Fulci. Girdler. Franco. Deodato. Just a few names synonymous with the term “grindhouse” those dens of deviancy spawned in the 1970s characterized by their schlocky second and third-run films, seedy atmosphere and location (New York City’s 42nd Street was a popular hotspot). Now, two more names have thrown their hats into grindhouse history by giving it a revered makeover with the double-feature “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof.”
This combo wrapped in a tattered little package aptly titled Grindhouse – comes courtesy of none other than Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, who have been collaborating here and there since the vampire flick From Dusk Till Dawn, drive-in fare if there ever was one. The former’s entry (starring Rose McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez) looks at a world gone mad when a bio-weapon turns a small Texas town (and possibly the world) into oozy, bladder-pulsing zombies (or “sickos” as Rodriguez has lovingly coined them). Tarantino’s “Death Proof” (with Kurt Russell top-lining) is a creature of another sort, evoking the vibe of car chase films such as Vanishing Point but giving it the mild flavor of a slasher flick.
ShockTillYouDrop.com collided with Rodriguez and Tarantino during the Grindhouse press day in the heart of Beverly Hills.
ShockTillYouDrop: Tell us about how you two became friends…
Quentin Tarantino: It’s funny, somebody was asking us why are you such good friends, filmmakers. If we had never made a movie in our lives and we had just met each other we would be friends. If I worked at Video Archives and Robert was a customer, we’d be great buddies. If we had known each other in elementary school – hell, I wish I knew a guy like Robert in elementary school, we would be buddies too. The fact that we’re both artists and respect each others’ art form, that’s just amazing and I’ve always just dreamed about this community of artists.
SHOCK: How did “Grindhouse” begin?
Robert Rodriguez: Well, [Quentin] has been collecting prints forever and educating me in ‘grindhouse’ cinema for the past twelve years showing me all of these double-features and triple-features at his house. This is stuff he’s seen in the theater back when he was growing up or stuff he’s discovered and turned me on to. I didn’t think to do anything with it because I’m kind of slow, but then I started thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do a double-feature?” ‘Cause I just finished [“Spy Kids 3-D”] and I was trying to think of something else that would bring people back to theaters for a theatrical experience. I went crazy with ideas for a few months then got sidetracked with “Sin City.” I went to show Quentin my cut of the scene he did, I went to his house and laying on the floor, with a bunch of other junk, was a double-bill poster for “Rock All Night” and “Dragstrip Girl,” which is the same one I had at my house on my floor as my inspiration. I had this crazy idea to make two short features and he would do one and I’d do the other. He was like “Oh, I love double features, we gotta call it ‘Grindhouse.'” Later he came up with the idea for the fake trailers. At his screenings he always puts trailers in between his double-features – it wouldn’t be a complete experience without them.
QT: And I choose them like a little mix-master. I go in and they’re related to the genre of the double-features I’m showing or people in it, or maybe somebody in the audience.
SHOCK: Robert, why Rose McGowan for your heroine in “Planet Terror”?
RR: I met her at the Cannes Film Festival for “Sin City” and we were just sitting around talking to Clive Owen. I turned around and she was just sitting there so I introduced myself and we started talking about how she was stuck on a TV show for five years. “No wonder why I haven’t seen you around, you were a Dimension girl!” She’s hilarious and she totally caught me off guard. When you meet somebody like that that has a personality so strong in person, you blow it up 50 times on screen it’s just going to be amazing. I told her, “I want you to be in my movie, but as you are.” People tell her she should be a stand-up comedienne, she’s always just so accident-prone. She always has the worst luck. She’s always telling us about her useless talents, then I thought she should have a machine gun leg that would be over the top. There’s so much of her in Cherry, no one else could have played her. Same thing with Zoe.
QT: It was a really wonderful situation because I worked with [Zoe] on “Kill Bill,” she was the stunt double, and not only that she was on “Xena” as a stunt double on the last three years of that show. She’s just one ass-kicking chick as well as sweet and effervescent. I got to know her really well, she’s like my sister, I’d run into a burning building for her. Also, she was in a documentary that was about her called “Double Dare” and I saw it a few times in the theaters. What was so fascinating is the personality Zoe has, all her bubbliness is there in the documentary and it just kinda came out in the audience. There’s this moment where she gets this job that she really wanted to get and the whole audience just burst into tears ’cause you’re just so happy for her, you want her to do well. I thought, “Gosh darn, that quality that Zoe has in real life is just there on screen and everyone feels it in the theaters.” I was working with her slightly as an actress on Kill Bill, whether she’s got the motorcycle helmet on or she’s in the yellow jumpsuit. I don’t know how to talk to a stunt person, I know how to talk an actor and her was responsibility was to not just do the stunts – the Bride still had to be there. So, I’m always explaining to her where she was and where she’s going character-wise. She wasn’t used to that until finally she got into it acting-wise. I thought, “Wow, if I can cast Zoe as an actress, and get that wonderful quality out of her, audiences would love her!” I can just do a balls-to-the-wall chase and always just show that it’s her and never have to cut away. It would add up to a thrilling experience.
