The following was posted on 4/6/2007 from my LiveJournal on Grindhouse (which is celebrating it’s 15th Anniversary). I’ll admit I respect Death Proof a bit more now than I did back then:
Gotta write fast. Have to jump into shower and head for work.
I got into the movie theatre at about 8pm, and spent the hour talking with a pair of film students from the School of Visual Arts. At 9 (an hour before the movie), the rest of the sold out crowd appeared. I was officially 3rd in line. Sweet. 🙂 I didn’t my preferred seat (the single one on the right reserved for patrons coming in with someone in a wheelchair), but did get a seat in the empty row (meaning I could stretch my legs, even better).
The short of it: Grindhouse is paying one low price for 2 bad movies, on purpose. You get 3 great built in trailers, and two mini movies. Between the two mini movies, I loved “Planet Terror” (the Rodriguez one) more than “Death Proof” (The Tarantino film), simply because Death Proof had too much of Tarantino’s conversational style that all of his films have. It’s like you’re listening to a conversation that absolutely doesn’t tie itself to any of the storyline’s major points. It’s just “cool” stuff, but I literally almost fell asleep until Kurt Russell showed up on screen. I think that if one knows to expect this from Tarantino, it comes across better. It’s like watching both Kill Bill volumes back to back. The first one’s cool and action packed, and the second one has some action (the chase scene alone in Death Proof had me wondering how they did that), but is so slow before getting there, you want to sigh.
Being a Charmed Fan, it was great to see Rose McGowan again, and there were so many cameos to laugh at. Fergie has a cameo, and Michael Biehn’s (“Hicks” from Aliens, Navy Seals) even in this. Where did they dig up these guys?
Grindhouse is easily a party film. I’d go see it again in the theatre, but I don’t see myself getting the DVD. It takes you back about a good 30 years, and does that really well. There are missing reels, serious jump cuts in the film and the sound sometimes cuts out. 🙂 In that sense, it’s really beautiful. The audience laughed and applauded, though there were some that at the end were like “Man, that sucked.” In the 60’s and 70’s, Grindhouse movies were pretty bad. I guess it’s like watching one of those old Hammer films, mixed in with a cheap horror flick. You have to walk into this movie not expecting “The Departed” for it to work. Just have fun with what you’re seeing and remember, this is what your parents sometimes saw in the movies (it should be noted that my parents went to something of a Grindhouse once – the movie they went to see was Night of the Living Dead. The other movie that was in the show was John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, which freaked my Dad out).
The music in particular is really great. Robert Rodriguez, Chingon, and a few friends come up with a sound for Planet Terror that’s in essence a John Carpenter like sound. If you have access to the Itunes Music Store, give it a listen (I bought it). Plus, if you’re a fan of some of the older movies out there, you’ll find references to some of Carpenter’s films in there (for example, one of the songs from “Escape from New York” is actually used in the film). The same occurs with the soundtrack from “Creepshow” – The story with the drowned couple. There are also tons of older Tarantino/Rodriguez references in there. One fellow actually yelled out a line, word for word, from what was on screen. It took me a second to realize the line came from “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Sweet.
The in betwen trailers are absolutely fantastic. If I were to get the DVD, it would probably be for this reason alone. You can tell that Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Eli Roth (Hostel) really had fun with their pieces.
So, Grindhouse is worth seeing in theatre at least once with a bunch of friends, but know what you’re walking into. The movie can get gross at times and no young kid should even be brought near to this (we got carded to actually get into the theatre, and a Weinstein Rep. was on hand after the film to let us take surveys). Also before the movies, one of the teaser trailers is for Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”. I haven’t been so excited for a horror film like this since Zack Snyder’s version of “Dawn of the Dead”. This looks really good, and I’m wondering what Michael Myers is going to look like when someone like Tyler Mane (Sabretooth from the first X-Men movie) is playing him. That’s going to be creepy.
From the directors of Ready or Not comes yet another chapter in Wes Craven’s Scream series. I’ll admit I’m liking the cast in this one. We have Melissa Barerra (In the Heights), Jenna Ortega (Yes Day), Dylan Minnette (30 Reasons Why), Jack Quaid (The Boys), Marley Shelton (Planet Terror), Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body), and Mikey Madison (Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood)
Then you have the returning cast, which includes Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette. Most importantly, it appears that Roger L. Jackson is voicing the Ghostface again! On a side note, Jackson was also responsible for Mojo Jojo’s voice in The Powerpuff Girls. (“Curses!”)
