Blood, Guts, but No (Box-Office) Glory

Grindhouse, the highly-hyped Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez double feature, failed to meet its $20 million opening weekend goal.  In fact, it was No. 4 in the Easter weekend box-office race with a total take of $11.6 million, losing to such movies as Blades of Glory, Meet the Robinsons, and Are We Done Yet? 


The movie is the duo's ode to exploitation films from the 1970s, intended to be more an experience than merely a film.  It contains two feature-length movies, Planet Terror and Death Proof, fake trailers to run between the two, and even phony ads for non-existent restaurants. 

A movie review on states, “Tarantino and Rodriguez have definitely raised the bar.”  But raised the bar to what?  More gore, more sickening, depraved means of killing and torturing people?  

The National Cultural Values Study, released last month by the Culture and Media Institute, shows that 73 percent of American adults believe the entertainment media have a negative impact on moral values.   And with directors being praised for upping the ante when it comes to shocking their audiences, it's not hard to see why Americans feel that Hollywood is bent on corrupting the culture.

USA Weekend featured an interview with Tarantino and Rodriguez in its April 1 issue.  Reporter Jeffrey Ressner pointedly pitched softball questions to the directors like: “Grindhouse seems like a rebellion against the nicey-nice movies at the multiplex. Has Hollywood gotten too soft?”

 Surprisingly, Tarantino side-stepped the question, stating that the movie “is just the stuff we're [he and Rodriguez] interested in.”  Rodriguez replied that they're “trying to get people into theaters to see something they haven't experienced before.” 

In his review for the New York Post, Lou Lumenick accurately reported that Grindhouse is “a veritable smorgasbord of decapitations, impalings, attempted rapes, car chases, explosions, good and bad action and well-endowed women in very short shorts.” 

Less than a month before the film opened, the Post reported that Grindhouse had to be edited to qualify for an “R” rating.  Had certain scenes in the fake trailers not been toned down, the film would have been slapped with an NC-17 rating. 

After viewing the movie, though, one has to wonder:  What did they actually cut?

A scene in which Grandma is shown trussed like a Thanksgiving turkey in Eli Roth's trailer for Thanksgiving is still shown.  The scene in which a grossly obese man chews on a baby still appears in the trailer, Don't. Tarantino's cameo as a guard with disintegrating genitals set on raping a one-legged go-go dancer in Planet Terror is still in, along with a wooden peg impaling him through his eye.  Various shots of bags full of cut-off male genitalia made it through the editing process.  What would a zombie movie be if it didn't show zombies feasting on human flesh in all their blood-spattered glory?

The violence-saturated movies are also steeped in gratuitous sex.  While audiences are spared more graphic scenes by well-timed “Missing Reel” slides, sex pervades the films and fake trailers.   

The heroine in Planet Terror is a go-go dancer wearing the requisite cropped top, short skirt and knee-high boots.  Other dancers kiss each other and walk around topless. Glimpses of bare bodies engaging in sexual activity fill the screen before, mercifully, the “Missing Reel” appears. The graphic talk between girlfriends in Death Proof would make Cosmopolitan editors blush. 

More women in various stages of undress and sexual activity are depicted in the bogus trailers.    

Adding fuel to the fire, Rolling Stone magazine featured actresses Rose McGowan and Rosario Dawson on its April 19 cover.   McGowan, starring in Planet Terror and appearing in Death Proof, and Dawson, who appears only in the latter, were pictured nude except for strategically placed belts of bullets.    

The message comes across loud and clear.  Hollywood wants more – more violence, more gore, more blood.  But another message, while a whisper, is just as powerful.  Last weekend's box office indicates that audiences may think this bar of depravity has slipped too low.

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.