Although it tried hard to be a part of a dilogy, Death Proof stands alone much more successfully than as a part of the Grindhouse experience that it was meant to belong in. And even though Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have a very similar comedy-violence style, the truth is that Planet Terror has much less worth talking about, whereas Stuntman Mike and his colourful girls keep the madness creepy, dusty, chilling and disturbingly realistic.
This is the story of stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a psycho killer who follows beautiful and independent women around the desert, plays around with them and then uses his death-proof car to kill them on the motorway. Graphic car crashes, legs flying off the car and heads getting smashed in the passenger’s seat are the core of this 70’s B-movie tribute. At the same time an abundance of clever references, stylish props, snappy dialogue and thrilling car chases make Death Proof something much more than pure graphic violence. Sexual tension, a cooler-than-cool soundtrack and an unforgettable lap dance from Vanessa Ferlito, complete yet another crazy film by cult master Quentin Tarantino.
Many viewers have criticized the film for lacking a solid plot and substance. If a stuntman-madman chasing and killing voluptuous women is not enough of a story for you, then perhaps refrain from watching this one. But if style and quirky dialogue about nothing is something that you enjoy for some reason, nobody does it half as well as Tarantino and Death Proof showcases his love for edginess brilliantly. The pace has let some audiences down, but personally I find the film’s aesthetics extremely refreshing, attractive and so winning that any faster pacing would have taken away from the chance to really notice every little thing appearing — admittedly, not happening — on screen, which would have been a real bummer.
Characterisation is generally superficial and straight-forward, but only when it comes to Death Proof’s women. Beautiful, sexy and free, all the girls that Tarantino casts, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Parks and Zoe Bell, portray characters who are in this purely for the ride. It feels like they’re coming from nowhere and they’re definitely not going anywhere specific at all, but this is what keeps them striking, exciting and primarily what makes their freedom attractive.
On the other hand, stuntman Mike is alarmingly deep and well-developed as a character. Kurt Russell’s persona offers several layers of psychosis and his sexual and sadistic fixation with women he could never have the normal way, makes his entire existence on screen a constant conflict between a somewhat sympathetic outsider, “who you could fuck”, and a horror figure who you should run away from –or chase after to beat to death. His sleaziness is apparent, but the fear he evokes comes as a surprise and although he looks bizarre, he also feels harmless, until proven very much otherwise. Kurt Russell gives the admittedly –but never frustratingly—thin plot, four dimensions. Not to mention that he adds to overall freaky comedy in a masterful way.
Death Proof does feel at times like it’s a part of a horror series, which was what Tarantino and Rodriguez meant their two films to be. But one does not in any way need the other and although they both give the impression of coming out of something bigger, they still make absolutely no sense together and they definitely don’t help understand anything better. Rather, seen as a series can confuse one even more. In any case, when taken on its own, Death Proof is funny, clever, stylish and refreshingly free. Tarantino does whatever he wants, makes his characters say what he would like to say himself, adds his favourite references, girls, cars, clothes and music and creates a film combining a bit of all the 70’s cult movies that have added so much to his own special filmmaking chic which we can’t love enough.