Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #436
Number of Views: One
Release Date: April 6, 2007
Country of Origin: United States
Running time: 121 minutes (with trailers)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Producers: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Elizabeth Avellan, Erica Steinberg
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Special Effects: Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger
Visual Effects: Ryan Tudhope
Cinematography: Quentin Tarantino
Score: David Arnold
Editing: Sally Menke
Studio: Troublemaker Studios
Distributor: Dimension Films
Stars: Kurt Russell, Zoë Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Rose McGowan, Jordan Ladd, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Quentin Tarantino, Marcy Harriell, Eli Roth, Omar Doom, Michael Bacall, Monica Staggs, Jonathan Loughran, Marta Mendoza, Tim Murphy, Melissa Arcaro, Michael Parks
Suggested Audio Jukebox
 Jack Nitzsche “The Last Race”
 April March “Chick Habit”
“What about “kinda cute, kinda hot, kinda sexy, hysterically funny, but not funny-looking guy who you could fuck” did you not understand?”
For a long time now it has appeared as though Quentin Tarantino may well be death proof. As much as his films have gained pretty much unanimous praise, there have always been a small body of non-believers, just itching for him to slip up and prove himself fallible. These roadside vultures appeared to have gotten their wish in 2007 when he paired up with pal Robert Rodriguez under the collective mantle Grindhouse, and each director thrashed out their own full-length feature with the intention of being released theatrically as a double-bill. Neither Planet Terror or Tarantino’s offering, Death Proof, fared particularly well with critics and even some die hard fans came away feeling not altogether satisfied. Indeed, even Quentin himself lists this as his worst movie to date, despite the fact that he still harbors a fondness for it.
“Get ready to fly, bitch!”
So, did the mighty man finally fall on his sword then? It is my opinion that the answer to that particular poser is a resounding nope. Sure, up against the likes of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, it can’t help but fall a little short. But, unless I’m mistaken, it’s still cooler than a refrigerator jammed to its seal with frozen dildos. The whole double-bill angle may not have taken off outside of its native borders meaning that European audiences were presented the package as two individual features but, even on its own merits, Death Proof does precisely what it set out to do, that being to replicate the exploitation and muscle car features screened at seventies drive-in theaters, bringing them bang up to date in the process. Traditionally, Tarantino has paid reverence to his numerous heroes whilst safeguarding against any insinuation that he be a simple fanboy. Here however, he is working with a distinct brief and he follows said guideline to the very letter.
“You got two jobs; kiss good, and make sure my hair don’t get wet”
Ordinarily, given the freedom to operate, he comes up trumps without exception. Of his seven full-length features, no others have left him defending a corner he couldn’t fight his way out of, but Death Proof has been accused of many things, with possibly the most damning being that it is ultimately “boring”. I wonder whether an entirely different cut of the movie was screened for any naysayers as, for two hours give or take, I spent the entire time grinning like a hyena with a hard-on. Nit pickers bemoan any moments of lengthy exposition and hurriedly make comparisons to lengthy round-the-table dialogue exchanges from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Again, I just don’t get it. Sure, there are no bank heists being planned, and we are effectively watching a group of hot mamas simply sipping their sodas and hanging out. But I don’t recall checking my wrist watch a single time.
“Fair lady, your chariot awaits”
The concept of Death Proof, working title Thunderbolt, came about through his fascination for stuntmen and the measures they go to safeguarding themselves against potential injury during high-speed altercation. His original wish was to create a slasher film in the vein of cherished efforts from the late seventies/early eighties although he was all too familiar with the genre’s lack of elasticity and thus, in typical Quentin fashion, decided to throw it into the melting pot and create his own fusion of styles. When you break shit down, eight frightfully attractive young sex kittens being stalked by a single man who has forgotten how to get his kicks outside of destroying things of beauty sounds suspiciously like the premise for just another Friday The 13th movie, but that is where any similarity ends. You see, Tarantino has many stokes to his fire and spent a whole wedge of the seventies salivating over exploitation cinema and grindhouse road movies such as Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Two-Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point and the like. Death Proof represents his amalgamation.
“No. Now there is one thing every girl in the whole world whose name is Shanna has in common with each other – we all hate the name Shawna. And we really hate when people call us Shawna. Remember it’s Shanna banana not Shawna banawna”
Pacing seems to have proved a particular bone of contention with audiences as the film is effectively broken into two bite-sized chunks and both take their sweet time getting to the gristle. It just so happens that Keeper is a fan of the lean and takes no such umbrage with his unhurried build-up to any inevitable action hits. One thing that he does without exception is ensure that we are never left counting the minutes and the two-hour runtime is still behind us far quicker than we had hoped. This is testament, not only to his ability to write characters and give them something interesting to say, but also to his swagger with regards to incapacitating visuals. The whole screen drips with seventies vogue but he uses jump cuts and rough edits with far less frequency than Rodriguez with the almost criminally enjoyable Planet Terror. Meanwhile, those with a penchant for muscle cars will be left revving their engines as he holds the keys to some absolute monsters. If you’re looking for pussy wagons to hang those lucky rabbit feet in, then look no further as there is much to purr over in this showroom.
