“I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men.”
Emily Harrison continues her review of Grindhouse with Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Death Proof,’ featuring a plethora of talented actresses and STUNTMAN MIKE!
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So, you’ve sat through Planet Terror and had a good, oozy laugh at Rose McGowan blasting a bunch of zombies away with an assault rifle for a leg, but now it’s onto Death Proof, and Tarantino’s turn at showcasing his grindhouse horror chops. Yet, and it should be said early on, if you’re looking for the same sort of thing as Planet Terror, and are awaiting more flesh-eating creatures, then this isn’t the one for you. Rather, Tarantino semi-delivers on the terror, and where Rodriguez so evidently hits the nail on the head, Tarantino flits around on the outskirts. The metaphorical nail is hit halfway in.
But before we get onto the movie itself, there is a few side notes to make which add to the double feature experience. For those who you who have the DVD, or find themselves with the most opportune chance to watch the films as they were intended, you’ll see that at the start of Planet Terror, and before Death Proof kicks off, there are several trailers spliced in between.
This is down to the fact that, like many a double bill movie, in between the first and second act, trailers would make an appearance, and if you’re in the grindhouse, often they’d be of the same, sleazy, comedic and gore filled calibre of the movie you’d just watched. Replicating this experience, Grindhouse brings us a plethora of choice. We have, to list all five; Machete, Werewolf Women of the SS, Don’t, Thanksgiving and Hobo with a Shotgun. Of the five screened, two were put into production, and for those among you who’ve seen Machete and Machete Kills, well, this was the origin.
In a masterstroke, they also bagged an illustrious list of movie makers (of the genre) to pull together the trailers, with Eli Roth, Edgar Wright and Rob Zombie all included into the directorial mix. A neat touch, and one that adds to the overall experience.
But, with the trailers screened, and my side-note laid out, it’s onto the second feature, and onto Tarantino himself. Set in Austin, Texas (as is Planet Terror) Death Proof really is a movie of two parts. It’s not subtle either, the cast almost completely changes, as does the film stock, and we also end up in Tennessee.
Opening in a similar fashion to Planet Terror (fuzzy screen, crackling film), we’re greeted with one of the most recognisable Tarantino fetishes, female feet (even typing that feels odd). And although there is much to be analysed from his fascination with the foot, you get the sense early on that although this is going to be a retro throwback, it’s also going to be, unmistakably, a Tarantino movie. The cast too, is equally as stellar as his other flicks. Kurt Russell play’s Stuntman Mike, and then we have ‘the girls’ who make up pretty much the rest of the roll call; Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd (daughter of Charlie’s Angels Cheryl), Rose McGowan (again), Sydney Poitier (daughter of Sidney), Tracie Thoms, Mary Winstead, and stunt double come actress Zoe Bell, who plays herself. Eli Roth also makes an appearance.
Yet, whilst it feels somewhat Tarantino-esk from the get go (which is to be expected), it’s more Jackie Brown than Inglorious Basterds, paying homage to the slasher road horrors of the 70s, just as Jackie Brown paid homage to the Blaxploitation movies of the same era. He too, follows the same path as the movie before him. In a similar fashion to Rodriguez, who constructs a narrative that compounds varying themes (‘a mix of Southern Gothic, zombie horror, and post-apocalyptic biohazard terror’ to quote myself), Tarantino aligns himself with the same sort of disordered outlook. It’s part psychotic, part semi-chick flick, part American road movie (e.g. Vanishing Point) and part Sothern Gothic, where crime, violence, and the sinister all lurk under the surface. Darkly comedic at times, Tarantino mixes and matches as he pleases, and the ‘horror’, or perhaps more apt, the ‘terror’, comes not from a supernatural force, but from Stuntman Mike (Russell) and his ‘death proof’ car.
A sociopathic stalker, Russell takes up the mantel of a cold-blooded killer who stalks young women, killing them either in, or with, his reinforced car. This really, is the entire premise of the film, and if you suspect that some of ‘the girls’ die at the hands of Stuntman Mike, well, you’d be exactly right.
But this is where the movie loses focus, my diagnosis being an unfortunate case of the somewhat labouring plot, or, lack thereof. Perhaps the most irritating thing about watching Death Proof after Planet Terror is that where Rodriguez so clearly lays out a narrative that has a structure, or one that at least pays off, Tarantino gets bogged down by, well, himself. The dialogue at times is too protracted for its own good, and where Tarantino usually delivers scenes bathed in some of the best character interaction seen on screen (watch the tavern scene in Inglorious Basterds for that), here, he labours the point for far too long. He also (I will get onto the good stuff), in his directorial decision to effectively split the film in two, loses the grungy, grindhouse aesthetics he builds in the first half.
The thing is, it’s the lingering shots of the death proof car swathed in pouring rain, the sweaty sticky atmosphere he builds in the bar, where we find Arlene (Ferlito), Shanna (Ladd) and Julia (Poitier), the first group of girls, as well as Tarantino himself as Warren, and McGowan as loner Pam, is where the film is at its height. You can tell too, from the minute Stuntman Mike shows up, that it’s not going to end well, and when Pam asks him for lift home, the writing is on the wall (of all the shitty bars, in all the towns, in all the world, Pam should’ve walked into another). The first half is also where the blood lies (and where a leg is severed and flung into the road). Full gore, full comedy.
It’s strange then, that all the tension he builds in the first hour (as well as the sleaze – see the lap dance scene for that) he scraps in the second. It may sound odd, but he adds too much light. Switching from night to day (and fourteen months later), the second part lacks the grit of the first, and he turns what was a southern psycho thriller into an odd chick-flick car chase. It’s jarring when you compare it to the earlier section. It’s too well-lit and too out in the open, to be truly heart racing. And whilst the car chases are thrilling to watch, it’s scarce in its trepidation. It’s not terrible of course. ‘The girls’ this time round, Abernathy (Dawson), Zoe (Bell), Kim (Thoms) and Lee (Winstead), are still in the sociopathic sights of Stuntman Mike, but just not in the same grindhouse ilk as the earlier half. Moreover, it doesn’t quite match Planet Terror’s comedic horror, the very factor that makes Rodriguez’s movie so enjoyable to watch. I wanted more sinister psycho terror, and it’s a shame that Tarantino sets it all up, and takes it all away again in the space of a cut.
Don’t get me wrong though, it’s still wildly offensive, as is nearly every Tarantino movie, and the soundtrack is all killer no filler. It has its moments of gory glory too, and the aesthetics of the film, capturing the grungy southern state of Texas, melting the 70s and the 00s together, is particularly well framed, but again, it all sort of comes within the first half. And whilst the ending is satisfying (I won’t ruin it), he ends it too abruptly for it to be totally worthwhile, which is particularly grating when you consider that he takes ages to get going elsewhere.
Planet Terror is the better watch, not only for the plot, but for the retro nostalgia and spoofy comedy. And whilst Death Proof is fun, once you’ve watched Plant Terror, scoffed some sweets and sat through the grindhouse mocked up trailers, it just doesn’t quite meet the same heights as the zombie horror before it.
Tune in tomorrow for STORGY’S Basement of Horror feature on Dying: Reborn (High Achievers Gaming)
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