Vice Squad

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1982

Embassy Pictures

Directed by Gary Sherman

Produced by Frank Capra, Jr./Brian Frankish/Frank Hildebrand/Sandy Howard/Robert Rehme

Written by Sandy Howard/Robert Vincent O’Neill/Kenneth Peters/Gary Sherman

Let’s be upfront about one thing right at the start of this review: there’s not a single thing original about the plot of VICE SQUAD. I’m willing to bet you that this same plot was used at least once by every single police and/or detective show during the 1970s and 1980s. Oh, they’d change it around some. Instead of a psycho hunting down a prostitute it would be a blind girl. Or a little black boy from the ghetto. Or an old man still grieving for his wife. And I do believe that there was an episode of “Hunter” which starred Fred Dryer as a Dirty Harry knock-off which was a loose remake of this movie. In fact, I further believe that Wings Hauser played a tamer version of his Ramrod character in that episode. But I’m working off memory here so don’t quote me, hear?

VICE SQUAD is one of those goofy 1980s movies that I had forgotten about until my friend Christofer Nigro recommend I watch it and about twenty minutes in I realized that I had seen this movie way back in the day in a 42end Street grindhouse. And it was the nuclear-hot performance of Wings Hauser that reignited those memories. And I’ll explain why in a couple hundred words. let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way first.

L.A.P.D. Vice Squad detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) as his team are hot on the trail of Ramrod (Wings Hauser) a psychotic pimp known for his vicious treatment of the girls in his stable. Ramrod’s specialty in administering punishment involves a coat hanger and I’m not gonna go any further describing what he does with it. But he’s never killed a girl. Until now. Ginger (Nina Blackwood and yes, it’s that Nina Blackwood) calls her friend and sister prostitute Princess (Season Hubley who was still Mrs. Kurt Russell when she made this movie) for help. Ramrod is looking for her and she knows good and damn well what he’s going to do when he finds her. Princess advises her to stay low and stay out of sight until she can get to Ginger.

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When Princess does get to Ginger she’s in the morgue and Walsh isn’t happy about that. He’s even less happy that the uncatchable Ramrod has killed her. But he makes a deal with Princess. If she’ll wear a wire and record Ramrod saying something, anything incriminating, he won’t throw Princess in the slammer on bogus drug charges. And in the space of a couple of hours, Princess has indeed performed his mission and Ramrod is arrested and on his way to the hoosegow.

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I should mention here that events in this movie happen awfully damn fast. That’s because the events play out in what I think is roughly a 12-hour span of time from 6PM to 6AM. This is a movie that demands you keep up with what’s happening on the screen because it sure ain’t gonna slow down for you. Ramrod escapes from police custody with an easy savagery and then proceeds to go a horrendously violent hunt for Princess to exact revenge. Hunt is a mild term for what Ramrod does. He’s got the single-mindedness of a Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees married to the bloodlust of a Klingon grafted onto the survival instincts of a Comanche. Walsh and his team have to find Princess before Ramrod does but you get the definite feeling they’re fighting way out of their weight class.

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And that’s due to the performance of Wings Hauser. This is the performance that led to him playing whackos for the next two decades and its his own fault because he was so doggone outstanding doing it in this movie. Ramrod is a psycho but he’s even more dangerous because he’s a smart psycho. Combine that with his extraordinary animal cunning and he makes for a formidable adversary. And he steals the movie because it’s way more interesting watching Ramrod in his hunt for Princess than the cops hunting for him because we never know what this guy is gonna do next but we don’t want to miss a second of him doing it, whatever batshit insane thing it turns out to be.

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The rest of the acting in the movie is nothing to write home about. Season Hubley was never an actress that did much for me. She’s okay and that’s about it. Look for Fred “Rerun” Berry in a cameo and and our buddy Pepe Serna (from “Scarface” and “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai”) is here as one of Walsh’s team. And it’s too bad Walsh’s team wasn’t given more characterization as visually they’re an interesting crew and by giving them more quirky personalities and skills they might have presented more formidable opponents for Ramrod. But as given to us the way they are, they really don’t seem to present much of a threat to him.

