When Quentin Tarantino said he was making a slasher exploitation movie, I don’t think anybody expected an excessively talky 70s throwback split straight down the middle by a bizarre, genre defying two-act structure. But that’s exactly what you get. (Note: I’m going to quickly go in to detail about each half, so make sure you’ve seen the movie before continuing.) It’s easy for viewers to initially be disappointed by the seemingly boring dialogue and pointless development in the first half, but it’s simply Tarantino faithfully adapting the traditional horror movie archetypes. Even though nothing tangible happens with plot threads like the in-absentia Christian Simonson, it still ropes you in emotionally to the characters in ways that most horror movies today can’t do in a full two hours. So when Stuntman Mike goes in for that first kill, it makes the ordeal that much more horrifying and their fates more unexpected. It also helps that the first car crash is easily one of the most visceral, pulse-pounding sequences of the year and one of the most terrifying wrecks ever filmed.
If DEATH PROOF had continued on that track as a straight slasher flick I would’ve been more than happy. Stuntman Mike at that point was a badass force of terror—so of course, Tarantino decides to do the exact opposite. At first the second hour seems like a complete retread with a new set of girls, but then things take such an out-of-left-field turn that it wasn’t until April March’s “Chick Habit” began playing over the credits that I fully realized what had happened. With the victims turning the tables on the killer, who breaks down crying and screaming like a little girl, the movie turns in to a 60s female empowerment movie ala FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! And with the fleshed out extended cut, the transition between the two halves makes more sense and the juxtaposition of the pair makes Tarantino’s aim more apparent: DEATH PROOF is the deconstruction of both the slasher genre AND the first half of his own movie, as well as being a modern tribute to the femme-worshipping Russ Meyer at the same time. You can seriously feel Tarantino winking at the audience…almost like Stuntman Mike does when he smiles knowingly at the camera while watching his future prey drive off.
As great as the direction and script are, the movie wouldn’t be anything without the cast. Kurt Russell adds Stuntman Mike to his other iconic characters next to Snake Plissken and Jack Burton. The man can be cool, funny or terrifying when he needs to be and more importantly, believable at each. The girls in both halves are all great in their respective roles within the group, but the one worth mentioning by name is Zoe Bell. Bell isn’t going to win any acting awards just yet, but she has a natural charisma and likeability that really works. (The moment when she pops up from the bushes unscathed elicits a much needed laugh.) As a fearless stuntwoman she also adds a heightened sense of realism and terror to the film’s big chase. And that brings us to the real stars of the movies…the cars themselves and stunt drivers who make them look awesome. The chases and stunts in DEATH PROOF are nuts, to the point that it’s almost like watching car porn. In every shot you can feel real people driving real cars on real roads…and doing it fast. Unlike a lot of modern movies, it’s easy to feel the speed of the car barreling down the road at 90 miles an hour, a tribute to old school auto classics like BULLITT or THE FRENCH CONNECTION, a class to which Tarantino can fittingly add DEATH PROOF.
As far as the bonus features on the second disc, there’s a decent extras on the major aspects of the production, with Tarantino’s enthusiasm carrying every single one.
The Hot Rods of DEATH PROOF (11:47): Ever seen a camera rig on a Cadillac Escalade? Check that out here, as well as a look at selecting and customizing each of the major cars (Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger, Chevy Nova) and how they were filmed (presumably safely) at high speeds. Tarantino also talks about car chases in cinema and making his own iconic chase sequence.
Stunts on Wheels (20:40): “Real cars, real shit, at full fucking speed.” The stunt drivers are the people that Tarntino wants to glorify in this extra, with interviews and background provided for the old school drivers and stunt coordinators who worked on the movie.
Introducing Zoe Bell (8:58): It’s no secret that Tarantino harbors affection for his KILL BILL stuntwoman and this is a good look at the woman who can fight, fall and hang on to the hood of a speeding car, but is terrified of saying a line in front of a camera.
Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike (9:33): Kurt Russell is one of the coolest people to walk the earth and you don’t need a ten minute featurette to tell you that.
Finding Quentin’s Gals (21:14): Less casting couch porno and more featurette on looking for the perfect girl for each role. Tarantino pretty much has a story and reasoning for every actress onboard and he’s not afraid to tell you about it.
Uncut version of “Baby It’s You” (1:48): The song (which was cut from the theatrical release) is performed by an iPod wearing Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who is actually quite a good singer.
The Guys of DEATH PROOF (8:16): There’s guys in this movie besides Kurt Russell? This is worth watching just to see Eli Roth making fun of his hero Kurt Russell and then apologizing profusely.
Quentin’s Greatest Collaborator (4:37): Tarantino talks about his editor Sally Menke, who has worked with him since RESERVOIR DOGS, and how editing and writing are tied together (“The last draft of the script is the first draft of the movie.”). There’s also a funny montage of the actors talking to Sally on camera.
Also included: a Music Selection feature, various Trailers and a Poster Gallery.
Extra Tidbit: Look closely at the back of the girls’ yellow Mustang for a special nod to KILL BILL.