Death Proof evidently illustrates that Tarantino’s thirst for blood will never run out of fuel. The second feature of Rodriguez/Tarantino’s homage to the “Grindhouse” exploitation genre, is one that reeks of petroleum. Emphasising the raucous vehicular mayhem of muscle car extravaganzas that plagued cinemas in the 70s. But, this isn’t just an exploration into “death-proof” automobiles, commonly driven by stuntmen. Oh no no! This is a Tarantino exploration, and if we know that deranged genius by now, expect prolonged conversational scenes from his taut screenplay, authentic scenes of violence and feet. Lots of feet.
A stunt driver hunts down young women. That’s it! It’s as simple as one jaded stunt double, driving recklessly across America, crashing into women at ridiculously high speeds. This is Tarantino’s interpretation of a slasher. Instead of a machete or other bladed utensil, it’s a burning tyre to the face or body flying through the windscreen. He intelligently displays all aspects of a car and fully utilised each component as a tool or limitation for the characters. Whether it be clinging onto the bonnet at maximum velocity or imprisoned in the passenger side of a roll cage. The vehicles, much like the characters, are constantly at the forefront of Tarantino’s screenplay.
Unfortunately though, and this is his most common tendency, his script is anchored by overlong expository conversations that diminish the roaring entertainment. For example, Abernathy and her group of gal pals rest and chat about Bell’s yearning for test-driving a Dodge Challenger. Whilst the elongated take, with Tarantino rotating the camera around the table beautifully for a whole ten minutes, was exceptional directing, it detracted from the blazing car crash that occurred just moments ago. And the reason for this was due to the courageous decision in change of characters halfway through the feature. The initial four girls were not exactly lap dancing their way out of that crash. Yet the principal commitment in altering characters, whilst narratively jarring, had significant purpose in defying audience expectations.
Initially, we’re led to believe that “Stuntman Mike” is about to produce the same exhilarating “accident” again. But Tarantino knows what you’re thinking. He isn’t stupid (except when choosing to act in his films…). And so he changed the structure by flipping it upside down. The hunter becomes the hunted. And it worked, effortlessly! Staring at real stuntwoman Bell as she plays “Ship’s Mast” on the Challenger, whilst the antagonistic Russell continually bulldozes his car into theirs. Tarantino glides the camera across the landscape, exhibiting one of the most exhilarating car chases in quite some time. It’s fun, energetic and a major contribution to air pollution. And then concluding on a freeze frame? Genius.
Death Proof is the resurrection of a bygone sub-genre through the healing qualities of Tarantino’s frivolous vitality. It rarely took detours and drifted excitedly around tight corners, albeit with limited exploitative violence and prolonged conversational scenes. Death Proof really is Tarantino-proof.