Flash forward to today and the B movies of yesteryear have returned with a vengeance courtesy of Grindhouse , a double feature from two A-list directors, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Both are no strangers to the genre picture.
Reinvention is the mother of all things, however, and the directors have upped the ante, Rodriquez for the zombie picture Planet Terror, and Tarantino for the slasher flick Death Proof . Sprinkle in a few kitschy ads in between these full-length films and some rather gruesome, though uproarious faux trailers from directors Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright ( Shaun of the Dead ) and Eli Roth ( Hostel ), and it's a three-hour knockout where your eyes are fixated on the screen.
These 185 minutes of celluloid originated from a five minute spewing session of ideas between the two men at Tarantino's home, while Rodriquez stopped by to show Tarantino the scene he directed in Rodriquez's Sin City . Maneuvering his way past piles of 16 mm film reels and cassettes, Rodriquez discovered a double feature poster on Tarantino's floor. That same poster advertising the films Rock All Night and Drag Strip Girl was also in his collection and on his own floor in his own home.
“It [the poster] really transported us to this dream project that we were going to get to work on right away,” Rodriquez says. “So many ideas flowed. It was really exciting.”
Adding to that, Tarantino felt that the “little five minute thing that we talked about was pretty much exactly what we did. We even came up with even more ideas after that, and that's the stuff that we didn't do.”
The title of Grindhouse was a Tarantino suggestion that stuck partly because the word alone evokes an ominous sensation. “It makes you feel dirty,” Rodriquez laughs.
If there ever were a word to describe Planet Terror , the first of the double barrel shotgun blast of cinematic geek heaven, it would have to be dirty. Missing reels, graininess and the burning of celluloid fill the screen as the story enfolds of an unlikely group of heroes trying to avert a zombie invasion.
Embroiled in the plot are the archetypal characters: the town doctors, the stoic sheriff and the lone renegade. New is Cherry Darling, a go-go dancing vixen who packs some serious heat via an unlikely source, her machine gun leg. For actress Rose McGowan (who plays Darling), it was a role she relished because of her love of ass kicking female roles ala La Femme Nikita .
“Obviously, it was pretty great to play a character that, I think minus the mini skirt, traditionally would've gone to a man,” she points out. “When I met Robert at Cannes almost two years ago, I was saying that it was a big shame for me that I had a tendency saying yes to movie scripts and realizing that when I got there, I said yes because I liked the male role. I did that about four times in a row, and that was uniquely stupid.
“I think I got his mind kind of clicking and he went back and started writing the script. He then kind of called me one day out of the blue and said ‘I'm stuck in traffic but I figured it out. Cherry needs a machine gun leg, that'll get asses in seats.' I said ‘alright.' I started laughing and everyone was like, ‘did it freak you out?” I thought it was hilarious. It was completely absurd, and obviously, you have Quentin and you have Robert; what are you going to do? You go with the flow there.”
A prime distinction befalls McGowan during her Grindhouse experience as she also makes her way onto Tarantino's Death Proof, playing Pam, one of the many women that get targeted by deranged Stuntman Mike, played by Kurt Russell. Deeming them rebels within the Hollywood system, McGowan noticed striking differences between Rodriguez and Tarantino's filmmaking styles.
“I think Quentin's is controlled insanity, and I think Robert is very focused and very quiet. It's strange, when I went and did Death Proof everything was pretty loud and crazy. I got so used to not talking [during Planet Terror ].”
Besides the lingering shots of female toes and an extended car chase that rivals some of the best ever put on film, Death Proof boasts the signature dialogue that has become synonymous with Tarantino. Cool comebacks and choice expletives are in full force and in grand QT fashion, they're spit out by some empowered female voices.
“I'm a writer; that's what I do,” Tarantino says. “That's my job to write characters. People who can only write about themselves have no imagination. I don't think they're that good of a writer. It's my job to understand different people's humanities other than my own.
“I walk around and if you say anything interesting, some idiosyncratic character aspect about you, it's my job to hold onto it. It might be 10-15 years before it ever comes out, but when it does, it does. I have a lot of female friends and I listen to the way they talk. I listen to it and soak it in, like a sponge.”
The sole male causing havoc in Death Proof , mostly from behind the wheel of a slick muscle car, is no ordinary man. He's an aged stuntman. Playing him is no run of the mill actor either, but a consummate professional who also happens to be an action legend.
“To males our age, our generation, Kurt Russell is this iconic figure,” Tarantino declares. “He's Snake Plissken.”
But after seeing one too many wholesome films lately in Russell's credits, namely 2005's Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story , Tarantino wondered if Russell would ever return to his badass acting days.
“That's what Quentin said, ‘I want you to play this part,'” Russell relays. “You've got a rogue's gallery of characters like nobody else I can think of, and I want you to add this one to it.”
Playing memorable characters, saying memorable lines and participating in some memorable moments in films have been in Russell's career for 30 years. But what made working on Death Proof such an unforgettable time was that it allowed the actor to work with a director who shared some of the innate characteristics that he possessed as well.
“Here's a guy that loves to play as much as I do,” Russell says. “How can you not love that?”
For Rodriquez, casting Russell was a rhetorical question that can be easily answered with even more fondness.
“I love his movie,” he says. “I'm so proud of him for going and doing that car chase. I would never do a car chase like that. I would be too scared for one. I would have those guys in front of a green screen so quick, but I wouldn't end up with the product that he ended up with. The result is, it's a freaking awesome chase.”
And just as he does about one of his popular film creations, Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction , Tarantino has many good things to say about Rodriguez. “One of the things about Robert is, he's so hands on in his whole thing, even just the way he creates shots, whether it be taking this element and sticking it here or shooting something off a green screen and sticking it here. It's almost like he truly is a comic book artist. There's these moments, these shots in his movies, these visuals that just blow me away.”
Being blown away by this double feature is an understatement. Prepare for a high octane, squibs a' plenty, ooey gooey ride that'll reinvigorate your system, and to put it quite bluntly, will ignite your movie seat. Welcome to the Grindhouse .
Grindhouse releases in theaters April 4.