January movies don’t always do very well, but we’ll see what happens with this one.
Over the past couple of year, I’ve had so much fun making fun of Tori Spelling’s performance in the original Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? that I almost feel like I have an obligation to review a movie in which she gave a halfway decent performance.
That film would be another 1994 made-for-TV-movie. It was apparently originally broadcast as A Friend To Die For but most of us know it better as Death of a Cheerleader. That’s the title that’s used whenever it shows up on Lifetime. There actually was a time when Death of a Cheerleader used to show up on almost a monthly basis but that was a while ago. Lifetime has since moved on to other movies about dead cheerleaders.
Technically, as my sister immediately pointed out when I made her watch the movie, the title isn’t quite correct. Though Stacy Lockwood (Tori Spelling) does try out for and is named to her school’s cheerleading squad, she never actually gets to cheer. Instead, shortly after the school assembly in which her selection is announced, Stacy is found stabbed to death. But really, Death of A Future Cheerleader doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
As for who killed Stacy … well, it’s no secret. This is one of those true crime films where the murderer is not only portrayed sympathetically but is the main character as well. Angela Delvecchio (Kellie Martin) was a high school sophomore who was obsessed with trying to become popular. She looked up to Stacey and desperately wanted to be her best friend. (Why she didn’t just offer to bribe Stacey, I don’t know. Maybe she hadn’t seen Can’t Buy Me Love….) When Stacey got a job working in the school office, so did Angela. Of course, the school’s somewhat sleazy principal (Terry O’Quinn, coming across like John Locke’s worst nightmare) only made it a point to talk to Stacey and pretty much ignored Angela. When Stacey applied to work on the yearbook, so did Angela. When Stacey tried out for cheerleading, so did Angela.
In fact, the only time that Angela stood up to Stacey was when Angela was taunting the school’s token goth (played by Kathryn Morris). That turned out to be a mistake because Stacey never forgave her. When Angela invited Stacey to a party, Stacey was reluctant to go. When Stacey did finally accept the invitation, Angela stabbed her to death.
A Friend to Die For/Death of a Cheerleader is based on a true story and the film tries to lay the blame for Angela’s crime on the affluent neighborhood she was raised in. Just in case we missed the message, the film actually features a Priest (played by Eugene Roche) who says that the community put too much pressure on Angela to succeed.
Uhmmm….okay, if you say so.
Seriously, this is a pretty good little true crime film and both Tori Spelling and Kellie Martin give really good performances but this whole “It’s society’s fault” argument is typical, mushy, made-for-TV, bourgeois liberal BS. Angela picked up the knife, Angela committed the crime, end of story. That said, A Friend To Die For is pretty good as far as these movies go. I already mentioned the performances of Spelling and Martin but also keep an eye out for Marley Shelton, who gets a really good scene in which she explains that she never liked Stacey that much while she was alive.
You can watch A Friend To Die For/Death of a Cheerleader below!
The 1999 romantic comedy Never Been Kissed is a definite guilty pleasure of mine, and that’s not just because of the fact that James Franco has a small role in it. Never Been Kissed is a genuinely sweet movie that might not be extremely realistic but is still enjoyable.
Never Been Kissed requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, largely because Josie Gellar, the character who has” never been kissed,” is played Drew Barrymore. Oh, it’s not that Josie hasn’t ever been kissed. Instead, it’s that she’s never gotten the type of kiss that every girl dreams of getting. She’s never been kissed by someone who she was truly in love with. She’s never had the type of romance that everyone dreams of having (especially when they’re in high school).
However, Josie is about to get a chance to find that kiss. Josie works for a newspaper and her editor (John C. Reilly) has just assigned her to go undercover at a local high school. Unfortunately, Josie was traumatized by her experiences the first time that she went to high school. (She wrote a poem for a boy, he responded by asking her to prom and then throwing eggs at her.) On her first day as a “student,” Josie finds that she is just as unpopular as the last time but now she’s also absolutely out-of-touch with her classmates. Fortunately, she’s befriended by Aldys (Leelee Sobieski) and, soon, Josie has finally managed to find a place with the Denominators, a group of intelligent students.
