Quentin Tarantino is back, and if you thought he had exorcised the spirit of exploitation cinema from his soul with the “Kill Bill” films, well, think again. His latest project is “Grindhouse,” a double-feature homage to sleazy 1970s B-movies, which has him working with friend and fellow director Robert Rodriguez, each offering up a film.
“Grindhouse cinema” is a term that’s been bandied about more frequently since the release of “Kill Bill.” It refers to the run-down, seedy cinemas of the ’70s, often located in dodgier parts of town, that showed nothing but exploitation flicks, from soft-core sleaze (“Valley of the Ultravixens”) to sick-inducing splatter (“The Corpse Grinders”), blaxploitation (“Coffy”) and sexploitation (“Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS”). The “grindhouse” nickname derived from the fact that many of these cinemas were striptease clubs in an earlier incarnation.
Tarantino’s take on this period comes in the form of “Death Proof,” a bad- girls-vs.-evil-stuntman car-chase flick that plays like some sort of mutant hybrid of ’70s existential road-movie classic “Vanishing Point” and sleaze classic “Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!” Rodriguez, for his part, came up with “Planet Terror,” a trashy zombie-splatter flick featuring a go-go dancer with a machinegun leg.
Both men are no strangers to exploitation cinema — see “From Dusk Till Dawn,” for one — but what’s different here is the obsessive, maniacal extent to which they attempt to duplicate the grindhouse cinema experience. Aside from the texture of the film itself — which literally screams ’70s — the reels are deliberately scratched, stained, wobbly and otherwise messed up. There’s even a “missing reel” in Rodriguez’ film. And between the two films are some delightfully trashy (and fake) trailers by Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie and Rodriguez that perfectly duplicate the cheap and over-the-top pleasures of the period.
Tarantino, in an interview with The Japan Times this month, discussed how the project came to be. “I have a really big print collection at home, and I have a really nice theater,” says the director. “It’s one of the things I did when I ‘got rich.’ That year I didn’t make a movie, I made a movie theater. And so I have movie nights at my house where I show these really cool grindhouse movies and stuff. And Robert would come over, and he’d always have a really great time. And he said: ‘Y’know, these movies are so much fun! We should do our own version of this. Let’s give the world what it’s like at movie night at Quentin’s house.’ So that’s what we tried to do.”
Tarantino, as legend had it, spent a lot of time slumming in East L.A. cinemas soaking up grindhouse. (Though he may have been one of the few people watching the movies — grindhouses were notorious for attracting dopers, dealers, whores, tricks, cruisers and the mentally infirm.) He recalls how, in those days, “We saw a lot of bad movies. I’ve never been of the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ school. Very rarely was it so bad it was good. You hoped for the best, and you bought your ticket, and then in 5 minutes you’re like, ‘Oh, yuck, Jesus f**king Christ!’ . . . But then you go see Joe Dante’s ‘Piranha,’ written by John Sayles, and all of a sudden, ‘Hey! This is a good “Jaws” ripoff!’ Back then it seemed really good because you weren’t expecting it. Stephen King had a line about this, right on the mone