Though you’ve probably never heard of Bare Knuckles or its director-writer-producer Don Edmonds, Quentin Tarantino is a big fan. And he wants you to be, too.
That’s why Tarantino and his buddy Robert Rodriguez created Grindhouse, the double feature homage to sleazy ’60s and ’70s flicks. But how does their big budget exercise in hiply ironic fanboydom — lots of wink-and-nod scratchy-looking film, et cetera — match up to the 30-year-old source material?
asap sat through the three hours of Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof and then another three hours of two of the films that inspired them, Lady In Red and Bare Knuckles. The latter, on loan from Tarantino’s personal collection, were screened as part of a grindhouse festival at the New Beverly Cinema revival theater in Los Angeles.
Our advice: Don’t go in expecting much. There’s entertainment, sure. You can’t really go wrong with Rose McGowan firing away at zombies from a machine gun clamped onto her amputated leg, or gratuitous prison body search scenes.
Just remember, this is supposed to be lowest-common-denominator stuff. Thrills and gross-outs and sex. Just the kind of thing that gets a former movie rental store clerk like Tarantino all juiced up.
Edmonds says the Pulp Fiction director did a double-take when they met for the first time at a business meeting. He excitedly asked Edmonds if he directed Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, and then promptly listed every movie Edmonds had ever made.
“They appreciate the old films and what us guys were doing at that time,” Edmonds said after his 1977 blaxploitation film Bare Knuckles was shown this week. “These are rough films to make. They’re harder to make than a $120 million picture. A $120 million picture you just order, call it up and someone brings it to you.”
Here’s our comparison below of the old and new grindhouse.
Plot Points (Warning: Spoilers Ahead)
Showing as a double feature before Bare Knuckles was the 1979 action movie Lady in Red, about 1930s gangster John Dillinger’s last girl. A young Pamela Sue Martin — best known for television work as teen sleuth Nancy Drew — portrayed title character Polly Franklin. The poor girl loses her virginity to a slimy Chicago Tribune reporter, nudes up for a prison strip search and becomes a prostitute — all in the span of about 20 minutes. For her trouble, she gets to see her boyfriend Dillinger gunned down outside a theater. In the climactic moment of the film, she screams hysterically as people dab their handkerchiefs in his blood as mementos.
In Death Proof, Russell plays a stuntman-turned-serial killer who uses his reinforced stunt car to claim his victims. First, he hangs out in an Austin, Texas bar and finagles a lap dance from a tipsy girl. Then he crashes his car head-on into a vehicle carrying the very same girl and a few of her friends. Tarantino delivers the crash in slow motion from several different angles so viewers can see each and every severed limb or head. The message from both old and new: Gore is good. Gore preceded by sexy ladies is even better.
In Edmonds’ film, underrated B-movie actor Robert Viharo stars as LA bounty hunter Zachary Kane. There’s a masked serial killer on the loose and Kane enlists the help of a black sidekick, named “Black,” to track down the man murdering women with kung-fu moves. Edmonds said he didn’t get any permits for the movie, made for $25,000 with another $25,000 in goods and services. “It’s a lot of movie for 50-grand,” he noted.
Tarantino can take years to shoot, re-shoot and edit his films, but he worked with the efficient and thrifty Rodriguez at his Troublemaker Studios outside Austin. (Rodriguez is cinematographer, composer and editor of many of his movies.) Grindhouse was reportedly made for $50 million to $60 million. It’s likewise a lot of movie for the cost — particularly Planet Terror, which packs in explosions and gun battles aplenty, along with a military helicopter with overhead blades used at one point to chop off zombie heads.
The old grindhouse movies served as a launching pad for many Hollywood careers. Lady in Red was written by John Sayles, who went on to a lengthy career including creating the 1984 cult classic The Brother From Another Planet, 1988’s Eight Men Out and 2002’s Sunshine State. He even won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1983.
J. Michael Riva, who did production design for Bare Knuckles, later did the same job on 1987’s Lethal Weapon and last year’s Will Smith flick The Pursuit of Happyness. His work can be seen in the upcoming Spider-Man 3 and Iron Man movies. Bare Knuckles cinematographer Dean Cundey has worked on dozens of films and received an Oscar nomination for the 1988 live-action animation breakthrough Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Tarantino and Rodriguez were in a better position to hire well-established talent. Oscar nominee and frequent Tarantino collaborator Sally Menke edited Death Proof. Russell stars alongside actresses including Rosario Dawson in that movie, while Josh Brolin and Bruce Willis appear alongside younger stars like Freddy Rodriguez and Marley Shelton in Planet Terror.
Courtesy of Ryan Pearson and Paul Chavez, asap reporters based in Los Angeles who can grind it better than you.