Unfortunately, hanging out with the good kids isn’t producing the type of stories that Josie’s editor wants. He orders Josie to reject Aldys and to befriend the school’s mean girls. After her brother, Rob (David Arquette), also enrolls in high school, he helps Josie to become the most popular girl in the school. Soon, Josie is no longer hanging out with Aldys and has been asked to go to the prom by the loathsome Guy Perkins (Jeremy Jordan).
However, Josie has fallen in love with her English teacher, Sam (Michael Vartan). Sam likes Josie too but, of course, he thinks that she’s a student. Will Josie tell the truth and risk losing Sam? Will she be able to maintain her cover even when she discovers that her new friends are planning to humiliate Aldys? Will Josie ever truly be kissed?
Well, you can probably guess all the answers. Nothing really surprising happens in Never Been Kissed but it’s still a likable film. For the most part, the actors all do a good job with their stock roles and David Arquette, especially, is hilarious as a professional slacker who thrives in high school precisely because he’s never bothered to grow up. (Of course, by the end of the film, his new high school girlfriend is wanting to know what he’s planning on doing with his life after he graduates….) At no point is the film in any way realistic but it’s still an enjoyable way to spend 110 minutes of your life.
But, as far as simple-minded teen sex comedies, are concerned, it’s not that bad.
Brad Kimble (Will Friedle) is a nice but dorky high school student who, for years, has had a crush on an unattainable cheerleader, Brooke (Marley Shelton). When Brad is invited over to Brooke’s house to tutor her in biology, he arrives just after Brooke has had a fight with her jock boyfriend, Kyle (Eric Balfour sans facial hair). Soon, Brooke and Brad are making out. Brooke asks Brad if he has a condom. Of course, if Brad did have a condom, there wouldn’t be a movie. The rest of the movie deals with Brad’s attempt to not only find a condom in California and but to also get back to Brooke.
(Apparently, in the 1990s, there was some sort of sudden condom shortage in California. That’s all that I can guess after having seen Trojan War.)
Of course, that’s not as easy as it sounds. Brad’s car (actually, it’s his dad’s car) gets stolen. Brad ends up having a run in with a crazy homeless man (David Patrick Kelly) who — in a rather obvious shout out to Better Off Dead — wants two dollars. Brad gets chased by a crazy dog. Brad has to deal with a cameo appearance by a crazy Kathy Griffin. Brad runs into a crazy bus driver (played by Anthony Michael Hall). Brad ends up being pursued by a crazy police officer (Lee Majors). And since the film itself is a bit of an unacknowledged remake of Some Kind of Wonderful, Brad is also pursued by his not crazy best friend, Leah (Jennifer Love Hewitt, who I’ve always liked because we’re both Texas girls and I share her struggle). Leah is in love with Brad and Brad is in love with Leah. He’s just not smart enough to realize it.
And indeed, that’s the key to understanding the plot of Trojan War. Brad is just not that smart. This is one of those films where the great majority of Brad’s problems could have been avoided if Brad just wasn’t a moron. Fortunately, Brad is played by Will Friedle who was always the best part of Boy Meets World and who displays the unique ability to make stupidity cute. Friedle is so likable as Brad that you’re willing to forgive the film for a lot.
That doesn’t mean that Trojan War is necessarily a good movie. It’s likable but it’s never really good. For every joke that works, there’s one that doesn’t. I could have really done without the extended sequence where Brad gets lost over on the bad side of town and the movie suddenly trots out every negative Latino stereotype imaginable. But, when the movie just concentrates on Will Friedle and Jennifer Love Hewitt, it’s likable enough to waste 90 minutes on.
If nothing else, it’s certainly more entertaining than most movies that made less than 400 dollars at the box office.
For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at Oliver Stone’s 1995 presidential biopic, Nixon.