SHOCK: How did you decide the order of the two pictures?
RR: Once we get our scripts done we figured out which would go first. Plus, we thought since mine has so many characters I could probably cut mine the tightest that way people wouldn’t feel exhausted and ready to go home, I can make it really short and everyone could be ready for another picture. But then ours ended up being the exact same length.
QT: We never really thought that much about it, it just seemed like the natural way to go. I wouldn’t put it under the microscope to wonder why that was the case but I think it was probably more because Robert’s is a little bit more lighter.
SHOCK: Did you try to switch them around to see how they flowed?
RR: Early on I did a sample of the opening titles and it started with the music I had written and “Grindhouse” came up. Then it seemed like this is the way it would start.
SHOCK: Are there any plans to make the trailers into feature films like “Machete”?
QT: That one for sure. Our whole thing is that we were actually going to let the fans dictate that. “Machete” could genuinely be done grindhouse[-style]. About a half-hour is already put together and [Rodriguez] could expand it and literally show up for just another six or seven days and just wrap it up. That’d be extremely New World Pictures style.
SHOCK: How did you choose the directors?
QT: What ended up happening is that Robert had done his “Machete” trailer. Edgar Wright and Eli Roth are both friends of ours and they were at my house and said, “Hey, let me show you ‘Machete.'” I even had the lobby cards Robert had made.
RR: There was a camera test I was doing and I had shot some of the trailer and lobby cards and a poster to get us really jazzed about the movie and those guys were there.
QT: They really got what we were trying to do and they’re really knowledgeable as we are and it just seemed like a perfect fit to come on board. Rob Zombie actually came aboard because of Bob Weinstein. I know Rob, he’s a nice guy, but we don’t hang out or anything, we don’t get a chance to meet each other that much. Bob Weinstein brought it up to him because he’s doing “Halloween” for Dimension and we thought, “Oh wow, that’s a really good idea.” And when he came up with “Werewolf Women of the S.S.,” it had a Jess Franco sleaziness that really wasn’t in the other movies, I thought, “Oh my God, that’s actually really important! That is a vein we haven’t really hit on and we need to go in that direction!”
SHOCK: Would you like to expand the idea of “Grindhouse” sequels?
RR: Once we got the idea of doing the double-feature thing called “Grindhouse,” it became this umbrella for other projects we could do and that’s what we got the most excited about.
QT: They love this idea and one of the things I like is that it’d give me the chance to do say, a blaxploitation movie, do a spaghetti western – where the weight of the world isn’t riding on it, I don’t have to reinvent cinema in order to do it, I can just do it.
SHOCK: When you watch those films of the early-’70s they didn’t have stars, for guys like you it was about the director…
QT: They had stars who were falling down, or stars in that genre. You know, Pam Grier was a huge star in that genre.
SHOCK: But it’s a director’s genre.
QT: One of the things I always felt was interesting growing up was reading a magazine like, say, Fangoria – it was all about the directors! Also it might be about the makeup guys or something like that, but if there was an auteur publication in America it was Fangoria ’cause it was all about the director.
SHOCK: What’s the first movie you ever saw in this genre?
QT: What you could call, legitimately, a grindhouse movie, my grandmother took me to see [Byron Chudnow’s] “The Doberman Gang” and it was on a double-bill with Eddie Romero’s Filipino horror film “The Twilight People.” A Filipino version of “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” and Pam Grier was in it playing the panther girl. And my grandmother took me to see them!
SHOCK: Can you talk about casting your favorite actors, like Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey?
RR: These are people that I’ve always wanted to work with. I’ve always thought Jeff Fahey was fantastic, Michael Biehn I’ve always wanted to do something with. Both of these guys came in to read for the sheriff and I loved both of them and they both did such a great job, maybe I can cast one as JT and the other as the sheriff and they look so similar maybe they can be brothers. I’d do anything to work with some of these people that I’ve been trying to check off my list. There are many I’ve almost worked with many times over the years. Josh Brolin I’ve come close to many times.
SHOCK: And Kurt?
QT: The thing about Kurt is that I’ve been a huge fan of his and there is that aspect that if you’re of our generation, Kurt Russell is this incredible iconic figure. He’s Snake Plissken [“Escape from New York”], he’s MacReady in “The Thing,” he’s Rudy Russo in “Used Cars” and Jack Burton [in “Big Trouble in Little China”] and he’s just this incredible figure. I’ve always loved him as an actor, in particular, he’s done the Eastwood-esque voice, the John Wayne-esque voice because he wasn’t so serious an actor he couldn’t have fun. He had the sense of play like really good actors do, it was a dream to work with him.
The Grindhouse opens on Friday, April 6.