VICE SQUAD, from left: Lydia Lei, Kelly Piper, 1982. ©Avco Embassy

So should you see VICE SQUAD? I would highly recommend it. It’s a fine example of 1980s exploitation trash that so joyously revels in it’s own sleaze, scuzz and seediness. It’s not a pretty picture and it’s not supposed to be. But if does have that terrific Wings Hauser performance and some really tight directing from Gary Sherman that insures you will not be bored. I’ve provided a link below where you can watch it on YouTube and my recommendation is that you save it for a Friday or Saturday night and make it your Midnight Movie then. Enjoy.

Scream And Scream Again

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1970

American International Pictures

Directed by Gordon Hessler

Produced by Max Rosenberg/Milton Subotsky/Louis M. Heyward

Written by Christopher Wicking

Based on the novel “The Disoriented Man” by Peter Saxon

As the opening credits of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN play out, we’re watching a fit young man jogging through what presumably is a park in London. He sure seems like a healthy bloke which is why it’s a surprise when he suddenly grabs his heart and collapses. He wakes up lying in a hospital bed. A nurse comes into his room and tends to him but refuses to answer his questions. She leaves. The bloke tries to sit up in bed but something’s not quite right. He pulls back the covers to see that one of his legs has been amputated below the knee. Quite understandably he screams bloody murder.

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We will revisit this unlucky chap during the course of the movie’s 95 minute running time and each time we do, he’ll be missing another limb. When Tom Deja and I discussed SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN on a “Better In The Dark” episode we both admitted how we felt guilty watching this movie and laughing at the guy’s plight because after awhile it’s like the blackest of black comedies. Every time the poor bastard goes to sleep, he wakes up missing a limb.

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But we’ve got other things going in the movie. In fact, there are three totally separate stories going on that on the surface seem to be unrelated to each other. In one, Peter Cushing is a highly placed official working for the government of an unidentified European totalitarian county that is clearly supposed to be based on Nazi Germany. One of his junior officers has apparently mastered the Vulcan neck pinch so well that he can kill people with it. He’s moving up the ladder of power, killing the higher-ups as he does so.

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In the second story Dr. Browning (Vincent Price) is a brilliant research physician specializing in limb and organ transplants who is questioned by the police. They’re looking for a serial rapist/killer who apparently has vampiric abilities. Two of Dr. Browning’s assistants have fallen victim to the fiend and needless to say even though the good doctor claims no knowledge at all of how this could be so, the police find him highly suspicious.

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In the third story, Christopher Lee is the chief of an unnamed British intelligence service who finds himself dealing with the political/diplomatic fallout when one of his spy planes has either been shot down or accidentally crashed in a certain unidentified European totalitarian country.

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And while we bounce back and forth between these three seemingly unrelated stories, we keep revisiting that poor bastard in the hospital bed who is trapped in the world’s worst game of Operation!

If you’ve never seen SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (and I highly recommend you seek it out if you never have) when you see it for the first time you can be forgiven for thinking that this movie must have been put together by a film editor who A: Was high as a cooter on crack and booze when he worked on this. B: Was pissed at the studio or C: Just didn’t give a shit about his job. Because since Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price never share a single scene together, the movie plays out for most of its running time as if the film editor took three different movies; one starring Mr. Lee, one starring Mr. Cushing and one starring Mr. Price then haphazardly edited scenes from each of those movies into one. And yeah, you read that right. The three stars of the movie never share a scene together. Mr. Lee and Mr. Price appear on screen together for maybe a minute at the film’s very end.

But here’s the twist: the three separate plots do eventually converge and when they do, you may find yourself nodding your head as I did the first time I saw it and saying; “Okay, that’s a bit of alright.” This is the kind of movie where you shouldn’t even bother trying to play the game of what’s going to happen next or attempt to figure out where the movie is going or how it’s going to end. Trust me; it’s impossible to do that with SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Just sit back and enjoy where it takes you. It’s science fiction, it’s black comedy, its horror, it’s a political/paranoia/conspiracy thriller and it’s Highly Recommended.

