Before I heard that the Weinstein’s wanted to separate the conjoined filmic twins that are Death Proof and Planet Terror, I had almost forgotten I’d even saw and thoroughly enjoyed the exploitation opus. But to split the children up and take them away from their parent? For shame. The whole idea behind Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double feature was to bring back the advent of the grindhouse theater.
A grindhouse theater was generally the name for a badly run theater which played numerous low budget, B-movie or exploitation films in such copious amounts and so often, that they were said to “grind” out of the projectors. Most famously found in New York City or Los Angeles, these theaters are (according to both directors) where they grew up, other than the drive-in theaters.
So, little explanation is needed to realize that Tarantino and Rodriguez’s idea for this film, was one of completion, even going so far as to fill the space between both films with fake trailers for horrific goodies such as “Werewolf Women of S.S.,” “Don’t,” and a fake commercial for the chicken restaurant down the street from the theater. Without the experience of watching these films as a double feature, the films themselves would be too disposable in the haphazard cinema of today.
Death Proof in the grand scheme of things really cannot be removed from this film because, unless Tarantino re-edits it, the pace is too meandering to be a palpable audience pleaser. There’s a nice payoff at the end, but the wait for it would be too long for an audience which only sat down thirty minutes ago, however, within the roomy confines of a three hour feature, it offers a great come-down from the preceding kill-fest Planet Terror.
Planet Terror is the real “grindhouse” throwback here though, with its Hollywood actor cameos, excessive gore, dopey end-of-the-world plot, unusual-but-hip love story, stylized comedy and great use of distressed film stock. Rodriguez’s Terror could almost be cut from the same cloth as many of the late seventies, early eighties horror flicks which became so coveted during that time. But Tarantino’s entry with Death Proof is an important dissertation on women in exploitation films around about that same time.
There were a large number of exploitation films that tried to be serious or realistic. Likely inspired by the cinema of the time, largely handheld, avant-garde, gritty and realistic, these exploitative films just went the extra mile. Some were steeped in story and dialogue, losing all hope for being truly crowd pleasers even with the sporadic jaunts of sex or violence. Tarantino’s film takes the best of those and rolls them into one with his jazzy blend of Reservoir Dogs roundtable dialog, shifty chapter-like narrative, and blunt, plausible, ultra-violence.
Bottom line: See these films together, or don’t see them at all.