How ‘Death Proof’ is an Unsung Horror Masterpiece


2007’s Grindhouse double feature was iconic in its own right. The feature, consisting of two exploitation throwbacks as well as countless fictional movie trailers, was an ode to the horror genre’s true roots. While the Planet Terror film was excellent in its own right, Quentin Tarantino actually hit horror gold with the other feature, Death Proof. Starring Kurt Russell as the villainous Stuntman Mike, Death Proof touched upon a basic fear all who hold a driver’s license have.

On the front, the film seems pretty cut-and-dry. Mike’s out and about, looking for some fun. Mike finds girls at a bar and tries to score. He sort of succeeds, but instead of going back to his/her place, he proceeds to gleefully murder them all in a suicide run in his “death proof” 1970 Chevrolet Nova, outfitted with a racing harness to keep him in his seat as well as a custom roll cage to keep the structural integrity of the car intact during an accident. Of course, to the girls in the oncoming sushi roll of a car he destroys, it’s like hitting a brick wall…or being hit by a 160-mile per hour one at that.

Mike returns later in a “death proof” Dodge Charger and proceeds to terrorize a group of young women in a white 1970 Dodge Challenger a la Vanishing Point only to have the terror turned back around on him with the Challenger proceeding to triumph in a high-octane battle to the death.

Tarantino’s ode to the car chase films of the 60s’ and 70s’ was excellent in many ways, but one notable way that sticks out is the fact that he plays upon the fear many drivers get while they’re all alone on a two-lane highway. We’ve all been there in a moment when after a period of not seeing any other driver,we see one in our rear view mirror or in the oncoming lane. In a deep, illogical part of our mind, we wonder if this guy might actually be a raving lunatic bent on some high-speed destruction. Will he try to run me off the road? Will he chase me?

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Echoing a fear instilled in drivers since Richard Matheson’s DuelDeath Proof brings that fear front and center with Stuntman Mike’s exploits. He is that lunatic driving like a bat out of hell in the oncoming lane looking to wreak a little James Hetfield-esque havoc. He’s that guy you think forgot to turn his lights on in the oncoming lane. He’s that guy driving the brightly lit monolith you see coming down the road a quarter of a mile away, sending chills down your spine as you see that his car is nothing but a silhouette, darker than a nightmare wrapped in Goodyear rubber.

When all is said and done, it wasn’t all about paying homage to the greats like the original Gone in 60 SecondsBullitt, and Vanishing Point. It’s also about keeping an eye on the road late at night and paying attention to your fellow drivers. You never know when you’ll come across another Stuntman Mike.

Weigh in below on your thoughts of Tarantino’s Death Proof.