By Admin | January 27, 2004

Roaming gangs of cannibals! A kidnapped porn star! A psychotic “doctor” wearing a gas mask! It’s just another day in the bizarro world of “Grindhouse”, an ultra stylish freak-out from writer/director Stephen Tramontana. Set in the not-so-distant future, “Grindhouse” envisions a society in shambles after a second great depression has rocked it. Law and order have taken the proverbial back seat while murderers, thieves, and kidnappers rule the night. It’s a terrifying and sharply imagined vision of a dystopian future. Unfortunately, it’s also a vision the film can’t quite sustain. “Grindhouse” is passionately directed and often ferociously scary, but it also has a plot that gets more ridiculous by the blood-soaked minute. Things like that tend to take a toll. I hate to knock a film that starts off so well, but unless your last name happens to be Tarantino, it’s not easy creating bliss out of pop-trash spectacle alone. Any way you slice it, “Grindhouse” is a good buzz that eventually spirals into a bad trip.

As Ray and Howard Messik, Blue Benadum and Jeremy Tate do their best at channeling the infamous Gecko brothers (of “From Dusk Till Dawn” fame, of course). Ray is the certifiable bad-a*s of the duo and reluctant guardian to his troubled, schizophrenic brother, Howard. Together, the Messik brothers constitute a pair of would-be hooligans that you just know are destined for a shitty fate. Practically on a whim, the two decide to kidnap a soon-to-be-rich porn star named Katie (Kristen Hilyard) and her 6-year old daughter Tatum (Arielle Assor). Their plan seemed simple enough: kidnap the porn star, take her to a safe house (or in this case, the apartment of a previous Messik brothers victim), set up a foreign escrow account, wait for her trust fund (worth some $350 mil) to come through the next day, and then make the swap. What the brothers didn’t count on was little Tatum’s kind-of-creepy telepathic abilities, Howard failing to take his pills and thus freaking out, and the interference of a deranged doctor and his freakoid family of inbred cannibals, the Halloways. Meanwhile, in what seems like a completely different movie, Katie’s detective brother Forest (Bill Packer) and a lackey from the mayor’s office conspire to free the two women. When this ensemble of upstanding citizens converges after an increasingly preposterous series of events, all hell breaks loose and much blood is spilled, or swallowed as the case may be. These events ultimately lead to a muddled finale that’ll just leave you scratching your head. So much for those annoying captions that the film insists on springing on us every so often.

I really admired the spirit and style of “Grindhouse”, especially Tramontana’s assured direction. There were many times, at least in the first two thirds, when I experienced a palpable sense of suspense and dread. The psychotic Leatherfa… I mean Doctor was a true masterstroke of horror, even if it involved slight thievery. If this is any indication of things to come from Mr. Tramontana, I’d put money on his having a bright future in scary movies, provided he continues not taking himself too seriously. But even with his filmmaking chops and the strong performances of Tate and Benadum and even young Assor, “Grindhouse” loses all sense of coherence and tension when its plot spirals out of control near the end. And what is it with all these indie filmmakers insisting on genre-bending like it was their job. Sure, it used to be considered original, you know, to cross “Ransom” with say, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. But anymore, it can just be awfully tiresome. “Grindhouse” was better off staying a riveting kidnapping thriller with a mildly supernatural bent, instead of confusing the issue with all the cannibal nonsense. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned, Hitchcockian focus and precision?

Near the end of the film, when Howard wakes up in the clutches of the Halloways, he has an impossibly baffled look on his face that damn near screams, “What the hell just happened?” Dude, I only wish I knew.

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