“A lot of this was done at the very last minute.”
2007’s Grindhouse experiment between Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino was viewed as something of a misfire upon its initial release, but in the years since it’s enjoyed something of a reappraisal. Most viewers seem to have a strong opinion as to which of the two films is best, but regardless of where you land on that point there’s no denying that Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is far more attuned to the “grindhouse” aesthetic.
Where Death Proof feels like a slickly produced Tarantino film, Planet Terror is a gloriously intentional mess of jarring cuts, cheap tropes, B-movie dialogue, and crowd-pleasing beats. It’s not great cinema, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and one of Rodriguez’s most consistently entertaining movies.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the Planet Terror commentary!
Planet Terror (2007)
Commentator: Robert Rodriguez (writer/director)
1. The “coming attractions” idea is from old screenings, but it’s also something Quentin Tarantino does when he screens films at his home. “I wanted to recreate the experience,” says Rodriguez.
2. Most of the Machete trailer was shot as a test of the Panavision Genesis cameras. Danny Trejo was the first one filmed, and Cheech Marin was the last nearly one year later. It was originally written as a vehicle for Trejo after Rodriguez finished Desperado.
3. He loves shooting trailers because you only need to capture the “money shots.” Creating the one for Machete helped get him into the mindset of making a grindhouse movie. “Originally he was supposed to be in the waterfall with one woman, and I hired two in case one didn’t work out or if the water was too cold, and when we got there I thought ‘Wait a minute, it should be two women!’ so I changed the line to ‘Where’s my wife and daughter?’”
4. The opening to Planet Terror is one of his favorites, and “not just because Rose McGowan is burning up the screen.” He wrote the opening song two years before cameras rolled, and it’s a piece that helped him write the screenplay by putting a lurid sound in his ear.
5. He likes to feature nudity early on in a movie so “it makes the audience think the whole movie has nudity. It creates this sort of quality that sticks in the audience’s mind.” Tarantino told him “At any moment, a lesbian kiss should be right around the corner.” Rodriguez paid tribute to that idea by having Cherry Darling (McGowan) lick a mirror.
6. Cherry is wearing Rodriguez’s own motorcycle jacket. “That’s what happens on these kinds of low budget movies, you end up raiding your own wardrobes.” Freddy Rodriguez, who plays Wray, is wearing his own jacket too.
7. Bruce Willis enjoyed his time on Sin City so much that he told Rodriguez “any time, any where, I’ll come make anything with you.” The director called his bluff and convinced him to play the bad guy here knowing it would only be two days work. Tarantino visited the set ‐ both to say hi and because he shot some 2nd unit for the film ‐ and was surprised to Willis in costume.
8. He cast his son, Rebel, because he once heard the boy say “I’m gonna eat your brains and gain your knowledge” while playing. The line made it into the movie.
9. R. Rodriguez told F. Rodriguez that he wanted someone very unassuming in the role. ”I’m not going to shoot you very tall in this movie,” he told the actor, “until about midway through the movie as you start getting better with knives and guns and showing who you really are. The camera’s gonna slowly get lower and you’re gonna get taller, so by the end of the movie you’re the biggest guy in the film.”
10. The doctor sharing the scene with Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin) and Joe (Nicky Katt) is Rodriguez’s real doctor, and some of the images on his monitor are of actual patients including the guy who severed his own penis and then allowed it to get infected.
11. The prop people mistakenly laid out real needles instead of the retractable ones for the scene where Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) gives Joe the shots, and she ended up pricking him three times. “Luckily my doctor there was a medic, so he came over and looked at it and goes ‘well, actually, you hit the veins and they were clean and they were sterilized, so nothing’s gonna happen.’” Katt didn’t even flinch at she stabbed him.
12. Tarantino is one of the nameless/faceless guys eating Fergie.
13. The shot of Cherry’s eyes opening while on the ambulance gurney accompanied by a brief piece of Graeme Revell’s score is a nod to Dead Calm, a film Rodriguez rightfully loves.
14. Critic Joel Siegel, who passed away in 2007, told Rodriguez that the “No brainer” bit was the funniest line he’d ever heard in a movie.
15. Harvey Weinstein apparently told Tommy Nix ‐ Rodriguez’s friend who plays the goofball ambulance attendant ‐ that he should be in all of their Dimension movies.
16. The only issue the MPAA had with the film involved the shot of Deputy Carlos (Carlos Gallardo) having his brain freed and munched. They had to trim a few frames to get the R-rating.
17. Michael Biehn, who plays Sheriff Hague, approached Rodriguez at one point to say he had fired six shots from his revolver and his character would need to reload before firing more. “Don’t worry about it,” replied the director, “it’s not that kind of movie.”
18. When asked how Cherry could be firing the machine gun in place of her leg he suggested perhaps she was doing kegel exercises.
19. The arm of a lighting crane is visible at 43:16. “I didn’t bother to erase that. I figured it’s low budget to see the crane that’s lighting the set still in the frame. There’s a lot of mistakes in the movie.”
20. The crazy babysitters are Rodriguez’s twin nieces on his wife’s side.
21. One of the first things he thought of when it came to writing the film was that “Dakota should have a kid, and the kid should die, but in this really stupid way.” He felt that since the film is filled with so much “fake” horror he wanted to add a little something that could actually unnerve audiences. Still though, he filmed alternate scenes that saw the boy live all the way through to the end of the movie. As of this recording “my son still doesn’t know that he died in this movie.”
22. Jesse James built the custom motorcycle in J.T.’s (Fahey) garage, and the car is from Rodriguez’s second film, Roadracers.
23. The “missing reel” gag was inspired by the time Tarantino screened an Oliver Reed film at an Alamo Drafthouse that was in fact missing a reel. The idea of not knowing what scenes you’re missing appealed to Rodriguez and used it here both as a gag and because his script was already growing too long.
24. Deputy Tolo’s (Tom Savini) death is a nod to the bloody, gory ways in which Savini routinely killed people as an f/x artist. His limbs are all torn from his body.
25. He name-checks John Carpenter over a dozen times in regard to the musical score, certain scenes, and anti-heroes.
26. Zoe Bell is visible at 1:03:23 as a zombie in blue getting shot towards the right side of the frame.
27. Willis’ scenes were shot almost exclusively in close-up so they could get him in and out, while the remaining wider scenes feature a double wearing a mask.
28. Tarantino wasn’t originally planning on playing Rapist #1, but after performing the role in table reads Rodriguez felt he should just take the part. “He read this sort of like Richie from Dusk til Dawn, and he did it so great.”
29. Like most people, Tarantino loves the splinter-in-the-eye scene from Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters, so Rodriguez gave his character a similar fate.
30. The big firefight escape from the military base was filmed in the parking lot of Rodriguez’s studio lot.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Freddy Rodriguez isn’t very tall. He won’t mind me saying that.”
“There’s always some kind of barbecue rivalry.”
“I don’t know why cars are just blowing up, but it makes for good punchlines.”
“I have very little patience for people who don’t just get off their ass and do something. Even if they don’t have legs.”
“We don’t test our movies.”
I may not always love his movies, but Rodriguez gives fantastic commentary tracks. His do-it-yourself mandate ‐ the same one that found him success in the first place ‐ remains a part of his style, and his commentaries are as much about positive thinking and how to accomplish various shots as they about humorous anecdotes from the set. This track reveals both his love for grindhouse cinema as well as his knowledge for their peculiar sensibilities, and the result is a fun, informative listen.