Planet Terror is an effortlessly nasty, sleazy and ultimately well-made exploitation film. However, what makes it transcend its source material is Robert Rodriguez’s excellent direction along with a screenplay, which is more than mere gruesome and shocking antics for midnight movie fans. For example, the film has human moments where characters react to their terrible ailments at the hands of the horrific situation that has befallen them.
The most noteworthy of which is Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) who represents the film’s main attraction as the one-legged amputee who replaces her lost leg with a machine gun. Before this crucial moment, the film has moments where Cherry reflects on her life, ambitions, and past relationship.
In fact, if anything the film is about Cherry embracing her true nature, which is, at first, a legendary machine gun wielding woman and then a protector as well as the messianic figure of the future. Rose McGowan’s performance is sincere, and heartful, which results in her journey throughout the film feel authentic and emotionally compelling.
There is also this other interesting subtle thematic exploration that pervades the picture. These are the showcases of dual relationships in the midst of the unfolding zombie invasion which is encapsulated by Cherry’s ex-boyfriend- Wray when he says “Two against the world.” There are many of these relationships through the course of the film, and they speak to Rodriguez’s familial tendency, which resides in all his movies.
Planet Terror is also sublime because Rodriguez uses the format of the film to make the visual language of the film feel evocative of the genre. For example, the grainy nature of the picture makes some of the night scenes look like small time America of Halloween-infused with the gothic imagery of Mario Bava’s sixties horror films, particularly with the use of green.
At the same time, Rodriguez never forgets about injecting the film with tension and buildup. For example, the zombies are built up over a slow period of time, with piecemeal hints at their pulsating and soft exterior, which in turn makes the audience anticipate their appearance through the course of the picture. These elements coupled with a darkly comedic edge, rock inspired Carpenter score, and Planet Terror represents exploitation cinema at its finest.