The horror film double feature Grindhouse was made to be enjoyed as one, but Planet Terror stands out as the best half of the project. In 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino joined forces and created Grindhouse, with Planet Terror as Rodriguez’s contribution and Death Proof as Tarantino’s. Both explore exploitation films in their own way, but Planet Terror took it a few steps further.
Planet Terror follows a group of people who have to find a way to survive after a deadly biochemical agent called DC2 is released, turning a big part of the population into deformed, zombie-like creatures. They also have to stop those behind the catastrophe before the chemical expands even more. Death Proof, on the other hand, centered on a stuntman who murders women in staged car accidents with his “death-proof” stunt car. Although both have their own style and appeal, Planet Terror is the best half of Grindhouse.
The point of Grindhouse was to bring back the experience of watching exploitation film double features. These films are characterized by the use of niche genres and lurid visuals with poor print quality, giving them a slightly unsettling look. Planet Terror took these elements very seriously, with a zombie story like the ones from the 1970s and effects that make the film look damaged and as if it had been splattered with blood. It even has a minor time jump as if it was missing part of the reel. Death Proof also had the damaged look but failed to used it to its advantage like Planet Terror did.
Exploitation films also aimed to mess with viewers' sensitivity. Death Proof’s theme by itself is enough to unsettle some, and a couple of its visuals served that purpose, but fell short in terms of narrative. Planet Terror achieved this with the (very graphic and gross) mutations caused by the DC2 gas and the exploration of different types of fear, such as losing your child, a part of your body, being rejected by society, being trapped in a toxic relationship, and more.
Planet Terror took themes that have been used over and over again (a zombie apocalypse and a bio-chemical leak) and gave them its own twist, with some truly memorable characters, situations, and weapons – such as Cherry Darling’s leg-rifle. Death Proof lacked the excitement of Tarantino films, arguably making it its worst film to date, but Planet Terror made up for that, balancing the Grindhouse double feature and serving its purpose as part of it.