Review by J.T. Johnson
When I started The Tarantino Reviews, I didn’t count “Death Proof” as one of Quentin Tarantino’s main films. I was excluding collaborative efforts such as films that he simply wrote and this film because it was a part of the larger “Grindhouse” release that also included “Planet Terror” from Robert Rodriquez.
When they say that Tarantino has nine films, I simply thought that they were counting the two “Kill Bill” films as two separate films. In reality, though, both the “Kill Bill” films are counted as one and “Death Proof” is counted as the fifth film in Tarantino’s filmography. Therefore, I want to correct my mistake of overlooking this film when I was initially writing my reviews for Tarantino’s films. Now, on with the review!
In 2007, directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez had an idea. They wanted to pay tribute to the low-budget exploitation films that used to be double-billed at low-rent cinemas. They both decided to make their own films but release them together as a double feature. Rodriquez made the frantic zombie horror film known as “Planet Terror” while Tarantino created a horror film about a stuntman terrorizing women in “Death Proof”.
Now, I did enjoy “Planet Terror” and thought that it was good fun, but I must admit that I enjoyed “Death Proof” infinitely better. Considering that this is part of my series of articles called The Tarantino Reviews, I’ll be focusing only on his film for this review. Still, I do recommend watching the whole “Grindhouse” affair to get the full effect.
“Death Proof” is the first film where Tarantino doesn’t jump around all over the place. He keeps the story linear. It follows an initial group of women that are stalked by a man named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). About midway through the film, it follows another group of women that prove to not be so vulnerable to the stuntman’s shenanigans.
The first half of the film introduces us to our “monster”, except that he’s not quite the monster we think he is at first. At the bar where he meets the women that he converses with, Mike comes off as a surprisingly charming and, therefore, disarming man. However, once he becomes the monster, he truly becomes the monster and the famous over-the-top Tarantino violence finally shows up.
It’s this dual role that Russell has to play and he does it exquisitely. A man that starts out as a toxic alpha male is reduced to tears when he has to face off with the second group of women that won’t put up with his shit. Russell is absolutely brilliant in this movie and this is one of the best casting decisions that Tarantino could have made for the film.
He’s not alone, though, as the women he goes after prove to also be just as engaging. None of them are weak, even the more unfortunate women who can’t escape Stuntman Mike’s wrath. The standouts, though, are the ladies who take part in a long chase and this includes Rose McGowan’s Abernathy, Tracie Thoms’ Kim and Zoë Bell as herself.
The movie starts off with intimate conversations and clever dialogue. These are the very things that you come to expect from a Tarantino film. When the climactic car chase kicks off, though, you are treated to one of the best practical car chases ever committed to the big screen. In an age of CGI chases that tend to pull you right out of the movie, it was refreshing to see good old fashioned stunts being performed.
In “Planet Terror”, Rodriquez adhered more to the Grindhouse tribute, but Tarantino wisely avoids this. Sure, there’s the “missing reels” and the graininess is still there, but it’s not as noticeable in “Death Proof” and, as a result, the gimmick is less distracting than it is in Rodriquez’s film. Like his other films that pay tribute to certain genres, Tarantino didn’t forget to add his own voice to the proceedings.
“Death Proof” usually isn’t thought of when thinking about Tarantino’s overall filmography, but make no mistake about it. This film definitely belongs and the final chase sequence is worth the price of admission alone. This is one exploitation film that you don’t want to miss if you’ve never checked it out before and it’s worth revisiting if you have!