There are weird movies and then there are those movies that leave you perplexed at their very concept idea. A big one was the 2007 double feature “Grindhouse” which saw Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teaming up to each direct a film that resembled a B-movie/exploitation film. They were then released together in theaters as a double feature reminiscent of how exploitation films were released back during the time that special theaters were open that showed double features of those low-budget films. Obviously Tarantino, the man behind such strange films as “Kill Bill” and “Inglorious Bastards”, was a perfect director for the job as well as Rodriguez who made such insane action films as “Desperado” and “Sin City”. In addition they got fellow filmmakers to make trailers for fake movies to appear before and between the two films to further give promote that feeling the films were being shown at one of those old theaters. So without further ado get ready for a double feature mash-up as technically tonight I talk about two films’ production history.
The idea for “Grindhouse” came to Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino when Tarantino set up screenings of double features in his house, which were complete with trailers before and in between the films to give them a theatrical feeling. Then, during one screening in 2003, Rodriguez noticed that he owned the same double feature movie poster as Tarantino for the 1957 films “Dragstrip Girl and Rock All Night”. So Rodriguez simply suggested to Tarantino, “I always wanted to do a double feature. Hey, why don’t you direct one and I’ll do the other?” with Tarantino quickly replying, “And we’ve got to call it Grindhouse!” As you can see they didn’t waste any time, but I bet a lot of you are wondering: Where the heck did the term “Grindhouse” even come from? See the film’s name originates from the American term for theaters that played all the exploitation genres which were kung fu, horror, Giallo, sexploitation, the ‘good old boy’ redneck car-chase movies, blaxploitation, and spaghetti Westerns. These were all genres that were released in the 70’s. Rodriguez described the movies that were shown as follows, “The posters were much better than the movies, but we’re actually making something that lives up to the posters.” Now there was the template but it comes to wonder now how each filmmaker came up with the idea for their respective half this double feature.
Rodriguez first came up with the idea for “Planet Terror” during the production of one of his early movies “The Faculty”. He spoke on it saying, “I remember telling Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett, all these young actors, that zombie movies were dead and hadn’t been around in a while, but that I thought they were going to come back in a big way because they’d been gone for so long. I said, ‘We’ve got to be there first.’ I had [a script] I’d started writing. It was about 30 pages, and I said to them, ‘There are characters for all of you to play.’ We got all excited about it, and then I didn’t know where to go with it. The introduction was about as far as I’d gotten, and then I got onto other movies. Sure enough, the zombie [movie] invasion happened and they all came back again, and I was like, ‘Ah, I knew that I should’ve made my zombie film.'” So Rodriguez reapproached the story when Tarantino and Rodriguez developed the idea for “Grindhouse”. As “Planet Terror” took shape, Tarantino developed the story for “Death Proof” which was simply based on his fascination for the way stuntmen would “death-proof” their cars and how, as long as they were driving, stuntmen could slam their cars headfirst into a brick wall at 60 mph and survive. This inspired Tarantino to create a slasher film that featured a deranged stuntman, who would eventually be played by Kurt Russell, who stalks and murders sexy young women with his “death-proof” car. Tarantino recalls, “I realized I couldn’t do a straight slasher film, because with the exception of women-in-prison films, there is no other genre quite as rigid. And if you break that up, you aren’t really doing it anymore. It’s inorganic, so I realized—let me take the structure of a slasher film and just do what I do. My version is going to be fucked up and disjointed, but it seemingly uses the structure of a slasher film, hopefully against you.” Rodriguez claims that Tarantino had an idea and a complete vision for his film right away when he first talked about it with Tarantino starting to tell him the story. Rodriguez also revealed that, in the way Tarantino thought up the name of the overall name, that he came up with the name “Death Proof” for Tarantino’s film, but that that was all he contributed. For the car chases in his film, Tarantino avoided visual effects all together feeling it took away from the action and energy of the sequence. Now on to all the fun production facts from these two off-the-wall directors starting with, well their direction.
According to actress Marley Shelton, “Rodriguez and Tarantino really co-directed, at least Planet Terror. Quentin was on set a lot. He had notes and adjustments to our performances and he changed lines every once in a while. Of course, he always deferred to Robert on Planet Terror and vice versa for Death Proof. So it’s really both of their brainchild.” Tarantino loved working with Rodriguez and had complete faith and trust in him. He did note, however, that they didn’t see each other’s completed movie until three weeks before the film premiered when they finally put the films together like the double feature it was meant to be. You know “Sin City” saw these two directors work together before and, just like that, a HUGE cast was assembled for this double feature.
