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.

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