95 Minutes

Rated R

Sleepaway Camp

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1983

American Eagle Films

Directed and Written by Robert Hiltzik

Produced by Jerry Silva/Michele Tatosian

In a decade dominated by the slasher genre of horror movies, SLEEPAWAY CAMP managed to stand out back in the 1980s and still is being talked about today. Chances are that if you’ve seen it, you might not remember anything else about the movie (well, you might remember the scene with the curling iron. Talk about owtch) but you’ll remember that ending. And boy howdy, what an ending. It’s been compared to the ending of “Psycho” and I have to agree. I watched SLEEPAWAY CAMP yesterday for the first time in something like twenty years and still found myself having an “oh, shit!” moment when the ending came. But SLEEPAWAY CAMP comes by that ending honestly. There’s some solid storytelling and characterization going on here that elevates the movie. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not talking “Halloween” level or even “Friday The 13th” but SLEEPAWAY CAMP is most definitely more than a few notches above your average slasher slice-n-dice.

After the death of her brother and father in a boating mishap in 1975, the traumatized Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) goes to live with her aunt Dr. Martha Thomas (Desiree Gould) and her son, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) for the next eight years. Aunt Martha decides it’s time the kids got out on their own and sends them to Camp Arawak for the summer. It’s obvious that some of Aunt Martha’s fuses have long blown and not been replaced. She gives the children documents stating their physicals and admonishes them not to tell anyone they got them from her.

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Once they get to the camp Ricky fits in just fine but the painfully introverted Angela has a hard time making friends. She has no trouble making enemies in the form of her roommate Judy (Karen Fields) and camp counselor Meg (Katherine Kamhi) who delight in tormenting the shy girl every chance they get. Ricky’s friend Paul (Christopher Collet) feels sorry for Angela and takes it upon himself to befriend the lonely girl. A friendship that grows into a romance that drives Judy into a jealous fit.

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And that’s when the murders start. Camp owner Mel Costic (Mike Kellin) starts to notice that anyone who picks on Angela turns up dead. And her cousin Ricky just happens to be nearby just before that person turns up dead. Is Ricky murdering the campers in defense of his cousin? Who else could it be? Who else indeed? (dun dun duuuuuuuuuun)

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To be fair, there’s not a whole lot of suspects in this one so it’s not going to be hard for you to figure out who the killer is. But it’s not that kind of a movie. It works hard at being just as much of a psychological thriller as a slasher and while it doesn’t succeed entirely, the motivations of the filmmakers are genuine and I give them credit for it.

And this is one slasher movie where you don’t mind seeing the kids get killed because they’re such obnoxious little snots. Real teenage actors were used and they’re all pretty good because they act like teenagers. They’re rude, petty, emotional, raging with hormones, cuss like sailors on liberty and downright mean to each other for no reason at all. So when they get bumped off there’s an almost subversive feeling of glee because hey, these brats had it coming. For a slasher movie, the blood and gore is surprisingly kept to a minimum. But that’s because people get killed off in more unusual ways that just being hacked to bloody bits.

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SLEEPAWAY CAMP is one of those 1980s movies that has it’s own vibe, its own peculiar charm that you either will get or you won’t. It’s just that simple. Sure the psychology that explains the killer’s motivation is screwball and some of you will find the homophobia distasteful as it’s strongly implied that Angela and her brother were emotionally/psychologically damaged as a result of their father’s homosexual relationship. But I think that if you can accept the movie as having been made in a less enlightened time (although after having watched the Republican National Convention I wonder how enlightened we can truly claim to be) and look upon it as 90 minutes of disposable popcorn entertainment, you’ll have a good time with it. And you don’t even have to spend a dime. It’s available to watch on YouTube and I’ve provided a link below. Enjoy.

90 Minutes

Rated R

And Soon The Darkness (1970)

1970

EMI Films

Directed by Robert Fuest

Produced by Albert Fennell and Brian Clements

Written by Brain Clements and Terry Nation

AND SOON THE DARKNESS is regarded as a minor cult classic of 70’s British horror movies and now, after finally seeing it for myself I can see why.  It’s a neat, effective little horror/suspense movie that gets the job done with a subtle, intelligent script and solid acting.  It’s my kind of horror movie as the situation is one that could plausibly happen and the characters behave as I can see actual people in such a situation would act and as such I can take the movie much more seriously than say, the brain dead 2010 remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS.  But that’s another review.  Let’s get back to this one.

Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice) are two young and very pretty English girls on holiday, biking through the French countryside.  They’re best friends but they have very different idea of how they want to spend their holiday.  Jane’s insistent they stay on schedule and she’s constantly consulting her stack of maps and checking their time against their itinerary.  Cathy wants to slowpoke it, take their time and enjoy the local color.

Part of that local color is Paul (Sandor Eles) a handsome young French man who catches Cathy’s eye in a café the two girls stop at briefly to get directions.  They go further on up the road and Paul passes them on his motorcycle, only to stop at a roadside cemetery.  In a blatant attempt to kill time and wait for Paul to catch up to them, Cathy insists that the girls stop to sunbathe at the side of the road.  This leads to a quarrel where Cathy tells Jane she’s fed up with being bossed around and that she’s going to have some fun.  Jane leaves Cathy and continues on by herself, stopping at another café a little ways up the road.  After a while, when she’s cooled off, she goes back for Cathy.

Except Cathy’s gone.  Jane finds her bicycle but except for that, there’s no sign of Cathy at all.  Jane frantically searches for her with no luck.  She runs into Paul, who claims to be a police detective and offers to help.  He certainly is more willing to do so than the local gendarme (John Nettleton) who treats Cathy’s disappearance with a laid-back casualness that frustrates Jane to no end. The locals are of no help because Jane doesn’t know any French and so can’t tell them what’s wrong.  And then it turns out that Paul has disturbingly graphic knowledge of a girl who a couple of years ago was raped and murdered near the same spot where Cathy disappeared…

If you have any knowledge of the careers of the writers and director of this movie then you know these guys aren’t amateurs.  Robert Fuest directed the two classic “Dr. Phibes” movies.  Brian Clements was a producer and main script writer of “The Avengers” as well as writing so many other classic British TV series and movies such as “Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter” which he also directed.  Terry Nation created The Daleks and if I have to tell you who they are then you’re in the wrong place.  He also created several notable British science fiction TV series including one of my favorites; “Blake’s 7”

Add to this the considerable acting talent of Pamela Franklin who starred in what I consider the second best haunted house movie ever made; “The Legend of Hell House” and was a standout in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody” where she played the intellectually and sexually precocious Sandy. Pamela Franklin had a good career back in the 60’s and 70’s and if you see her name in the credits of a movie, watch it.  She’s a fine actress with terrifically expressive eyes who knows exactly what she’s doing in front of a camera and it’s a treat to watch her work.

The movie also is fun to watch because despite the title, 100% of AND SOON THE DARKNESS takes place during the daytime in broad daylight.  The events of the movie play out in the course of one day and just because it all takes place during the daylight hours doesn’t make it any less scary or suspenseful.  Increasing the suspense is Jane’s inability to communicate with anybody except the two people she suspects of having taken her friend.  It’s a smart move by the director to not subtitle when French is spoken and so as the audience we can share in Jane’s growing frustration and paranoia at her situation.

So should you see AND SOON THE DARKNESS?  I recommend so highly.  It doesn’t have graphic violence or gore but if you’re looking for a nifty little horror/suspense thriller that will keep you guessing right up until the end of the movie, this is for you.  It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix so enjoy.

PG

99 minutes

Death Proof

2007

Dimension Films/Rodriguez International Pictures/Troublemaker Studios

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Produced by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Erica Steinberg

