Ten years after "Planet Terror," director Robert Rodriguez revealed he'd cast Rose McGowan in the Weinstein-produced film after learning about the producer's efforts to blacklist her. The subversive double-feature truly stands the test of time.
Photo via Dimension Films
Grindhouse, the double feature pairing from Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof) and Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror) has always been a fun, modern twist on the 70s exploitation B-movie, giving kick-ass lead roles to a cast of take-no-bullshit women. But holy shit, is it cathartic to rewatch Grindhouse now, 10 years after its release. Both films were produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, men whose alleged histories of sexual assault have recently come to light, but what most people didn't know is that Grindhouse was intended as Rodriguez's "fuck you" to the Weinsteins—Harvey in particular. Rose McGowan, who stars in both features (with a small role in Death Proof and a leading one in Planet Terror), has been one of the most vocal women who came forward about Weinstein this past month. (Even before the New York Times exposé, McGowan had previously insinuated that Harvey Weinstein had assaulted her.)
Last week, director Robert Rodriguez released a statement about working with McGowan (who he dated from 2006–2009) on his zombie horror film. He recalls meeting McGowan in Cannes in 2005 and hearing her story: That Harvey Weinstein had blacklisted her from appearing in or even auditioning for his movies, and that's why she couldn't try out for Rodriguez's Sin City (2005) even though she'd wanted to.
So Rodriguez came up with a plan to cast McGowan in a leading role for his next movie, which ended up being 2007's Planet Terror. In his statement (which can be read in full here), he says:
"I then revealed to Rose right then and there that I was about to start writing a movie with Quentin Tarantino, a double feature throwback to 70's exploitation movies, and that if she was interested, I would write her a BAD ASS character and make her one of the leads. I wanted her to have a starring role in a big movie to take her OFF the blacklist, and the best part is that we would have Harvey's new Weinstein Company pay for the whole damn thing."
Watch: Rose McGowan on Sexism in Hollywood
Rodriguez also states that he couldn't come forward about McGowan's situation at the time because of an NDA she signed with Weinstein, who Rodriguez says buried the release of Planet Terror out of spite. Rewatching the film knowing Rodriguez and McGowan's intention gives a whole new meaning to it, especially in a scene featuring Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino has a small but rather memorable role as an infected, pus-covered military man (credited as "Rapist #1"). He comes onto McGowan's go-go dancer turned super-fighter Cherry Darling but things go awry when he attempts to rape her—like, getting stabbed in the eye with a wooden peg while his penis disintegrates kind of awry. It's satisfying to watch this character meet such a repulsive death, but I wonder what it must have felt like for McGowan, who, unknownst to most, was an alleged rape victim herself, to film a scene like that (produced by her own alleged attacker, no less). At this point she had kept her assault a secret for 10 years, but at least on screen she got back at her perpetrator in the most cathartic, horrific fashion.
Though Rose McGowan has a much smaller role and plays the first murder victim in Death Proof, the Tarantino half of Grindhouse is no less satisfying to rewatch—in fact I think it's the far superior half. Kurt Russell stars as a psychotic stuntman who preys on helpless women and gives them a fatal ride home in his "death proof" stunt car (which turns out to only be death proof for the driver). It's a sick game that comes to an end when he accidentally messes with the wrong crowd: a group of stuntwomen going on a test drive. He terrifies them on a car chase for a good stretch of a road, but it's when the terror flips back to him that Death Proof becomes this purgative fuck-you to abusive men. Zoë Bell, Tarantino's regular stuntwoman who doubled for Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill movies, stars as herself, and becomes a target of "Stuntman Mike" along with her friends and colleagues Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) and Kim (Tracie Thoms).
After narrowly escaping death, rather than being shaken, the women immediately turn the car around and go after the man, with Bell taking it into her own hands and harassing him through the window with a metal pole. Watching Russell's pedal-happy villain scared and begging for forgiveness is something every woman should treat herself to sometime soon. I myself rewatched this after just having argued with a colleague online about rape culture. He was complaining about victims bringing up allegations 20–30 years after the fact, and how he was sick of them "ruining lives and careers." "Now they can just implicate and accuse their way to the top," he added, which made me fume with blind rage. Maybe it was a combination of spending the entire day having a man tweet his awful opinions at me and just spending an entire month—eternity, really—hearing about abusive men, but Death Proof's punchy finale was an even more climactic release than I had remembered.
Tarantino recently admitted to having known about Weinstein, which incited many responses as well. "I knew enough to have done more than I did," he told the New York Times. Some criticized the director for having worked with Weinstein his entire career despite having knowledge of his offenses, while others commended his honesty, especially when many other men claimed they had no idea. The honesty was important, but not necessarily commendable; this also colors Tarantino as a more hypocritical director than his feminist-leaning works such as Death Proof would suggest. Tarantino admitted regretfully, "I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard. If I had done the work I should have done then, I would have had to not work with him."
It's never easy to be the one to speak up, especially against such a powerful man who has a say in your career, but Tarantino could have taken the riskier decision to protect women he's worked with (McGowan) and dated (Mira Sorvino, who also came forward about Weinstein). Hopefully the lesson here for those pleading ignorance is that we recognize how harmful complicity can be before having to learn it in hindsight.