“Well damn if you ain’t so sweet you make sugar taste just like salt”
Speaking of miaow, he manages to enlist a gaggle of love geese as his femme fatales, the likes of which would cause Mr Freeze to balance a packet of frozen ice on his crotch for fear of spitting fire. Sultry honeys such as Rosario Dawson, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, and Cherry Darling herself Rose McGowan, are sufficient to make any man in possession of blood in his lower torso bolt his roll cage and they prance about in skimpy attire, offering impromptu lap dances, and giving one another foot massages like the irrefutable harpies that they are. This encourages that I speak of the white elephant in the room before we pace a single instep further.
Feet; evidently Tarantino possesses something of a fetish for these often overlooked compulsory balance givers. Uma Thurman’s big toe almost did enough to warrant its own credit after we spent minutes willing it on to present us with a little lap dance of its own in Kill Bill. I think we can all assume that we have Quentin bang to rights on this count and, as for Keeper, I’m not averse to tasting nail varnish myself so I say, run Forrest run. Now we can add Dawson and Poitier’s purty pinkie posts to the list of extras and that really is fine by me. If you need any further convincing then allow this next shot to clear things up some.
See? Bang to fucking rights. Good work fella; simply living the dream. And this is key when dissecting Quentin and appraising his fine work. At no point does it ever feel like he is simply towing the line and, instead, he’s pleasing himself first and why the hell shouldn’t he? If he is investing his own blood, sweat, and tears into everything he crafts, then why not bung a little semen into the mix for good measure? Critics are only too willing to throw in their six cents worth but these aren’t the guys making it happen with their own kitty. Is there a solitary PG-13 movie amongst this man’s back catalogue? In the words of designated driver Kim, “fuck no nigga” (and don’t you go playing the race card as I will request my pal Kunta Kinte smack you down where you stand). There are almost 150 F-bombs in Death Proof and a good dozen or so N-mines to tiptoe around (with bare feet of course). He makes adult films, both for the fully grown, and young tykes whose parents have, first reminded them that any stunts therein are performed by professionals, then allowed them to stay up past bedtime.
“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”
And now for those stunts. We feel every shunt, can almost lick the twisted metal, and are left clinging onto our belt loops for dear life as we attempt that perilous game of sail mast. Zoë Bell, who previously provided us The Bride’s stunt double, believed her involvement here would amass to the same capacity. On the contrary, Bell performs entirely her own stunts, but also plays herself, thus stepping out of Thurman’s lengthy shadow decisively. She is brilliant, as are the entire female cast, and as savvy as she is sassy. Not all of the ladies fare so well against the titular threat of Stuntman Mike but they all play their part to perfection. You know when you’ve been cast in a Tarantino movie and he picks each cherry according to whether or not they can dig his groove. The furious three, plus cheerleader, are a joy to watch as they go about chaperoning Mike to his ultimate vanishing point.
“Women, nacho grande platters, the fellowships of fascinating individuals like Warren here. Alcohol is just a lubricant for all the individual encounters that a bar offers”
Kurt Russell wasn’t first choice for the treacherous gear head and the role could have fallen to any number of other hopefuls including Sylvester Stallone. However, Quentin still hasn’t forgotten Snake Plissken, and it seems positively poetic that the enigmatic fall guy be hauled in for a full service to remind fresh audiences who this snapping dog of war was/still is. Russell wastes no time in giving us our crash course and exudes the bracing breeze which made him a cult hero the first time he donned that black eye patch. Both charming and sinister in equal quotas, he slithers around the chicks’ painted toes akin to a rattlesnake, holding tight for the perfect moment to strike. As has become customary with Tarantino’s bad asses, his venomous charges punctuate moments of serenity. However, Mike may well have bitten off more than he can chew here. It would take at least two dozen burly bucks to bring the old dog down but eight fanciable foxes are more than enough to nullify any testosterone.
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. And I have promises to keep. Miles to go before I sleep. Did you hear me, Butterfly? Miles to go, before you sleep”
Watching Death Proof, and appreciating it for what it is as opposed to isn’t, depends largely on your ability to accept it for precisely what it is: an affectionate tribute. He may not be allowed off the leash quite as freely but there’s still more than enough bite behind every one of his barks. It is cinema at its most reverential but still very much a Tarantino movie once you take a closer look under the hood and accept the power it’s packing. Unquestionably, it is his least ambitious outing, and much of your enjoyment will depend on familiarity for a brand of cinema long since forgotten. But it’s still white-hot. Besides, we even get added trailers for that authentic drive-in experience. I don’t know about you but I’m still waiting for Werewolf Women of the SS to see the light of day.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: If Planet Terror owns the monopoly on chaotic splatter then Death Proof comes out king when it comes to bone-crunching slow-mo shatter. Quentin evidently had a field day shooting the glorious head-on collision and KNB Effects could barely keep up with the amount of crash test dummies requested as he replays the carnage from each passenger’s banishing point to squeeze every last drip of gasoline from the tank. Then, while nobody was looking, I’m fairly convinced he smuggled Jungle Julia’s prosthetic leg away under his jacket for further playtime, knowing full well which end to slide down his pants. If freshly pedicured toes don’t tickle your pickle then you’ll have to console yourself with watching an assortment of beautiful temptresses bump and grind with the tools that God gave them instead. Our father is indeed heavenly.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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