Tuesday, October 16, 2007

'07 Spooky Review #4: Revisiting Death Proof (2007)

Second verse, same as the first?

Let's not sit and gripe that the Weinstein Brothers (henceforth known as the "Suck" Brothers) opted NOT to release GRINDHOUSE in its original, double feature glory, and instead focus on the fact that we get to see the full-length, European cuts of both DEATH PROOF and PLANET TERROR, secure in the knowledge that we'll be double-dipping when the inevitable full theatrical version complete with faux trailers comes out.

In the meantime, let's rock a little Tarantino action with the full extended and unrated edition of DEATH PROOF. My original review of the entire GRINDHOUSE experience can be found here.

By now the story is familiar, and nothing in the new version changes it: Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, an old, possibly never-has-been stunt man who spends his time picking "girlfriends." He secretly photographs them, sticking the pictures in the visor of his "death proof" car. He quietly stalks them, sometimes in full view, sometimes not, before consummating his love in a burst of twisted metal and rubber, baby!


The movie is roughly divided into 2 acts, as he stalks first one, then another set of beauties. Act I, where we meet Butterfly, Jungle Julia and their horrible fate is done very much in a 70's grind style, all scratched and cut like it was done in 3 days for $300 dollars. It's this section that gets the best treatment from the restored items, and re-watching it I think is the best part of the GRINDHOUSE experience. So what's new and how does it work?

The most obvious change from the theatrical release is that the much-anticipated Lap Dance scene between Butterfly and Stuntman Mike is finally in the film. It's great, all heat and sweat and sex to the tune of "Down in Mexico" by The Coasters. In the original version, we get the "Missing Reel" gag instead, but watching it here I think Tarantino made a mistake not inserting it in the original. It's a pure visceral moment, and your impressions of Butterfly change as you watch her come out of the shadow of the much more in-your-face Jungle Julia. It also makes what eventually happens out on the road later in the film that much more of a shock.

Elsewhere in Act I there's an additional scene where we learn that Butterfly and one of the bar suitors get a little action going on in the backseat of said suitor's car. Nice scene, good dialog, but I see why it was cut. There's some additional dialog in the scene that bridges the two acts, with Earl McGraw as the lawman who seems to be piecing everything together, only to have his moral fiber snap. It's a great addition, and one I forgot about the first time watching the movie.

If Act I was the horror/killer picture from the 70's, then Act II completely switches gears and becomes an early 80's chick/revenge flick. DEATH PROOF loses all its pops and scratches and settles for a washed out, 3rd generation VHS taped off television look. The biggest addition is a new opening, where we meet 3/4 of our grrl gang shopping at a convenience store out Tennessee. We also get to see Stuntman Mike's new tactic for approaching girls - instead of acting as a mysterious, dangerous charmer he's reduced to dropping his keys to illicitly lick the feet of Rosario Dawson. Not that I disagree with licking any part of Rosario Dawson, but the scene doesn't really add much to the movie, except to show you that Stuntman Mike's changed a bit in the years since his last killing. Better left out, in my opinion.

Things pick up again when we're introduced to Zoe Bell, playing herself. Her bubbly personality works great against the more veteran actors, and when we finally get to the spectacular chase scene, seeing her face and knowing it's really her on the roof of the car goes a long way towards selling the peril the girls are in.

And that car chase? Still frikkin' sweet the second time around. In the extra DVD features Tarantino goes into how much time and care he put into making this something memorable, and it shows in the finished product. You feel every hit and swipe between the two vehicles. The soundtrack, the effects, everything comes together to make Act II work in a very different way than Act I.

The "middle finger" ending is still there, although since I knew it was coming it loses some of its strength. A lot of people complained about the dialog, saying that trying to squeeze in Tarantino-speak into a movie of this nature doesn't work. You feel that more in Act II than it Act I (which I think is near-perfect for what it wants to accomplish). Still great, and in the end I'm really preferring DEATH PROOF over PLANET TERROR. Maybe that will change next week when the uncut, full feature is released but for now, take the time (especially if you haven't seen it before) to pick up DEATH PROOF. Exhilarating, schlocky good fun!

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