HOLLYWOOD — If you're the type of horror fan who's always searching for the next evolution in the genre, there's a good chance you've fallen in love with the buzz-building "Grindhouse" footage making waves on the Internet. If you're the other kind of horror fan — the one who longs for the old days of grainy footage, gore and gratuitous sex — there's also a good chance that "Grindhouse" has been rocking your world lately. And if you haven't seen the clips of Rose McGowan with a machine-gun leg, the Crazy Babysitter Twins painting each other's toenails or cult favorite Danny Trejo as tongue-in-cheek hero Machete, then somebody needs to introduce you to the wonders of a Web browser, post-haste.
A long time ago, in a distant era called the Mid-Nineties, precocious young Hollywood filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino combined forces to create "From Dusk Till Dawn," an ultra-violent flick that reinvented the horror genre by bringing in elements of comedy, exploitation and gangster flicks. Now, a decade later, they've each filmed about an hour of new footage — and judging by the "Sin City"-like buzz that's building around this April release, either of these short movies might be better than most full-length ones (see "Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino Teaming Up For Exploitation Flick"). A wide cast has already assembled for the affair: In addition to McGowan and Trejo, Rosario Dawson, Kurt Russell, Josh Brolin — and Black Eyed Peas' Fergie — have hopped onboard.
Sydney Tamiia Poitier — daughter of film legend Sidney Poitier — appears in "Death Proof," Tarantino's slasher movie about a homicidal stuntman. "I play Jungle Julia. ... She's a drive-time DJ in Austin, Texas," Poitier said, referring to a character that Tarantino junkies might find somewhat similar to Steven Wright's "Reservoir Dogs" disc jockey. "She's kind of a local celebrity; she's an aficionado of music ... what Quentin Tarantino is to movies, Jungle Julia is to music. So, she plays all her own collection and she is just a really cool chick, and she rolls with her little posse of girls and they go out and have a good time."
One of Julia's loyal listeners is an aspiring actress played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Final Destination 3"). "I play Lee, who's this up-and-coming starlet starring in my first big movie. Rosario Dawson plays my makeup artist, and Zoe Bell is a stunt woman, and Tracie Thoms is also a stunt woman, and we're hanging out together, having a good time," Winstead said of the setup. "There's a lot of really funny dialogue and funny scenes, and then Kurt Russell ends up stalking us. He's a very deranged madman, but we turn the tables on him."
In case that quasi-"Kill Bill" plotline doesn't sound like enough to watch, "Grindhouse" also includes "Planet Terror," a new movie from "Sin City" director Rodriguez. "I play Dakota McGraw-Locke, an anesthesiologist who is on the run," actress Marley Shelton said of her role in the second feature. "I'm planning to make a huge life change, but then our little town in Texas gets overrun by zombies and everything goes in a whole different direction!"
In the middle of all this madness are a number of movie trailers for films that you'll most likely never see, teasing you with such alluring titles as "They Call Him Machete" and "Cowgirls in Sweden." You see, the unusual film format — and the "Grindhouse" name under which it all appears — references a beloved genre of '70s flicks that had a "screw it, let's just have fun" attitude that heavily influenced both Tarantino and Rodriguez.
As a whole, "Grindhouse" promises plenty of carnage, the hallmark dark humor of both directors and even some musical performances. "I actually get to sing in the movie, which I have never gotten to do before," Winstead beamed. "So I had a lot of fun the day I got to belt out a song [and] get really into it. The song is called 'Baby It's You,' it's this '60s soul-funk song," the 22-year-old actress added. "And while I'm singing it, Kurt Russell is, in a very creepy way, sneaking up on Rosario Dawson and touching her feet."
As anyone who remembers Mia Wallace's plush carpet in "Pulp Fiction" or the Bride's coma recuperation technique in "Kill Bill" knows, the sequence continues a tradition of Tarantino's fetishistic affection for his leading ladies' feet. "[The scene] is this really strange but really cool moment," Winstead added. "It's black-and-white and it's really creepy, just the fact that I'm singing so innocently while that really strange thing is happening at the same time. [Filming it] felt like a really classic movie moment."
From Michael Madsen's "Stuck in the Middle With You" dance to "You Never Can Tell" inspiring John Travolta to do the Batusi, old music has always been a key element of a Tarantino flick, and the DJ's playlist in "Death Proof" will once again allow the director to display his record collection. "I'm not allowed to say what the songs are, he keeps that pretty under wraps," Poitier shrugged, "but I can say it's an amazing soundtrack. ... There's a lot of '70s music in there, but not all."
Meanwhile, Shelton says, a modern-day hitmaker will take on her biggest acting role yet in Rodriguez's flick: Fergie. Insisting that she couldn't reveal Fergie's top-secret character, Shelton was then asked whether the Dutchess will unleash a song of her own. This caused Shelton to run over and ask her director for permission to discuss it — after Rodriguez shook his head, she returned with a smile and said, "Sorry, no dice."
Read into that whatever you would like, but if Fergie didn't perform a song, it doesn't seem like there'd be much to ask Rodriguez about.
One thing these leading ladies are eager to discuss, however, is the unusual techniques that their directors use to get such strong performances out of actors. "[Tarantino] really is an actor's director," Poitier said. "We had two weeks of rehearsal before we even started shooting, which is almost unheard of nowadays ... he got all these girls together, the seven of us, and I think part of his ploy was just to get us all to bond and have that connection before we even started shooting; that was really key to our scenes."
The directors also afforded their stars the rare luxury of shooting scenes in near-sequential order, which most actors prefer since it helps them develop their characters naturally. "Only in Robert Rodriguez's world can I shoot the last scene of the movie, on the last day, as my last shot for the film. ... So, I had a full moment of closure, for my character and my experience," Shelton said.
"My favorite day of shooting was probably the first day," Poitier countered. "It was three of us — me, Jordan Ladd and Vanessa Ferlito — in a tiny little Honda Civic, crammed on one of those giant rigs going up and down the biggest street in Austin. ... We did that all day long, and people were yelling out things. They were going to cut the sound, because we got a lot of cat calls and crazy things."
If the footage that's surfaced so far is any indication, the noise is only just beginning.
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