Grindhouse

Grindhouse movie poster

Grindhouse” is a double feature of movies written and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, and it is their ode to the exploitation movies of the 70’s and 80’s which used to play in all those seedy movie theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Now a lot of those movies were poorly made and had bad acting, writing and directing, but this is not the case here as this crazy love letter to all things exploitation gets brilliant treatment from two renegade minds of Hollywood cinema. To put it mildly, “Grindhouse” was an awesome experience. How great it is to see some kick ass movies made by two guys who have such a love for movies and who love making them.

“Grindhouse” starts off with the first of four fake movie trailers. This is part of Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s plan to immerse you in the experience of watching grindhouse movies like they did as kids; the scratched-up prints, those missing reels, the restricted ratings, the film breaking apart, and of course those insane coming attractions trailers which at times were more memorable than the movies they were promoting.

Anyway, the first trailer was for “Machete” which was done by Rodriguez and stars Danny Trejo as a Mexican framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and he ends up going after the bad guys with a bloody vengeance. This was a blast to watch and the best of all the fake trailers in “Grindhouse” as it captures the ridiculous one-liners we gleefully remember from all those over the top action movies from the 80’s. I especially liked how they had Cheech Marin playing a priest who Machete gets to kill the bad guys with him. He almost succeeds in stealing the trailer right out from under Trejo’s feet.

Then things get underway with “Planet Terror,” Robert Rodriguez’s addition to the “Grindhouse” movie. It is basically his ode to all those zombie movies which came out before we met the fast-paced zombies of “28 Days Later,” and it’s a cross between a George Romero movie and a John Carpenter movie. “Planet Terror” even features a score composed by Rodriguez himself, and he wrote and shot a lot it while listening to Carpenter’s music from “Escape From New York.” In fact, you can even hear a small part of Carpenter’s score in “Planet Terror” if you listen very closely.

“Planet Terror” was a total blast, a flashback to those go for broke action and horror movies that didn’t even try to hold anything back. It reminded me of the “Evil Dead” movies among others where everything and everybody were going nuts. Then again, with the characters running for their lives away from zombies chasing them, can you blame them?

Rodriguez has put a great cast together for “Planet Terror.” The one person who will be remembered forever from it is the ever so luscious Rose McGowan who plays Cherry, a dancer at a strip club who can’t keep from crying as she dances in front of customers. As you know from the movie’s trailer, one of her legs ends up getting chopped off and it eventually gets replaced by a machine gun which she uses to gleefully sadistic effect. It makes for some hilarious moments as Cherry doesn’t even hesitate in blowing away as many zombies as she can.

Also great in “Planet Terror” is Freddy Rodriguez who brings a total rebel quality to his role as El Wray who is a very cool customer indeed. You also have Michael Biehn playing the sheriff, Josh Brolin who plays Dr. Block whose wife, Dakota (played by Marley Shelton), has been cheating on him with another woman, and even Bruce Willis shows up as a military commander who knows more than he is willing to let on.

One of the people I was especially impressed with was Jeff Fahey who I have not always been a big fan of as he always seemed to me to be playing himself in every role he takes on. But here he is loads of fun as J.T., a gas station and restaurant owner who continually claims to have the best barbecued meat in all of Texas. It ended up making me look at Fahey in a whole new light, and as a character actor, he proves to be invaluable.

“Planet Terror” is one gory ride, to put it mildly, but then again what do you expect when you have Tom Savini playing one of the sheriff’s deputies? Have you even seen the movies he has worked on in the past? Rodriguez gets all the gross details down like body parts getting blown or ripped off in an ever so disgustingly precious fashion. Those same body parts are, as a man, the last things I ever want to lose! Ever!

