Originally released as the second half of an experimental double bill called Grindhouse, paired with Robert Rodriguez’s outlandish horror-comedy Planet Terror, the serial killer car chase thriller Death Proof deftly recaptures the sleazy thrill of watching a low-budget thrill ride at a smoke-filled theater in the 1970s. Kurt Russell stars as Stuntman Mike, a despicable misogynistic former stunt performer who likes to kill women by getting them into his car and crashing it on purpose. The driver’s seat has been rigged to be nearly “death proof.” The passenger seat… not so much.
Quentin Tarantino’s two-act structure introduces one set of victims after another, before leading them each into a violent climax. The first half is a serial killer thriller, but the second — which stars famed stunt performer Zoe Bell as herself — evolves into a delirious car chase, with Bell strapped to the front of a speeding car while Mike tries to force her off the road. It’s one of the most novel and breathless car chases ever filmed, and it culminates in a finale that won’t soon be forgotten.
(Then again, as fantastic as Death Proof plays in a vacuum, it can be an uncomfortable experience after you learn about the events that transpired on the set of Tarantino’s previous film, Kill Bill, which appear to have been a direct inspiration. Death Proof may now arguably be in poor taste, but as with many discussions about the separation of art and artist, your mileage may vary.)