Once upon a time there was this street in Manhattan.  42end Street.  Now before you jump up and say; “It’s still there!” Let me say that no.  It’s not.  Oh, 42end Street is there.  But it’s not there.  Give me a minute to explain.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s you could go to 42end Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and on both sides on the street there were nothing but movie theaters.  Cheap movie theaters that showed double and even triple features.  And when I say cheap I mean $2 or $3 bucks.  That’s right.  You could go see two movies for three lousy dollars and stay in the theater until it closed if you liked.  There was this one theater that showed nothing but a triple bill of kung fu movies.  The theater that was home to “The Lion King” for many years used to be the raunchiest XXX movie theater in Times Square.  These theaters opened early and closed late.  Real late.  If you had $20 bucks in your pocket you could stay on 42end Street all day long and most of the night cruising from one theater to another until you were all movie-ed out.  Of course you shared the theater with potheads, drunks, bottom feeder drug dealers, prostitutes, unemployed men hiding out from the world, teenagers cutting school and their ilk.  But if you didn’t mess with anybody they generally didn’t mess with you.  Back in the day the rule of thumb was: “don’t start no static, there won’t be none”.   The movie theater staff had the same policy.  Folks would light up their joints, pass around 40s of malt liquor, pints of cheap booze, smoke cigarettes openly and put their feet up on the backs of the seat in front of them.  But as long as they were cool, the management was cool.   In short, the environment was as saturated with depravity as the movies shown.

The movies that were shown in these theaters, which we now popularly and affectionately refer to as ‘grindhouses’ were far from Academy Award winning films.  They were Grade B, C, D and more oftentimes than not, Z exploitation flicks.  Blaxplotation.  Kung fu flicks.  Spaghetti westerns.  Horror.  Italian ‘giallo’ thrillers.  Splatter.  Made on the cheap and designed to be nothing more than sensational pulp entertainment most of them you forgot the day after you saw them.  Oh, there were exceptions, to be sure and a lot of those movies transcended the trash and are still highly regarded to this day.  But the 42end Street of those bad old days is gone forever.  I know, I know…people go on and on about it’s ‘safer’ now.  It’s ‘cleaner’.  It’s more ‘family orientated’ and I’m all for that.  I still think it was more fun back then.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated on a project called “Grindhouse” where they attempted to give modern day movie goers a taste of what the movie going experience was like back then.  “Grindhouse” was made up of two complete and separate films on a double bill along with a handful of fake trailers for equally fake films.  The two movies, DEATH PROOF and “Planet Terror” were aged and battered to replicate the way films looked back then since those prints were shipped all over the country from theater to theater and not handled with the best of care.   So when they were shown on the screen you had all these scratches and more often than not whole sections of film missing and spliced together.  “Grindhouse” even made use of vintage 70’s/80’s advertisements and theater announcements.   It was all designed to be a Valentine to that entire movie era of gleeful sex, violence and gore.

The problem was that a lot of moviegoers didn’t get the joke.  I remember reading that audience members were confused by the sections of the movie that had ‘missing reels’ and demanded that they see the missing parts or else they wanted their money refunded.  Supposedly there were complaints from theater owners about the 3 hr+ running time of “Grindhouse” Whatever the reason; “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment that failed at the box office.  However the two movies have been released on DVD as separate features.

DEATH PROOF begins with three Austin, Texas girls preparing for a weekend of partying to celebrate the birthday of Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) a local disc jockey.  Her two best friends Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) and Shanna (Jordan Ladd) go with her to the Texas Chili Parlor where they’re going to hook up with Julia’s drug connection Lanna (Monica Staggs) and from there it’s on to the lake house owned by Shanna’s rich daddy.  But first the girls have planned a wild night of drinking, dancing and making out with some of the local guys (one of them played by writer/director Eli Roth) They also meet up with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who claims to be a professional stuntman although he can only credit television shows thirty years old that he supposedly worked on.  Stuntman Mike flirts with the girls which earns him a highly erotic lap dance from Arlene who is both intrigued and repelled by the scarred but strangely charming man.

Turns out that Stuntman Mike is not only scarred physically but mentally as well since he’s a psychotic sadist who likes killing young woman with his special souped-up 1970 Chevrolet Nova which he proudly boasts is “death proof”.  It’s been tricked out so that Stuntman Mike can do things like ram another car head on at 120 miles an hour and survive.  Whoever is in the other car isn’t so lucky.  Stuntman Mike proceeds to show off just how deadly his “death proof” car is by killing not only the four girls but also a girl he’s tricked into actually riding inside the car (Rose McGowan) in a pair of truly horrific scenes.

