So this is another one of my Tarantino/Rodriguez Tuesdays. Really, it’s just a Rodriguez Tuesday, but it’s in the category. They’re umbrella’d for me and they always will be.
I’ve mentioned my love affair with Grindhouse before, and I’ve given my Grindhouse credentials before. But this is a list of reasons (not all of them, but certainly some of them) that Planet Terror (and Death Proof to an extent) ruined me for other action movies, not that I don’t watch them but still, the more I think about it, the higher Planet Terror set my subconscious standard. Because every time I watch an action movie, I’m sitting there asking myself “why didn’t they [this]? Why don’t they [that]?” and, though it’s not like HEY SUCK IT WATCH ME [THIS AND THAT], it does a lot of the things on my mental checklist. It’s sending up ridiculously trashy, exploitive films of the 1970s, but once you’ve seen it as many times as I have (and maybe before that, I don’t know) it’s actually a fairly difference-positive movie. As absolutely ridiculous as that may seem, it’s also true.
5. Even when characters are to some degree incapacitated, they partake of the ass-kicking.
I’m pretty sure that every main character in this film either gets injured or dies, and a lot of the supporting players do one or the other as well. But this is mostly where I talk about why I kind of love Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan). Cherry’s leg gets torn off by a zombie, and yeah, she’s upset about it. She’s allowed to be. But Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) sets her up and gets her going. And I absolutely love that it’s awkward at first, that sure she has a table leg where her actual leg should be, but no, it isn’t immediately easy to walk on. She stumbles, she spazzes, but she keeps going. She’s a badass partaking of the ass-kicking even before the gun leg; the gun leg doesn’t make her awesome, but it adds to the awesome that’s already there. I’m pretty sure they just sat around and went “oh, wouldn’t it be cool if someone had a gun for a leg?” but it’s kind of a warped metaphor for taking control of circumstances if you squint hard enough.
4. Things don’t always go perfectly and it’s not a happy ending.
Which is to reiterate the above point somewhat: main characters die. I wouldn’t say I expect main characters to die in my action-type movies, but I expect it to feel like they could, and I applaud when it’s written that they do. A lot of popular action films nowadays are written to be franchised, or potentially franchised, but I don’t really know why they have to be. Leave well enough alone, folks. A lot of action movies have the bad guy dying, but all of the good guys live in victory, no matter how improbable that is. Planet Terror doesn’t just kill off the token supporting folks, though plenty of them get it. Relatively supporting Abby (Naveen Andrews ) gets his head exploded in half, and it’s delightfully unceremonious. Wray, the leading male of the film, also gets dead in a major way. And you know what? Okay. I’m good with it. It’s kind of a bummer, but good on them for going there. (Death Proof has a fairly happy ending for the latter group of girls – i.e. they triumph over bad – but it’s still satisfying. It’s vengeance, and if you want to think about it that way, it’s even vengeance unintentionally on the other girls’ behalves.)
3. Speaking of Wray and Cherry, interracial couple.
Freddy Rodriguez is Puerto Rican; Rose McGowan is of French-American and Irish descent. And guess what? Their characters’ ethnic backgrounds are never, ever discussed! Wray does call Cherry “Palomita,” which is Spanish for “little dove,” but that’s it. Action films often have at least suggestive flirting between the male lead (usually white) and the female lead (usually the only female character, and often white as well). If there’s a nonwhite male, he’s the supporting lead, and he either doesn’t get any or he has, like, a wife back home who shares his ethnic background. But having the actual male lead being of Hispanic descent, and having the romance between the primary characters therefore be mixed-race, is kind of rare and very cool. (Oh, and Death Proof has black characters, mixed-race characters, and their ethnic backgrounds aren’t really discussed much at all either, except in occasional casual self-referential slangy kinds of ways.)
2. Speaking of “nonstandard” romances, surprise lesbian that nobody bats an eyelash at.
And here I get into my Dakota (Marley Shelton). As evidenced by my being her for Halloween that one time, I love Dakota a whole lot for reasons I’ve never quite pinned down. I recognize that she is flawed as hell, but flaws make characters interesting. She’s married with a child, yes, but it’s revealed to us fairly quickly that she’s leaving her husband to be with her girlfriend Tammy (Fergie). Her husband (Josh Brolin) figures this out, and he freaks out like the psycho he is, but the freakout is because she’s leaving him, because she cheated, and because he’s a psycho. And if there’s a disparaging slur about Dakota’s gayness, I must have missed it every of the twenty times I’ve seen the film. Not only is her sexual orientation never disparaged, too, it’s not sensationalized or used as crude humor. There’s the moment when Dakota gets on the back of the motorcycle Cherry is riding, and Cherry introduces herself – “I’m Cherry” – and Dakota’s response is “You sure are.” Cherry makes a little surprised face, but I’m pretty sure she’d have made that face no matter who responded like that. Surprised, maybe, but she doesn’t let it faze her. Later when they’re talking at the army base, Dakota casually says “a girlfriend of mine” while telling a story, which could have meant “a friend of mine who was a girl” but really, unless the conversation included multiple friends of hers and some of them were men and that mattered, it’s unlikely that she would have phrased it that way. And Cherry does not give a damn. (I will just go ahead and mention that yeah, I’ve kind of shipped Dakota/Cherry forever, but that’s not the point.) Nobody gives a damn. It’s just a fact of who she is. Oh, and she’s the next-largest lady role after Cherry. There aren’t too many lady-loving ladies in action films to begin with, especially not ones that are that major of characters.
1. And finally, speaking of ladies, they kick ass right alongside the dudes in this film and it’s not a big deal at all.
Cherry is a go-go dancer, or she was when the film began, at least. The opening credits are this ridiculous and ultra-sexy go-go dance, yes. She’s writhing and gyrating and that’s that. She spends most of the film wearing a miniskirt and a shirt that reveals her midriff. She is sexy, period. Dakota is a doctor; she’s dressed in a pencil skirt and a blazer and a lab coat at the beginning, and gradually layers get shed so she’s down to a tank top and the slit in her skirt rises up a little higher. Dakota is also a mother. Not really the best mother, but in theory she means well. As the film goes on, she gets relatively sexy too. But the only characters who ever overtly sexualize them without their permission (well, Cherry and Wray get it on, which is fairly sexualizing, but) are d-bag Skip (Skip Reissig) and the d-bag army guys. Clearly bad guys. Clearly the behavior is frowned upon. And the army guys who feel entitled get zombied and then get dead at the table leg/needle gun/gun gun of the women. Furthermore, Cherry and Dakota both partake in the epic zombie-killing mayhem just as much, and in Cherry’s case probably more than, the guys in the film; save the needle gun, Dakota’s not so much a fighter, she’s more going off to get the helicopter up and running, but that’s okay, because badassery comes in many forms, including survival and helping and whatnot. And when they’re all shown with their backs to the ocean, she has a gun too. Nobody once makes commentary about the fact that they’re ladies, really in any context. (And Death Proof literally pits stuntpeople against each other, an evil dude [Kurt Russell] and protagonist ladies [Zoe Bell and Tracie Thoms, with additional Rosario Dawson for good measure] and the ladies come out wayyy on top. Revenge with a side of lady-positivity and also teamwork-positivity?)
–your fangirl heroine.