Nixon tells the life story of our 37th President, Richard Nixon. The only President to ever resign in order to avoid being impeached, Nixon remains a controversial figure to this day. As portrayed in this film, Nixon (played by Anthony Hopkins) was an insecure, friendless child who was dominated by his ultra religious mother (Mary Steenburgen) and who lived in the shadow of his charismatic older brother (Tony Goldwyn). After he graduated college, Nixon married Pat (Joan Allen), entered politics, made a name for himself as an anti-communist, and eventually ended up winning the U.S. presidency. The film tells us that, regardless of his success, Nixon remained a paranoid and desperately lonely man who eventually allowed the sycophants on his staff (including James Woods) to break the law in an attempt to destroy enemies both real and imagined. Along the way, Nixon deals with a shady businessman (Larry Hagman), who expects to be rewarded for supporting Nixon’s political career, and has an odd confrontation with a young anti-war protester who has figured out that Nixon doesn’t have half the power that everyone assumes he does.
Considering that his last few films have been W., Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and Savages, I think it’s understandable that I’m often stunned to discover that, at one point in the distant past, Oliver Stone actually was a worthwhile director. JFK, for instance, is effective propaganda. Nixon, which feels a lot like an unofficial sequel to JFK, is a much messier film than JFK but — as opposed to something like Savages — it’s still watchable and occasionally even thought-provoking. Thanks to Hopkins’ performance and, it must be admitted, Stone’s surprisingly even-handed approach to the character, Nixon challenges our assumptions about one of the most infamous and villified figures in American history. It forces us to decide for ourselves whether Nixon was a monster or a victim of circumstances that spiraled out of his control. If you need proof of the effectiveness of the film’s approach, just compare Stone’s work on Nixon with his work on his next Presidential biography, the far less effective W.
(I should admit, however, that I’m a political history nerd and therefore, this film was specifically designed to appeal to me. For me, half the fun of Nixon was being able to go, “Oh, that’s supposed to be Nelson Rockefeller!”)
If I had to compare the experience of watching Nixon to anything, I would compare it to taking 10 capsules of Dexedrine and then staying up for five days straight without eating. The film zooms from scene-to-scene, switching film stocks almost at random while jumping in and out of time, and not worrying too much about establishing any sort of narrative consistency. Surprisingly nuanced domestic scenes between Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen are followed by over-the-top scenes where Bob Hoskins lustily stares at a White House guard or Sam Waterston’s eyes briefly turn completely black as he discusses the existence of evil. When Nixon gives his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention, the Republican delegates are briefly replaced by images of a world on fire. Familiar actors wander through the film, most of them only popping up for a scene or two and then vanishing. The end result is a film that both engages and exhausts the viewer, a hallucinatory journey through Stone’s version of American history.
Before I start, note that Scream 4 is also referred to as Scre4m. While this is true and cool in a hacking/cyberpunk sort of way, I refuse to call it that as it just erodes my writing ability (which is rough enough as it is). I keep that up by the end of the year, everything I write will have numbers in it.
Compared to some of his earlier attempts, Scream 4 is pretty much a triumph for Wes Craven. With Kevin Williamson’s help, they manage to take the fourth part of a story and turn it into something remarkably enjoyable and surprising. The audience at my showing loved the way it started and ended. Although it retreads some of the older themes of the series, it does so in a way that almost makes fun of itself and the genre it’s a part of. Since it’s not taking itself too seriously, the audience doesn’t have to either.
Scream 4 basically brings what’s left of the remaining cast back to the tale. The Arquette’s (Courtney Cox and David) have returned as Gail Weathers-Riley and Sheriff Dewey Riley, respectively. Neve Campbell returns to form after a long hiatus, and really, it’s almost as if none of them ever left. The film starts off in a way where it pays homage to the original Drew Barrymore opening while still managing to keep it fresh. Cameos by Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell help to move that along.
After the events of the last three films (ten years of time in the movie), Sidney Prescott (Campbell) has managed to put her life back together by writing a novel about being a survivor. Thanks to Gail’s book on the Woodsboro murders and the multiple “Stab” movies that were created for them, the town has become famous for something it really shouldn’t be. Ghostface masks are a dime a dozen now, yearly Stab marathons are all the rage and the town kind of looks at it all like Crystal Lake – people died there, sure, but it’s just so much to say “I was there!”.
Sidney’s fame did little for her niece, Jill (Emma Roberts) and her friends, Kirby (a short hairdo wearing Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe). Having to grow up as a relative to the most famous person in town means everyone has something to ask her about Sidney when she returns to Woodsboro on her book tour. The younger trio keep their distance from Sidney as they consider her trouble. After all, all these deaths seem to occur when she’s around or has something to do with her. However, when a new rash of murders start when Sidney arrives, everyone has something to worry about. What follows is a bloodbath in typical Scream fashion, and as always, just about everyone is a suspect.
