Handing a couple of rule-averse directors a genre in which rules were meant to be broken is bound to lead to either a complete disaster or the most titillating renegade material ever put to film.
"The reason Robert and Quentin liked these grindhouse directors was because they were outcasts, they were outside the studio system," notes McGowan. "And because of that, they could do anything they wanted. Kill a dog. Kill a kid break all the sacred rules of filmmaking."
"Planet Terror" and "Death Proof" both benefit from having all shackles removed, as the action is as intense as it is often difficult to watch. In one sequence for "Planet Terror," Freddy Rodriguez hacks and slashes his way through a hospital corridor teeming with the living dead.
ROSE McGOWAN, FREDDY RODRIGUEZ, MARLEY SHELTON and NAVEEN ANDREWS (Photo: Rico Torres/Weinstein Co.)
"It was hard. I've never played an action hero before in my life. It was all new territory for me," he admits. "We shot the whole film at night, so it was four in the morning and I'm nodding off in my trailer when there's a knock at the door: 'C'mon, we're going to do that elaborate fight sequence.' When we finished the sun was up."
McGowan, of course, had a whole other issue to deal with: "If you're going to save the world with a machine gun leg, make sure you're at least wearing a high heel boot on the other foot," she deadpans. Not that she'd change a thing. "There's a picture of me after I leap over a wall and I'm sliding across asphalt and, even though I lost skin in the process, I did have a huge smile on my face."
The "Death Proof" cast had a whole different set of challenges on a set where fast-and-dangerous driving was the order of the day.
"No special effects or CGI were used," says Rosario Dawson, who plays one of the potential victims. "If we couldn't actually do it, Quentin didn't want it in the movie."
GRINDHOUSE (Photo: Andrew Cooper/Weinstein Co.)
Dawson's co-star, Tracie Thoms, quickly realized she wasn't getting off easy: "We were doing things we probably shouldn't have been doing. Kurt and I are driving against each other, and there's a part where he's on the grass and I won't let him back on the road. The stunt people were like, 'You've got to ease up and let him back up before you reach that shadow because there's a ditch.' I'm like, 'OK, if I don't pull up in time, I will kill Kurt Russell. No pressure.'"
Audiences may be left scratching their heads when they realize that huge chunks of both "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof" have, literally, been left on the cutting room floor. Just as the action gets hot and heavy, a huge 'missing reel' slams onscreen, forcing your imagination to fill in the gaps. But those missing reels may not be all that missing (the two halves of "Grindhouse" will be released separately overseas, in longer cuts). "Quentin wrote and shot scenes that he meant to cut out, just for the experience," says Dawson. "So there's a lot that can be put back in."
Director Rodriguez sees the cutting not so much as a deliberate tease, but as part of what makes these old movies great. "Those prints were usually all screwed up, but that added a texture and a vitality to them. When I go back and watch a movie on DVD that's been all cleaned up, it's lost half of its charm. I thought it would great to use the damage as a dramatic device. As another tool in your toolbox."
A RETURN TO 'GRINDHOUSE'?
As for those fake trailers, like Zombie's "Werewolf Women of the S.S." and Roth's "Thanksgiving," don't be surprised if they get the full-length "Grindhouse" treatment sometime down the road. Rodriguez himself contributes a promo for a self-described "Mexploitation" film called "Machete."
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ (Photo: Rico Torres/Weinstein Co.)
"I've been writing the 'Machete' thing for [frequent Rodriguez collaborator] Danny [Trejo] since '94," says Rodriguez. "So when Quentin first mentioned fake trailers, I said, 'I know which one I'm going to do.' I've been wanting to do 'Machete' forever."
Fan response is, obviously, a huge factor in the "Grindhouse" franchise's future, but at least one member of the cast is firmly optimistic. "I still see 'Scream' masks trick-or-treating at my house," says McGowan. "This year, there had better be some machine gun legs. And I really want it to be a drag outfit. I think drag queens will love that. I'll be the new Judy Garland, except with guns."
Check out more photos from "Grindhouse."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times