After “Planet Terror” ended, we were treated to the other three fake movie trailers that “Grindhouse” had to offer. Edgar Wright, who directed “Shaun of the Dead,” did the trailer for “Don’t,” and it was endlessly hilarious as it showed us all the things we shouldn’t be doing when we’re in a horror movie. Then there was Rob Zombie’s “Werewolf Women of The S.S.” which was as funny as it was bizarre. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil this one for you as there are cameos here that are too inspired to just give away. And finally, there was “Thanksgiving” which was directed by Eli Roth, the same man who gave us “Hostel.” Thanksgiving does seem to be one of the few holidays left which have yet to be turned into a horror franchise where horny teens get slaughtered in a creatively bloody fashion.

Then we get to Tarantino’s addition to the “Grindhouse” movie: “Death Proof.” It stars Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a serial killer who uses a car instead of a knife to murder young women. No reason is really given as to why he does this, but in a movie like this does it even matter?

“Death Proof” has its share of gruesome moments including a car crash that is shown from different angles as you see how each person gets horribly injured in a head-on collision. Suffice to say, if you have been in a nasty car accident, you probably won’t want to see this. It also features one of the more exhilarating car chases in recent memory where Russell tries to run a Dodge Charger which is occupied by a trio of women off the road. One of these women, Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double in “Kill Bill”) is riding on the hood of the Charger like the insane stunt woman she is. Seeing her struggle to stay on the car makes the scene all the more frightening and exciting as a result. Tarantino clearly has no interest in throwing all sorts of CGI effects at us. He wants to give us the real thing, and that he does.

Of the two movies in “Grindhouse,” I have to say that “Death Proof” was my favorite. Although it takes a while to get to the action, the dialogue is fabulous in a way only Tarantino can come up with. He continues to come up with great lines which make the characters much more distinct than those in your average action movie filled with stock characters. One of the actresses involved with “Death Proof” said Tarantino really knows how to write for women and knows how they think. Now, this might be open to debate for a lot of people, but I think that is absolutely true as it is shown here and in other movies like “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown.”

Russell remains one of the most underrated actors working in movies today as he can go from genre to genre and from playing a good guy to a bad guy pretty easily. He is great in this role where he plays a pure psychopath who is clearly schizoid as he goes after his next trio of soon to be victims, and it resembles the kind of work he did in movies like “Escape From New York.” Russell is perfect as Stuntman Mike that it got to where I just could not see Mickey Rourke playing this same role even though he was originally cast in it. Rourke wouldn’t have been bad, but this role feels like it was tailor-made for Russell.

So overall, “Grindhouse” was a kick-ass experience that I am ever so eager to see again. I already have the soundtracks to both “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof” which are fantastic to listen to. Then again, I did actually get them before I even saw “Grindhouse” because I was pretty confident that I would not be disappointed, and I wasn’t. Although it drags a little in spots, it is never boring. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, and it is as politically incorrect as any movie in recent years, but it will definitely appeal to those who have been eagerly and patiently awaiting the resurrection of grindhouse cinema they grew up watching in the past. Many had no choice but to watch those exploitation classics on video and DVD, but with Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s “Grindhouse,” we finally get to see movies like them again on the big screen where they belong.

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Exclusive Interview with Zoe Bell on ‘Raze’

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New Zealand native Zoë Bell has long since made a name for herself as a stunt performer having doubled for Lucy Lawless on “Xena: Warrior Princess” and Uma Thurman in the “Kill Bill” movies. But once we saw her play herself in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” we saw she was a very entertaining personality to watch onscreen as well. Since then, Bell has been balancing stunt work with acting in films like “Whip It,” “Django Unchained” and “Oblivion.” Now she gets to combine those two talents in the viciously intense “Raze.”

In “Raze,” Bell plays Sabrina who is one of 50 women which have been abducted and imprisoned in a concrete bunker. She soon realizes this bunker is a modern day coliseum of sorts as the women are forced to fight one another to the death. If she doesn’t fight than her daughter will be murdered, so her choices are extremely limited to say the least. From start to finish, Bell is a riveting presence as she is driven to emotional extremes to do things she doesn’t want to do in order to protect the one she loves.