– Conspiracy Theory
What worked for me in Scream 4 was the conspiracy aspect. Williamson paints a picture that basically says “Here’s your cast. Any one of them could be the killer. Can you figure out who?”. The misdirection isn’t on a Harry Potter like level, but it does serve a purpose here. By the time everything was brought out, I found myself nodding and smiling. It’s actually worth it to ride out the movie to get to the big reveal. Without giving anything away, both that reveal and the story behind it was damn near excellent.
-Sidney as Ripley
Another good thing about the film is that Sidney is pretty much a powerhouse here. She takes on the Ghostface without too much fear. So much so that it sometimes seems like she’s like a Jason Bourne type character. It’s nice that she’s able to hold her own, though after 3 films, you’d expect the character to probably do that.
– Remembering the Original
Another element that proved useful was the homages to the original Scream films. There are a few scenes that even if you only watched the Original Scream, you’ll recognize them instantly. Some serious recognition goes to Panettiere’s Kirby, who at one point spits out the name of nearly 30 horror films in the space of a minute. All in all, it might seem like rehashing, but the context they were set up in were enough to warrant a whispered “Wow” from me. Maybe I’m just easily impressed. Craven also managed to bring back Roger L. Jackson (Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls) as the voice of the Ghostface Killer. So much fun to hear his voice again after all these years. That was definitely a plus.
– Not a lot of Bodies Hitting the Floor.
If Scream 4 suffers from any problems, it’s that there really isn’t that much of a body count. Granted, I wasn’t expecting anything like Dead Alive or Dawn of the Dead, but as slasher films go, it’s pretty light on the numbers, and as always, most of the people who are dispatched are done well, but I left the theatre wondering if there weren’t just a few more people who could have been taken out. That, and outside of the main players, I didn’t really care about the rest of the cast. They were pretty much cannon fodder for Ghostface.
– The Rules have Changed, but aren’t Exactly Enforced
While the movie seemed to be big on changing what the rules for how horror movies go, they weren’t really mind-blowing. In some ways, it seemed it was useful, but perhaps it would have been better to simply say that there were no rules and leave it at that. The rules here didn’t seem as enforced as the first film. Anything kind of goes.
Overall, Scream 4 is a fun ride, and quite possibly the best entry in the series since the first Scream. It peppers original elements with a few new ideas. It’s not all perfect and there some moments that are over the top, but in the end, it’s refreshing when compared to the 2nd and 3rd parts of the series.
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have always professed to anyone within hearing distance their extreme and fanboyish love for the grindhouse days of filmmaking. Both directors’ resume of work look like a modern grindhouse films but with better writing, effects and directing. Anyone who grew up watching grindhouse film’s of the 70’s and 80’s can see it’s heavy influence on films such as From Dusk Til Dawn, Desperado, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. With 2007’s Grindhouse, both Rodriguez and Tarantino take their fanboy love for all things grindhouse and exploitation to a whole new level with personal take on the cheap John Carpenter-knock offs, zombie gorefests, slasher film and revenge-driven flicks that made being a young kid during the 70’s and 80’s quite enjoyable.
For those who do not know what grindhouse films are they’re the ultra-cheap and, most of the time, very bad, shlocky horror, revenge, softcore porn, badly-dubbed kung fu flicks and a myriad of other B- to Z-grade movies. These movies were shown in dingy, decrepit (usually former burlesque stagehouses) movie houses which showed double to triple-bills of titles for a low, cheap price all day long (where the popcorn and concession snacks were as stale as week-old coffee). These places and their films were book-ended by the cheap drive-in theaters which grew out of the suburban sprawl boom era of the 60’s and 70’s. One could not avoid the fact that the projector equipment were in bad shape and in desperate need of maintenance while the films played out. Then there’s the film reels themselves with their washed out sequences, out of focus scenes, burnt-in spots and missing film reels where the sex scenes would’ve been. This was the grindhouse experience and with the rise of Hollywood as a corporate entity even moreso than it’s been in the past and urban renewal projects by big city leaders, the grindhouse experience has pretty much faded away and kept alive only in the memories of its fans worldwide.
What Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have cranked out with their three-hour long opus to those grindhouse days has been both a literal and thematic homage to an era long since gone. Grindhouse also has allowed Rodriguez and Tarantino to pull out all the stops in filming their respective halves of the film. Rodriguez went all-out in paying literal homage to the zombie gore-fests of George A. Romero, Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi. Planet Terror plays like a hodgepodge of all the zombie movies from these masters of the walking dead but Rodriguez has the use of digital effects to match the over-the-top feel of the past zombie-fests without making the effects look too cheap.
The story for Planet Terror is quite simple yet full of so many incoherent subplots that trying to keep track with whats going on would just confuse a viewer even more. Rodriguez gets the grindhouse feel with such a ludicrous storyline. Whether it was done on purpose or not, the feeling of confusion in addition to the non-stop zombie action was only compounded even more by the digitally-added film stock scratches, burns to the edges of the reel and when the movie was about to get all hot and sexy, missing reel footage. Anyone who watched movies in grindhouse theaters would recognize the look quite well. Rodriguez goes all out in letting his zombie fanboy out. The violence in Planet Terror begins strong and just gets stronger and even more over-the-top right up to the final frame. Zombie’s getting their heads blown apart is shown in scratchy, loving detail with an impossible amount of blood, bone and brain for people to gawk at. The female characters are hot and sexy. Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling holds Planet Terror together with her spunky go-go dancer dreaming to be a stand-up comedienne turning into Ellen Ripley minus a leg but gaining an M16A3 w/ M203 grenade launcher as a leg prosthetic. Freddy Rodriguez as El Wray, her wayward and mysterious lover, almost seem to be channeling a hilariously bad version of Snake Plissken. These two make for quite the explosive couple as they must try and save their small Texas town from the infected townspeople turned pus-oozing, boil-ridden zombies.
Planet Terror sports a nice collection of current B-list actors like Josh Brolin (making like a Nick Nolte at his growliest) and Marley Shelton as a pair of married doctors with marital problems compounded by the increasing amount of zombies their hospital seem to be bringing in for medical help. There’s also genre veterans Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey and Tom Savini to give Planet Terror the appropriate grindhouse look and feel to it. Ever the good friend and buddy collaborator, Rodriguez even gives Quentin Tarantino a role in his half of the film. He’s shown in the credits for Planet Terror as The Rapist. If any director seem destined to be one, if their love for movies didn’t steer them on the right path, Tarantino seem to look just like one to be called “Tha Rapist”.
There’s explosion and gore galore in Rodriguez’s ode to the zombie genre. Some who sees it might say there’s too much and they would be right if the title of the whole film wasn’t Grindhouse. I, for one, am glad Rodriguez decided to not hold back with what he threw onto the screen. I’m sure that when the dvd finally comes out and the unedited full version of Planet Terror is shown it’ll even surpass the 85-minute running time in the film. I think I can forgive Rodriguez for his gore excess and at times I actually wished for more, but then that would mean taking even more time before I get to Tarantino’s half of the movie. Planet Terror truly got the look of a grindhouse flick, but it’s Tarantino’s Death Proof half which got the spirit of grindhouse down to near-perfect.
Before Tarantino’s Death Proof half of Grindhouse begins the audience gets treated to a sort of intermission involving three fake trailers for movies which celebrate just how ridiculously fun grindhouse movies really were during the 70’s and 80’s. There’s Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS which was this weird mish-mash of the women-in-prison flicks with that of the infamous Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS films that brought about the exploitation in grindhouse. This trailer was great just for the inspired casting of Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu and Sybil Danning as one of the so-called SS women werewolves. There’s also Edgar Wright’s fake trailer for Don’t (director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) which parodies the trailers for all the gothic, European haunted and horror movies where none of the actors in the trailer speak a word to make sure the film doesn’t get labeled as a “foreign film”. But it’s the third trailer in that intermission trio which had everyone in the audience reacting wildly.
Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is a throwback to the seasonal-themed slasher flicks like Black Christmas but this time turns the yearly, turkey day and Pilgrim celebration into a trailer with some of the most disturbingly inventive scenes for a fake slasher movie. I don’t know what the Pilgrim serial killer was doing with that turkey at the end of the trailer but I’m sure it will have many people talking about it afterwards. It’s this Eli Roth trailer which fully captures the gritty and gratuitious nature of what makes a grindhouse horror movie. It’s also the one fake trailer I hope Roth would re-visit and turn into a full-length movie.