Cut to fourteen months later.  Stuntman Mike is in Tennessee and sizing up four new victims.  This time it’s Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) Kim (Traci Toms) and Zoë (Zoë Bell) who are all in the movie business themselves.  Zoë is a stuntwoman and wants to do two things; buy a vintage 1970 Dodge Challenger and play a game called “Ship’s Mast” in which Zoë lies on the hood of the car, hanging onto two belts while Kim drives down the highway at high speed.  Bad time for them to pick to play this game because Stuntman Mike has been stalking them all day and he decides he wants to play as well.  But his idea of a fun game is way different from what the girls have planned.  Before it’s all over, everybody will have gotten their share of playing games.

DEATH PROOF is a way different movie in style and tone from “Planet Terror” in that where “Planet Terror” takes off at Warp Factor Five right from the first five minutes, DEATH PROOF takes it’s time to build up to the wild car chase that takes up the last fifteen minutes or so.  That’s why I advise everybody who plans on seeing these films back-to-back on a single night’s viewing (which is really the way to watch ‘em) to watch DEATH PROOF first, then “Planet Terror” DEATH PROOF takes it’s time telling it’s story and its certainly not boring but Q.T. takes his time in the first half so that we can get to know the first set of girls before the totally terrifying head on collision with Stuntman Mike’s car.  Then we’re introduced to the second set of girls and Q.T. takes another half hour with the characterization before we get down to their desperate 100 mile an hour road war.

It’s a solid movie full of the patented Tarantino dialog we’ve come to expect and there are extended scenes where it’s nothing but people just talking.  But since it’s Tarantino putting the words in their mouths and the actors are so good at what they’re doing I don’t think you’re going to mind a bit.  Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson and Zoë Bell are the acting standouts in this one, especially Zoë Bell.  She’s a real life stuntwoman who doubled for Lucy Lawless in “Xena” and for Uma Thurman in the “Kill Bill” movies and she’s totally charming here.  And that’s really her sliding around on the hood of that Dodge Challenger as it’s roaring down the highway.

Tarantino wanted to film a car chase without using CGI at all and it’s a really excellent car chase.  I’m glad to see that some filmmakers still like doing some things Old School: Tarantino put real stuntmen inside of real cars and let them do what they do best.  Vanessa Ferlito also does terrific work in this movie.  She does a mean lap dance and while doing it all I could think of was that she looks like she could be Rosario Dawson’s younger, sluttier sister.

And like all of Tarantino’s movies, the soundtrack is killer.  I don’t think there’s a director working today except for Martin Scorsese who uses music in his movies better than Tarantino.  The music he uses in his movie isn’t just stuck in there just to fill dead air between dialog scenes.  The songs uncannily fit the mood of a scene and get across exactly what emotion Tarantino wants to convey. And I always hear a couple of songs in his movies that I’ve never heard before from artists I assumed I was fairly familiar with.  Such as The Coasters song he uses for the lap dance sequence.  I’ve been listening to The Coasters since I was knee high to a knee as my father was a huge fan of theirs but I’ve never heard that song before I saw DEATH PROOF.

If I have any complaints with DEATH PROOF it’s this: despite Tarantino’s desire to make a grindhouse flick in the style of “Vanishing Point” and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” (both of which are referenced several times by the characters) the movie is way too dialog heavy and far too polished to be considered a true grindhouse flick.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that while “Planet Terror” is by far way more fun to watch, DEATH PROOF is technically the better movie and the one that will most likely stay with you for days afterwards.  There’s just more meat on the bones of this one.  But that ending is just too abrupt for me.  But then again, “Vanishing Point” and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” had similar out-of-left-field-what-the-hell endings and I was able to roll with them so I guess I can roll with this one.

So should you see DEATH PROOF?  You bet your ass you should.  It’s not one of Quentin Tarantino’s best movies but still, a minor flick from Q.T. is better than a lot of directors’ major works.  The performances are excellent, that car chase is a doozy and the story is tightly suspenseful.  By all means, Netflix and enjoy.

114 Minutes

Rated R