planet Terror succeeds where Death Proof fails in that it’s a non-stop action ride that’s short on brains and long on fun. I love that Bruce Willis is never in the same frame as any of the other actors, as if this were an Italian horror film and his scenes were added on to get international distribution thanks to his name value.
It’s pretty much the big budget remake of Nightmare City, except there are no scenes where zombies attack a bunch of ladies while they Jazzercise. There are also references and homages to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Cry of the Banshee, Killdozer, From Beyond and Fulci’s Zombie. It is in no way as good as those films, while fun in its own right. Hopefully, it introduced some audience to the undistilled bursts of insanity that it attempted to recreate.