Many of the cast members of this double feature had previously worked with both directors so in a way this project was a reunion of sorts. Before appearing in “Grindhouse”, actress Marley Shelton had auditioned for “The Faculty”, but Rodriguez chose not to cast her and eventually cast her in the role of a customer in the opening sequence of “Sin City”. The same went for Bruce Willis who had appeared in both Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” and, again, Rodriguez’s “Sin City”. Something you might not have known is Willis made a cameo appearance in a segment Tarantino directed for the anthology film “Four Rooms”. Anyway, actor Tom Savini had previously acted in “From Dusk Till Dawn”, which was written by Tarantino and directed by Rodriguez. Speaking of “From Dusk Till Dawn”, actor Michael Parks reprises the role of Earl McGraw from that movie in both “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof” with his real son, James Parks, appearing in Death Proof as Earl McGraw’s son Edgar McGraw, a character that first appeared in “From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money”. However, this was not first time the two characters appeared together. It was actually in Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” that that happened. Anyway, Tarantino himself plays small roles in both segments of “Grindhouse” as he does in many of his own films. Director Eli Roth, who contributed the fake trailer Thanksgiving and whose film “Hostel” was produced by Tarantino, has a cameo in “Death Proof” as well. Tarantino attempted to cast both Kal Penn and Sylvester Stallone in “Death Proof”, but they were both unable to work due to prior commitments. On a special note, Tarantino revealed that he decided to cast Kurt Russell as the killer stunt driver because “for people of my generation, he’s a true hero…but now, there’s a whole audience out there that doesn’t know what Kurt Russell can do. When I open the newspaper and see an ad that says ‘Kurt Russell in Dreamer,’ or ‘Kurt Russell in Miracle,’ I’m not disparaging these movies, but I’m thinking: When is Kurt Russell going to be a badass again?” Still none of these actors get to look cool without great style and that was done by the directors themselves to ensure it.
Rodriguez and Tarantino each acted as cinematographer on their own segments. Rodriguez had previously worked as the cinematographer on six of his own feature films while “Death Proof” marked Tarantino’s first credit as a cinematographer. The director of photography for Rob Zombie’s fake trailer Werewolf Women of the SS was Phil Parmet. Parmet and Zombie had first worked together on Zombie’s film “The Devil’s Rejects”. The director of photography for Eli Roth’s fake trailer “Thanksgiving” was Milan Chadima, whom Roth had previously worked with on “Hostel” as well. Now on to how these guys made this film old school with an old school vibe to boot and how they still used some modern techniques to make the special circumstances in the film work or even how the characters themselves were meant to exist.
While both films are set in modern day, the film uses various unconventional techniques to make the films look like those that were shown in grindhouse theaters in the 1970’s. For example, throughout both feature-length segments and the fake trailers, the film is intentionally damaged to make it look like many of the exploitation films of the 1970’s. Small film history fact as to why they looked like that, the films back then were generally shipped around from theater to theater and usually ended up in bad shape. Anyway, to reproduce the look of damaged film reels in “Planet Terror”, five of the six 25,000-frame reels were edited with real film damage, plug-ins, and stock footage. “Planet Terror” makes heavy use of digital effects throughout the film with perhaps the most notable effect being the fake leg of the character Cherry (Played by Rose McGowan). To accomplish the fake leg that Cherry sports after her accident, the effects teams digitally removed McGowan’s right leg from the shots during post-production and replaced it with computer-generated props which, in the story, was first a table leg and then an M16 rifle. During shooting for these scenes, McGowan wore a special cast which restricted her leg movement to give her the correct motion. This also helped the effects artists to digitally remove it during post-production more easily. Speaking of post-production, without editing no film would look good and now we discuss how this directing duo made it look…well actually they wanted to make it look bad.
During the editing process, Tarantino and Rodriguez came up with the idea of inserting “missing reels” into the film. Rodriquez recalls Tarantino was about show an Italian crime movie with actor Oliver Reed in it and seeing how it allowed a little mystery to the film Rodriquez suggested they use one in their film as well. Rodriguez further felt that by the third act all bets were off and that by skipping over the end of the second act of the film it allowed the film to be more exciting. Another reason was he felt the second act of a film is always predictable and boring with everything being revealed as well as the characters being established on what side of the conflict they are truly on in the film. On a side note, Tarantino admitted the complete version of his film “Death Proof” is about thirty minutes shorter than the one coupled with Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and he was very excited when it was shown on it’s own although he thought it was great as a double feature with Rodriguez’s film.
Two directors who go all out to bring us insane story concepts. There truly are none like these two. Funny enough, a handful of those fake trailers that were shown with the film went on to become real films. “Machete” and it’s soon-to-be-released sequel “Machete Kills” are now real films with Danny Trejo starring the film as the titular character. Also, “Hobo with a Shotgun” was released with Rutger Hauer as well. Sure these films along with the two that make up “Grindhouse” are unorthodox, but every once and awhile we need unorthodox filmmaking to appreciate it as a whole. Not all films are quiet dramas or CGI-filled action tales. Some are in that weird gray area and, as Tarantino shows, those are equally appreciated as he has won two Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay with “Pulp Fiction” and again this year with “Django Unchained”. Bottom line, sometimes you need films that cut loose and “Grindhouse” does just that. Some might disapprove but it’s up to each person to be able to separate the film from real life. If you can do that then you can enjoy the heck out of these kinds of films and still be able to sleep at night. Sounds good right?