When I first moved to Austin in 1997, one of the initial events I attended was the second annual QT Fest, a weeklong orgy of classic and forgotten B-movies hosted by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Since then, I’ve attended every edition including last year’s, which was QT Fest number seven. We didn’t know it at the time, but each one was a warm-up to what the world is about the witness: the release of Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s new double-feature film Grindhouse. Last night, at the historic Paramount Theater in downtown Austin, the Austin Film Society hosted the local premiere of this willdly anticipated new film in grand style. The theater was overflowing with attendees, many of the stars made an appearance, and we all sat down for three hours of insane genre film homage. It’s fitting, given that almost all of the film was shot and is set, within the wonderful atmosphere of Austin.
Split between Rodriguez’s sci-fi zombie gorefest Planet Terror and Tarantino’s stuntdriver revenge flick Death Proof, the entire experience is an assault on the senses. Planet Terror is straight-up John Carpenter, with a premise involving a government plot (led by an uncredited Bruce Willis) to turn people into flesh-eating undead. Leading a band of survivors is Freddy Rodriguez as a mysterious gunman and Rose McGowan as a resourceful go-go dancer. The blood and guts are heavy and hardcore in Planet Terror, with multiple sequences that will not soon be forgotten. Tarantino’s cameo as an evil soldier will be remembered for an Ava Gardner reference and a melting penis. You were warned. Planet Terror is pretty much what you’d expect from Rodriguez, loads of bullets and stylized deaths, with little room for dialogue but all the better to unload the real essence of “grindhouse cinema.”
Tarantino’s Death Proof is a talky and smart film about a menacing ex-stuntman (Kurt Russell) who seduces women with his hot-rod that has been “death proofed” for himself but not other passengers. Some in the audience were put off by Tarantino’s typically dialogue-heavy first half, but I liked it a lot. As it settles in my brain, I keep thinking Death Proof may have some of the best writing so far this year. The exchanges between the film’s primarily female cast (including Rosario Dawson, Jordan Ladd, and more) are textured nicely and add nuances that segue effortlessly into the eventual action sequences. The climatic car chase between Russell and a band of stuntwomen, is nothing short of iconic, and the sold-out crowd ate it up last night. It’s intense and extremely entertaining.
The faux trailers produced in-between the films? Brilliant. Rodriguez’s Machete is a pitch-perfect portrayal of Danny Trejo as a day laborer with a score to settle. Edgar Wright’s Don’t trailer is a funny and knowing nod to the Hammer films from his native U.K. Meanwhile, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving trailer will change your life, for better or worse. The only trailer that comes up short is Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS, which is a better idea than execution. Despite the brilliant casting of Udo Kier and Nicolas Cage, the trailer looks too polished and the notes aren’t exactly right for the “grindhouse” sensibility. But that’s okay, because by the time Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving comes and goes, your brain has been properly washed all the same. I sent Eli an email from my seat at the Paramount, letting him know what a sick bastard he is. All in all, a fun screening followed by a fun after-party at The Belmont. Here are some pics I snapped from the night:
(Outside the Paramount on Wednesday evening as onlookers look on, to the red carpet arrivals.)
(‘Death Proof’ star Kurt Russell, left, and ‘Grindhouse’ co-director Robert Rodriguez, greet folks at local bar The Belmont during the after-party.)
(‘Grindhouse’ co-director Quentin Tarantino, left, and Austin Film Society executive director Rebecca Campbell embrace at the party.)
(Jarren and I, at the ‘Grindhouse’ party on Wednesday night. Photo by Janet Pierson.)
(Also at the after-party are, left to right: SXSW co-founder Louis Black, filmmaker and AFS founder Richard Linklater, and filmmaker Tim McCanlies.)
(Ain’t It Cool News chief Harry Knowles catches a pose with ‘Death Proof’ co-star Zoe Bell. Bell, a real-life stuntwoman who was Uma Thurman’s double for ‘Kill Bill’ practically steals her half of ‘Grindhouse’ with an amazing car chase. Bell, from New Zealand, was in Austin a few years ago when we played the documentary about her, ‘Double Dare,’ at SXSW.)