I was lucky enough to talk with Bell when she was doing press for “Raze,” and she proved to be as cool as she was in “Death Proof.” On the surface, “Raze” looks like your typical women-in-prison exploitation flick, but its director Josh C. Waller ends up taking this material much more seriously than you might expect. I talked with Bell about how she got involved in this movie, what kind of fighting styles were used in it and if she was instrumental in choreographing the brutal fight scenes. She also talked about what it’s like to be a stunt performer in show business today as opposed to years before, and she gave us an update on “The ExpendaBelles.”

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Ben Kenber: “Raze” was different from what I expected it to be.

Zoë Bell: Well what were you expecting? I hope you weren’t expecting a romantic comedy.

BK: Oh no, I usually avoid those (Bell laughs). With so many different fighting styles around the world, was there any specific style of fighting you used in this movie?

ZB: There are all these action movies out there with samurais and stuff, but we didn’t want to have those kinds of fights at all. We wanted it to be real characters that were plucked from their lives and put in this really shitty situation. But as far as the characters are concerned, Sabrina comes from a military background, Teresa (Tracie Thoms) comes from a boxing background, Phoebe (Rebecca Marshall) is just street, and Cody (Bailey Anne Borders) is just the young girl who has to fight for her life. So the characters’ individual fight styles were less about the styles they were trained in and more about the life experience that they have, and it was really important for us that that come through. That’s what makes the fights different.

BK: What do you want audiences to get out of “Raze?”

ZB: I wanted the audience to have an experience of female fights that they maybe haven’t experienced before. I was looking to get more experience. I wanted to do female fights and stuff in a way that I’ve not done before. We wanted to take everything sort of heightened and strip all of that away. It was more just sort of like an experience I wanted to put out there for people. Ironically what’s ended up coming out of it is the joy that women audiences who have watched this movie have. It’s like they’re living vicariously through this womanhood and these actors, but also the characters and for all the right reasons, obviously the crazy ones, it’s satisfying. All the actors were just like, “This is so fucking cool that we are doing this film!” And that means the world to me because I’ve spent my life doing these kinds of films and I’ve gotten benefits from it as long as I can remember. It’s cool to be able to share that around a bit.

BK: How did the role of Sabrina come to you?

ZB: Sabrina came to me through the project really that was sort of… Kenny (Gage), Andy (Pagana, the producer) and Josh (C. Waller, the director) had also worked together on this project before I came aboard. Josh and I have known each other for a long time and when he threw my name in the mix, Kenny and Andy were excited about it and they brought me in. We all kind of vibed and jived and they asked me if I wanted to come on as a producer, and I got really excited and I said yes. At that stage it was still in a short format, and the role of Sabrina was really… I was just going to work on staging the fights basically. I worked with this woman named Christy and I created this whole story and at some level put a lot of preparations on her (Sabrina) for the short. But as it turned into a feature, a lot of the stuff I worked on before carried over to her in the feature script which was really cool. It’s a really fun way to go about it. It’s kind of an ass backwards way of going about it. We had problems doing it the way we did, but it was still pretty exciting.

BK: Did you work closely with director Josh C. Waller on the fight scenes in “Raze?”

ZB: Everything on this movie was pretty collaborative, but the fight scenes in particular because I have experience in that world and therefore I basically have a convenience when it comes to that stuff. We had a fight choreographer called James Young, and so basically we had James Young and we had me who was never going to be quiet about it. My forte is female action and what works well for women. There’s something about a female character in the way that she moves in the kind of choices that she makes in a fight situation, and Josh was very much about bringing emotional truth to those fights and these women. Kenny, having been a boxer for years and a real ring fighter, was one of the biggest cheerleaders for having female fights that were real that haven’t been seen before, so we had a lot of people that the fights were very important to on the creative side. So fortunately we all worked quite collaboratively together and I think we all ended up getting the fights we wanted. They are pretty cool.

BK: Did you do all your own stunts in this movie or were there some done by a stunt double?

