Grindhouse, an exploitation double-feature experience containing two full-length films (Robert Rodriguez´s fun but underwhelming Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino´s magnetic Death Proof) and interspersed with hilarious fake movie trailers (from directors Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Rodriguez), received moderate critical praise and a warm reception from fans when it opened in the US in April.
It was something of a masterpiece; not for the content it contained – films that aimed low and succeeded – but for the experience it provided, a spot-on replication of a night at a ‘70s drive-in that demands to be seen with an unquiet audience.
The film came and went from US cinemas with less-than-satisfactory results; now Europe gets to see it in two separate parts, the original concept junked and the experience gone. But hey, the studio gets to make twice as much from ticket sales.
Surprisingly, with Tarantino´s Death Proof, we have a better standalone film than what was presented in Grindhouse. Twenty minutes have been added to the proceedings, with two extended scenes in particular dramatically improving the proceedings. Film grain inserted to make the film look older has been removed. And what was presented in Grindhouse as a “missing reel” has been re-inserted to the delight of many male audience members.
The film is presented in two entirely separate acts, which follow two separate groups of young women: the first (Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, and Sydney Poitier) suffer at the crazed vehicular hands of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) and his ‘death-proof´ car; the second (Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Zoe Bell) gets some revenge.
Film is highlighted by two memorable, magnetic climatic car crash-and-chase scenes in both segments, with superb stuntwork and nail-biting tension. Things seem more intense this time around, perhaps because the characters (especially in the second half) are fleshed out a bit more, or perhaps because we jump right into the movie (Tarantino´s film was the second in the 3+ hour Grindhouse).
Russell is a lot of fun, Zoe Bell (an accomplished stuntwoman) is a revelation, and Tarantino handles everything so masterfully that we don´t mind spending much of the film listening to twenty-something female dialogue. And it still precisely replicates ‘70s drive-in fodder; but this time around, the irony is gone.
Death Proof is not a knowing throwback to Gone in 60 Seconds or Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, it´s an almost an exact duplicate of these and other drive-in films. And it works perfectly in these regards, for those who can enjoy traditional exploitation fare without winks and nods from the filmmakers.