REVIEW: Death Proof
So, it’s Sunday night, right? And I’m chillin’, playin’ Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, right? and then I realize. I haven’t posted anything. I post on Sundays. Crap.
Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s fifth feature film. It was originally released in 2007 as a double feature with Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror with a few fake trailers called Grindhouse. This is one of two movies he’s made that I’m reviewing re-cut. Let the record show, I’m reviewing the “whole movie”, DVD release of Death Proof, and let me say, it’s an entirely different film from the cut presented in Grindhouse. While Planet Terror felt like a longer, looser version of itself when released on DVD, Death Proof came back out of the editing room an entirely different film. While I knew that it was a better movie than Planet Terror in the theaters, it was this re-edit that finally showed me why. While Planet Terror remains an infinitely more fun, “modern” take on grindhouse culture, Death Proof is faithful to a fault. An endearing fault.
When Rodriguez and Tarantino came up with the idea to make a double feature, Rodriguez called the zombie movie and Tarantino got dibs on the b-movie classic, the slasher film. Of course, like all things Tarantino, what he states with simplicity, he complicates by making a legitimately good movie. His slasher is the only one I’ve heard of who regularly uses a car to murder women, as opposed to the popular knife school of serial killing. Of course, there are also dreams and varieties of methods, but killers always like sharp objects on wood handles. Not Stuntman Mike.
What Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russel) does, as only a Tarantino slasher would do, is adapt the process of deathproofing (geddit?) cars for stunt work to be used as weapons. That’s right, he takes something off of a movie set, where he works, to use to kill women. Funny how both of Tarantino’s most recent features have cinema factoring into the plot somehow. I’m starting to think he’s writing what he knows.
As you may have guessed from the previous paragraph: Tarantino’s great entry into the slasher genre is also a car movie a la Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry or Vanishing Point. Tarantino: the cinematic prankster, the mashup artist of the silver screen. I should say right now, this movie is classic slasher cinema. There are a few things you don’t remember about slasher movies from the 70s. One of which is that they were slow, talky affairs where a group of girls talked at length about their sex lives for a good half hour to forty-five minutes before anything even remotely dangerous happened. There’s more talking in the opening of this movie than there is in the opening to Inglourious Basterds, but strangely, it works as more of a way to get your defenses down as an audience in the re-edit. You spend upwards of thirty minutes waiting, waiting, waiting for something to happen, just like you did back in theaters in 1976. Remember when I said it was faithful to a fault?
The girls are played by Sydney (Tamiia) Poitier, Jordan Ladd, Vanessa Ferlito and Rose McGowan. You wait thirty minutes, thirty-five minutes, forty minutes. You’re comfy. Nothing’s gonna happen. It’s just talking. I mean, the people are cool enough to hang out with. Watch for Quentin himself behind the bar as Warren, the bartender.
At forty-five minutes exactly, Kurt Russel hits the villain switch. Discarding a cigarette after having let a girl into his passenger seat to drive her home, he gets two of the finest lines in all of slasher cinema: “It would’ve been a while before you started to get scared. But since you’re goin’ the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start gettin’ scared immediately.” and “Hey Pam! Remember when I said this car was death proof? Well that wasn’t a lie. This car is 100% death proof. Only to get the benefit of it, honey, you really need to be sitting in my seat.”
By the way, it’s now fifty minutes through and Stuntman Mike has smashed his car into, through and over the girls’ car in one of the most gory and satisfactory moments in Tarantino’s combined output.
Stuntman Mike resurfaces in Tenessee, he targets a new group of girls: Zoë “Cute as a Kiwi” Bell (herself), sassy Kim Mathis (Tracie Thoms), no-fun Abernathy Ross (Rosario Dawson) and ditzy Lee Montgomery (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). They, too, talk for a long time about such varied subjects as boys, survival strategies, Italian Vogue, gun ownership and car movies. You see, Zoë Bell and Kim are both stuntwomen, Abernathy is a make-up artist and Lee is a supporting actor, the latter three of which are on break from the movie they’re shooting. Zoë convinces the crew to go out of their way to be able to drive a white 1970 Dodge Challenger–the Vanishing Point Challenger that Kowalski drove.
Stuntman Mike doesn’t know or care about their film connections. He just wants to have a good time. But when he picks on a couple of gearheads, he bites off more than he can chew. The result of that action? A twenty minute chase sequence that is one of the finest committed to film and projected in theaters. That is not a lie. When Tarantino makes a car movie, he makes it with cars. Real cars, real drivers, really smashing into each other, at speed. No computers, no fakery.
And this is what you, in the audience, have been waiting for. This is the payoff of the entire movie. Now, as a part of Grindhouse, it felt like a re-establishment of tone after Planet Terror gave way to talking girls. But here, it’s an explosive finale fitting a master filmmaker like Tarantino. And really, this is his second film after graduation into the big leagues with Kill Bill. It isn’t as big as Kill Bill–scalewise, it fits somewhere around Reservoir Dogs–but in a way, that’s necessary. You need a small film to be a palate cleanser when the two movies on either side are epics. And really, if you want to see the best slasher movie made since 1990? Look no further. But it still isn’t a genre that warrants greatness. Even the best slasher movie in 17 years is still a slasher movie. But hey–if someone’s gonna make one, I’m glad it’s not Eli Roth! THREE STARS
(if Thanksgiving hits theaters, I’m gonna have to eat those words)