Monday, October 27, 2008

Why Psycho Is Great and Death Proof Sucks, A Simple Explanation

This is going to be a bit spoily, as well as a bit pissy, so, you know, caveat emptor, cave canem and all that. But it comes from a place of love.

Grindhouse was a disappointment to me, for two reasons: Primarily, I wanted these to be great movies. Sleazy, but great. And they were the former, but not the latter. Secondarily, because they weren't great, we're unlikely to get any more, and there's no reason that the Grindhouse concept should itself suffer because QT & RR got a little full of themselves.

The primary sin of both films is overlongness. But Death Proof has another sin: We spend extensive time with the first set of characters, who are abruptly killed off.

Ah, but wait, some have compared Death Proof to Psycho, which does the same thing with Janet Leigh. Alfred Hitchcock gives us some 30 minutes of Marion only to abruptly end her existence. So, why is it okay for Hitch to do and not QT? Heh.

Ultimately, it's because the viewer cares about Marion and not one of Death Proof's five female characters is sympathetic. Hell, they're not particularly believable as characters, but you're almost rooting for Stuntman Mike by the time he kills the first set. Finally, you think, something's going to happen.

Then it's all over and, O! God, the movie laps itself! Like Manos: The Hands of Fate, we start over again with four new, tiresome girls, and Kurt Russell's only presence is his back in the background during that soporific Vanishing Point dialogue. (And, as it turns out, revolving the camera around people with boring dialogue does not, in fact, make the dialogue more interesting. Actually, that scene is appreciately less annoying muted.)

Stuntman Mike is a little different from Norman Bates' pathetic self. Hitch deftly switches our loyalty from the flawed but likable Leigh to the highly flawed yet still somehow sympathetic Perkins. At some level you wish he could just be left alone --well, some place where there's no victims for him to stir-fry.

In contrast, by the second half of Death Proof, you're eagerly rooting for Stuntman Mike to kill his second batch--not because he's a sympathetic character, but because these women are insufferable and they just won't shut up.

Kurt Russell is great in this film, but he's more a Freddy Krueger than a Norman Bates. He's likable in the sense that he removes the great annoyances that are the film's characters.


  1. I never had the chance to watch Psycho without knowing what's coming. I can't even really imagine what it must be like to see it for the first time, completely clueless of what the movie has in store.

    The Crying Game and The Sixth Sense have great surprises, but neither is nearly as good as Psycho as films.

  2. I am really , really fond of Dressed to Kill, though, which is sort of a rip-off of Psycho. Probably more sort of a tribute to it, than a rip-off, to be fair...

    Sorry, both of these comments are sort of off-topic

  3. Oh, yeah, Knox, me neither.

    I finally saw it--I was, like, eighteen, and I'd been covering my ears and yelling "LALALALALA" my whole life trying to not be spoiled, but I was, at least partly.

    I haven't even seen The Crying Game and I know what the surprise is there.

    I've mentioned elsewhere that I used to be a big Brian De Palma fan, but I'm having trouble enjoying him since Redacted. Same with Joe Dante.

  4. I love, love, love those early de Palma movies like DtK, Carrie and Blowout. But other than those, I really can only say I like The Untouchables.

  5. Yeah, those are his best work, no doubt.

    But I always found something to like in his other work, too. Like Body Double or even The Black Dahlia.

    Now I feel like: Why bother?


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