ZB: Oh no, no, no, no. No one had a stunt double. There was one stunt that ended up not even making it into the movie which we brought in a stunt double for. We didn’t have time or the money, so the girls are all bringing it.

BK: Having been a stunt person for quite some time, what kind of changes have you experienced for stunt performers in the industry? Have things gotten better or worse?

ZB: I think work conditions for stunt people across the board have technically improved. There are more challenges in regards to safety and, having said that, when you get more technology it also enables you to push the limits. We’re always trying to do something new and bigger. Work conditions are what they were. As for work opportunities, now compared to 22 or 30 years ago, women were not really allowed to be stunt people. Guys would put on wigs and cover their hairy legs and double for women. As far as female action, it almost feels to me like it kind of goes back to where you’ve got “Xena” and “Alias” and all these… There is more female driven stuff now to where I feel like then there was for a long time. I think the type of action that’s acceptable for what females are doing now has probably shifted too. “Charlie Angel’s” was technically action and it was all females, and the action of the “Wonder Woman” to be done now, the type of action you’d see your committing would be far different to what was in the day.

BK: “Death Proof” really opened doors for you as an actress. At this point, does doing acting appeal to you more than stunts, or are you equally passionate about both?

ZB: “Death Proof” was definitely the catapult for me. It feels like it’s probably a good time to naturally progress over. If I’m being given these opportunities and I’ve worked hard enough to make that change, then that’s the next stage of wherever my career is taking me. I’ve had to be very conscious about not being in the industry as a stunt woman as much as an actress because, for myself certainly, I would very easily kind of slide back into the comfort zone of what I know well which is being a stunt girl and shy away from maybe what’s a little more challenging which has been acting. But also the intention of being seen as an actor and taken seriously by the industry, I think it was sort of important to me to sever ties from one so that I could fully commit to the other. It’s a shame but it’s part of the process, you know?

BK: Yes, it is. What was the budget for “Raze?”

ZB: Well I’m not sure that’s something I am allowed to say. We think it was $600,000 or $700,000. It was definitely well below $1 million.

BK: I was just curious because it looks like it cost a lot more than that.

ZB: Yeah, and it’s very important for us, I think, for people to know that the budget was incredibly low but that we are so proud of what we managed to do with well below $1 million. We are just in the process of doing a general audit just to double check the numbers, so I don’t want to put a number out there because I would be making it up, but I can basically say that it was well below $1 million.

BK: That’s interesting because what I’ve learned from most filmmakers is that working with less money forces you to be more creative. It certainly looks like you got a lot of creative stuff out of the budget that you had.

ZB: Yeah definitely, and we also got really lucky with the people that we had on board.

BK: Regarding the other actresses, did they have any fight training when they came onto this movie or did you help them out with that?

ZB: A lot of the girls had taken themselves and… I know Rebecca has been doing some kickboxing on her own time. Rachel Nichols has done a bunch of action films before. The girls are not meant to be… We didn’t need Rachel Nichols to walk in there and look like she had a black belt. We did a lot of work on the fights together before we shot it. James has done a lot with the choreography, Kenny worked on a lot of boxing with bags, and I just worked with them doing everything and anything they could when I had a minute. And most of when I was of use to the other women was just as a girl in how I approach it. So I spoke their language and that’s the gift I had to give. Everyone was just super dedicated and it was really touching to see these women always so dedicated to their roles.

BK: One last question, is there anything you can tell us about “The ExpendaBelles?” (This is an offshoot of “The Expendables,” and it was reported that Bell had been talking to the filmmakers about being in it.)

ZB: No, absolutely nothing. I have met with those guys. I don’t know if it was specific to… Well here’s what I can tell you about “The ExpendaBelles” and why I’m excited for that movie to be in existence whether I’m a part of it or not: I would love to be a part of it. That’s all I can tell you.

BK: Okay no problem. Well thank you very much for your time Zoë. This has been a lot of fun and you were terrific in “Raze.”

ZB: Thank you!