I visited Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007). When I was younger, I looked at it more as just a grindhouse exploitation film mainly because it was shown in a “Grindhouse” double feature with Robert Rodiguez’s Planet Terror (2007), so I was focused on the marketing. But upon watching it again I realize that it is a horror movie and a pretty good one at that. The character Stuntman Mike is a classic slasher movie character and the film gives us a wonderful set of final girls. I recommend it as a watch for everyone.
Death Proof follows a group of girlfriends, local DJ personality “Jungle” Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier), Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) and Shanna (Jordan Ladd) on a night out at a bar before their weekend in a lake house in Austin, Texas. Arlene noticed an interesting black car lingering earlier in the day, and it happens to be the same car parked in the bar parking lot. The car belongs to a scarred stunt driver named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) and it’s built to be “death proof” for filming. After some interaction the group goes their separate way from Stuntman Mike only to be reunited with the driver in the form of a super fatal head on collision with his death proof car, killing all the girls. Like all slashers, Stuntman Mike survives the crash and fourteen months later Mike is at it again in Lebanon, Tennessee targeting a new group of girls. Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), Kim (Tracie Thoms), Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Zoe (Zoe Bell) have the next few days off and are planning on spending some quality time together. Zoe wants to drive a 1970s Dodge Challenger and has found one in the local classified ad. Kim, Zoe and Abernathy convince the owner of the car to let them test drive it alone. It is on the exciting Dodge Challenger test drive that Stuntman Mike decides to make his move in for the kill on these three ladies, spawning a terrifying car chase to their potential doom.
The movie gives us a great cast of female characters in both acts, and it utilizes the women in two ways: sex and action. The first group of women in Texas are sexy. They’re flirtatious and want to have a good time with guys, and they wear short shorts while swinging their wild hair, slamming down shots and joints. Jungle Julia doesn’t wear shoes which draws emphasis on her long legs which exhibits a primal sexual nature. Arlene at one point goes away with a guy to make out in his car for a few minutes giving him the instructions, “You got two jobs: kiss good, and make sure my hair don’t get wet.”, and she gives Stuntman Mike an impressive lap dance. Now these cool girls are good with their words and are a fun time to hang out with, but by no means are they any match for a psycho killer like Stuntman Mike. This movie also taught me not to stick my feet out of the car window.
The Tennessee group is a different type of good time. They’re not looking to give out lap dances, they want something kind of masculine actually; they want to do tricks on a stunt car. It’s Kim and Zoe’s stunt work experience and the fact that all three girls are gifted with their hands that make them the perfect final girls for Stuntman Mike. Also it’s worth adding that Quentin Tarantino was nice enough to give us three final girls in Death Proof, making the justice more enjoyable. Nothing made me happier than when you hear those girls say, “Fuck that shit, let’s kill this bastard.”
Stuntman Mike is a character himself. He’s confident in his kills, cunning, persistent and just the right amount of foot obsessed with Abernathy to make him creepy. All of Stuntman Mike’s power lies within his car, a masculine symbol. The choice of a car as the murder weapon over a standard phallic knife is an interesting choice, and one wonders if the movie would’ve had the same impact if the victims would have been a combination of men and women. Either way it’s satisfying to see him cower helplessly to three women as he meets justice.
Like his other heroines such as Jackie Brown and Beatrix Kiddo, Quentin Tarantino gives us another group of powerful women who take life into their own hands. And to no surprise, this ultra violent, grindhouse inspired director is capable of creating a solid horror movie with great characters that pop off the screen and an incredible soundtrack. Add another banger to the list, I love Death Proof and I hope that you do too.