What the f**k happened to Grindhouse? It’s not like people weren’t hungry for horror movies. Disturbia, a barely concealed remake of Rear Window, is #1 at the box office. At the same time Grindhouse isn’t even on the top ten anymore. Is there no justice?

Well, if you think about it for a minute, it becomes kind of obvious. Looking at the 53 million dollar budget given to both Planet Terror and Death Proof gives us the first clue. It’s about 530 times higher than the average film that used to play in those cheap inner-city theatres in the 70’s. So if I take out my calculator and do some purely mercenary sort of profit oriented math, there’s trouble a-brewing. Also, there was a reason those old exploitation films played in cheap theatres instead of having more mainstream releases. Almost no one wanted to see them. The majority were dull, slow, stupid, boring and badly made. Sure, there were a few decent ones; Last House on the Left comes to mind, but most sucked. I’m watching “”Eyes Behind The Stars” as I write this and it’s a doozy. I don’t know how strong willed some of you are, but Stars is kicking me around and giving me the dreaded 1-2 punch of awfulness. It’s illogical, badly dubbed and seems to have been edited with a blender. I don’t know, maybe it was a bit better in the original version. The point I’m trying to make here is that if anyone though that the “”genre” as a whole was just in need of better marketing to be properly appreciated by most people, then that would qualify as the stupidest f*****g thing I ever heard in my life. Sure, they’re cool in theory. They’re cool to talk about. They’re even cool to watch… if you can make fun of the f*****g thing with a bunch of people; which is hard to do in public nowadays since most movie theatres patrons tend to frown on someone yelling wisecracks at the screen.

Then there’s the fact that Grindhouse was marketed as two cheesy back-to-back retro films that were purposefully badly made. I can understand the logic behind this move since a similar marketing technique worked for the Kill Bill movies. BUT… there’s a difference and a pretty important one at that. Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2 worked with audiences because despite it being rooted in Kung Fu films it also functioned as a totally mainstream movie. (It’s a hell of a lot more logical and intelligent and believable than similar themed movies like Sleeping With The Enemy, Enough and Double Jeopardy for example.) So the fact that it was Tarantino’s homage to a beloved genre of film really didn’t factor into its popularity. Most people just saw the in-jokes as amusing (if a bit confusing) quirks. They didn’t know who the hell Hattori Hanzo was, they figured Tarantino invented it; same with every other nod. Also, and this will sound stupid, but Kill Bill’s success was due to it being high concept. The story was in the title and could be easily understood by anyone. Woman seeks revenge against man who tried to kill her on her wedding day. She wants to… KILL BILL. It was simple and straightforward. You had a major star as the main character and that instills trust in an audience that the star won’t do something that they won’t like. It was based on the Kung Fu genre and people have good collective memories of it, from Enter the Dragon to The Matrix to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s not purely associated with “bad” movies. These are all little things, but they add up. I’ve always believed that you should never underestimate an audience when making a movie, but that you should ALWAYS underestimate them when trying to sell them the movie. Grindhouse is a terrible title to market. It brings up images of people being thrown in a meat grinder. Your average audience doesn’t like that. It doesn’t like having a somewhat hard to “get” trailer either. What was Planet Terror? An alien invasion movie or a zombie movie? What was Death Proof? A slasher movie? Car chase movie? What? Once you get them in the theatre it isn’t a problem, but it’s convincing them to come that’s the hurdle to jump. One of the mistakes that Tarantino, Rodriguez and the Weinsteins made was to assume that just because they knew what they were talking about in the ads that most people would too. But not everyone’s a movie hipster like you and me, so the ads were confusing. Be honest, forget everything you know about the film and watch the trailer again and try to figure out what the two movies are about just from the information that it gives you. Can you do it? I can’t. Also, it further muddles things to have the trailer define Grindhouse as being: A theatre playing back-to back films exploiting sex, violence and other extreme subject matter. Maybe I blinked or maybe I’m not the best judge, but I saw almost no sex, little non-cartoonish violence and the only person who’d find the subject matter of either of these movies “”extreme” is Jack Thompson or Donald Wildmon.

So we’ve established that the trailer was confusing and that it wrongly marketed the film. Okay, but what about word of mouth? Surely the people who went to see it liked it and recommended to their friends? Well, I don’t think it’s that simple, word of mouth tends to work best because of an easily explainable film gimmick. Like how Blair Witch Project was “”supposed to be a true story”, or how Hostel is “”really gross and sadistic”. Word of mouth needs be shared in simple one sentence schoolyard dialogue. To explain why Grindhouse is cool, you’d have to give a lecture on 70’s exploitation films and they’re influence on modern cinema. It’s too long. It’s too hard to explain. People don’t “get” it. Then there’s the film itself. You need to give a lot of yourself to enjoy a B-movie, and audiences like to turn off their brain (but not their cell phone) when they go to the theatre. Now don’t get me wrong. I totally dug this movie. I thought it was brilliant. But again it’s not my opinion that counts, it’s the frat guys and the jocks and the cheerleaders and everybody else that really don’t know or care what Grindhouse films were. These people are apt to be thrown for a loop by the purposefully hokey film techniques. When the missing reel segments appear they’ll be screaming “WHAT HAPPENED TO THE STORY???” they’ll also be annoyed at the purposefully bad special effects, they’ll be annoyed at Tarantino’s talky segment. They won’t get the fake commercials at all. From what I hear people were leaving the theatre after Planet Terror and not sticking around for Death Proof. Harvey Weinstein said it was because they didn’t get that it was two movies, I think it’s because they’d seen all they wanted to see. It doesn’t mean Grindhouse wasn’t good, it just means that every film “type” has a niche and cheap 70’s exploitation films were relegated to the scary hobo masturbation theatres for a reason. That Planet Terror and Death Proof were vastly improved version of those films didn’t really matter, what matters is that they followed the template too much to be accessible to modern audience and too little to truly satisfy the hardcore fans. I also think that the Weinsteins were nervous about how it was going to do and more or less engineered a self-fulfilling prophecy by screwing around with it’s release date too much. Easter? I mean what the f**k? I think this will have a great life on DVD, but it’s too low brow and purposefully low quality to be worth the ten bucks to go see in theatres for most people. .

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  1. viola says:

    You coined a great phrase in ‘hobo masturbation” movies.

  2. claude says:

    You hit the nail on the head! I was very hesitant to spend time and money on “Grindhouse”, because the previews presented it to be just another mindless blood and guts film, at the expense of solid film making. Because of the emphatic review given it by Richerd Roeper and guest A.O. Scott, I convinced myself that catching it during a “bargain matinee” would lessen the damage, if I were to walk away disappointed. I was not. I haven’t been as entertained at the theater in a long time. I gave the film strong word of mouth, (and keypad), but I couldn’t find anyone who had gone to see it afterword. I don’t know what I would change the movie title to, but “Grindhouse” surely didn’t work. I also must say that the movie itself shouldn’t be “altered” or “dumbed down” in an effort to raise box office revenue. How do you “dumb down” a grindhouse movie anyway!?? For those who don’t “get it”, well, chances are good that you never will. Believe it or not, it is hard to corral an audience that has to have the “Dukes of Hazzard”* explained to them, which is who mostly goes to the movies these days. *(Kudos to comic Bill Hicks for lending that observation). Let’s hope that the dvd compensates for the poor box office.

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