Now, with the trailers out of the way, Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse begins and we’re treated to a different take on the grindhouse experience. Death Proof begins as if it will continue Rodriguez’s literal examination and homage to the grindhouse experience, but after messing with the film’s focus, adding a few film scratches to the celluloid and even adding a missing reel gag, Tarantino suddenly slows all those grindhouse trickeries and actually ends up making a rip-roaring slasher-revenge-carchase flick. Tarantino takes one part slasher movie adds in a heavy dose of his own Reservoir Dogs (the talking between the female characters in Death Proof are as foul-mouthed and trivial as the diner scene in Reservoir Dogs) then mixes in equal amounts of Vanishing Point, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and I Spit On Your Grave. Instead of just mimicking these particular grindhouse classics, Tarantino uses his own flair for extended dialogue to slow down the pace of the film thus lulling the audience for the two pay-offs which happen in the middle and the end of Death Proof. Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse could’ve went nowhere with all its estrogen-laced talkies, but Kurt “I AM SNAKE PLISSKEN” Russell really saves the day once he makes his appearance as the automotive-themed serial killer, Stuntman Mike. Where Jason uses farming and bladed implements as his tool of the serial killing trade, Stuntman Mike uses both a 1971 Chevy Nova SS and a 1970 Dodge Charger R/T 440 as his weapons of choice. Both vehicles have been made death proof for filming violent car stunt sequences, but in order to appreciate it’s unique life-saving properties then one has to sit where Mike sits.
Kurt Russell can now add Stuntman Mike to his classic list of badass roles. Mike would feel quite welcome amongst the like of Snake Plissken, John J. MacReady, and Jack Burton to name a few of Russell’s classic characters. Mike comes across as cooly and slickly dangerous, yet not psychotic. His charm is quite disarming until it turns deadly. He really takes the slasher-character stereotype and turns it on its ear. Death Proof once again shows that when Tarantino gets to work with one of his boyhood idols he really gives them a role that they could sink their teeth into.
Death Proof captures the spirit of what makes a grindhouse exploitation film. Even with the heavy references to Vanishing Point, especially with a white 70’s Dodge Challenger used just like in that movie, Tarantino still injects his own brand of craziness to the whole movie. I know many who have complained that Death Proof was too much talk with only the car chase in the end being the saving grace. I politely disagree and say that it’s that very long periods of dialogue between the women in Death Proof that brings some of the spirit of grindhouse to the story. Many forget or don’t remember that most grindhouse cheapies had so much extraneous dialogue to hide the fact that the budget was low to none when the movies were being made so they had to fill-up the movie’s running time with as much nonsensical dialogue before the big effect shots payoff.
The final chase-scene between the Russell’s Stuntman Mike and the female-trio of Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms (channeling Jules from Pulp Fiction) and real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (she doubled as Uma Thurman in the more dangerous stunts in Kill Bill) has to go down as one of the craziest, whiteknuckling, barnburning car chase sequences of the modern times. No CGI-effects trickery and fancy MTV-style editing was used. George Miller, John Frankenheimer and Richard Sarafian would be proud of what Tarantino was able to accomplish with Death Proof‘s 20-minute long car chase. By the time Death Proof ends the audience have bee put through the wringer and one was hard-pressed not to cheer and root for Stuntman Mike even though we know we shouldn’t. Death Proof proves that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” or at least a trio of women endangered.
Grindhouse is a film not for everyone. There’s going to be quite a few people who won’t “get” the film homages and references by both Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Some would say that the movie was too over-the-top, badly made and just out there, but then they would be missing the point of the whole project altogether. For those who grew up watching these kind of films as kids and teenagers, it’s a belated Valentine’s gift from two fanboy filmmakers who finally were able to do the films they grew up idolizing and enjoying. For the rest who are not as well-versed in the grindhouse cinema, this is a good enough starter before they move on to try the classic ones which are now on video (I would suggest they find a worn-out VHS copy of it instead of the cleaned up DVD version). The film is over three-hours long, but one who goes in really can’t say that they didn’t get their money’s worth when they went in to watch Grindhouse.