WHAT TWISTED MINDS would come up with Grindhouse, a lurid and most excellent tribute to the Seventies heyday of double-feature exploitation films usually shown in low-rent theaters (hence, “grindhouse”) with sticky floors and sleazy clientele? Try Quentin Tarantino, who directed Death Proof – one half of the double bill – featuring Rosario Dawson as a plucky makeup artist sweating it out with two other girls in a Dodge Challenger speeding down country roads at 125 mph with a serial killer named Stuntman Mike (a badass Kurt Russell) in hot pursuit. And try Robert Rodriguez, who directed the other half – Planet Terror, featuring Rose McGowan as a go-go dancer with a machine gun replacing one leg that’s been chewed off by zombies.
Tarantino grew up watching B movies such as Vanishing Point and The Italian Connection at mall theaters around greater Los Angeles. And the young Rodriguez, sitting on top of the family van at a drive-in near San Antonio, Texas, snuck forbidden peeks at The Boob Tube and Alien instead of the family flicks his mom had chosen.
So that’s their excuse. But what sort of actress enjoys fleshing out such rabid male fantasies? As Rodriguez confides, “When we started talking about the movie, Quentin said, ‘There should always be a lesbian kiss just around the corner – possibly.’ I took that to heart, and in my very first scene, I have two female tongues going at each other and licking. You find out it’s Rose licking a mirror, but it gets across the idea that it could be around the corner at any time.”
“The way Rose says ‘cocksucker’ is really great,” says Tarantino. “It’s the way she emphasizes the c-k. She’ll screw up a line and say, ‘Aw, fucking cocksucker!’ Robert told me once, ‘Rose said the greatest Quentin line the other day. She was talking about how she doesn’t like the word “whore,” and she said, “You can call me a cunt till the cows come home, but don’t call me a whore!’ ”
CUT TO ROSARIO DAWSON’S HOME, a lovely Spanish cottage near the beach in Los Angeles. Dawson is welcoming visiting friends, including Rose McGowan, who’s sitting on Dawson’s white couch with a sweater borrowed from Dawson pulled tight around her. We’ve got Shiner Bock beer (local to Austin, Texas, where Grindhouse was mostly shot) and thin mint Girl Scouts cookies, and we’re discussing their experiences in the hands of Tarantino and Rodriguez. Topic A was the previous night’s screening of Grindhouse, which included trailers for grindhouse films not yet made. Eli Roth (Hostel) had a huge impact with his trailer, a horror take on the holidays called Thanksgiving.
MCGOWAN: It was great – the whole thing of laughing and dry-heaving at the same time.
DAWSON [Giggling as she takes a pull from her beer]: Thanksgiving was genius! That’s the first one I’d want to watch.
MCGOWAN: I thought it was incredibly rude of you Death Proof girls to leave that other girl [Mary Elizabeth Winstead] to be raped by the hick.
DAWSON: I talked to Quentin about it several times, because I had a huge problem with leaving her there. I don’t leave that girl behind – I love that girl, we’re friends. And Quentin says no. I say, “Can I throw her the keys to the car?” And he says, “No, you can’t, that’s not how it’s going to work.” I was like, “Damn.”
MCGOWAN: I’m surprised you thought you could change that. I couldn’t change the word “the.”
ROSE MCGOWAN HAS PROBABLY acted in more horror movies than she’s seen. When she appeared in Scream, she had to make lots of knowing references to films she had never watched. “All they do now is think about ways to torture women, primarily,” she says. “I don’t really get that. What is this, a manual for young, budding serial killers? Can’t we just go watch Pillow Talk?”
We’re eating burgers at House of Pies, an authentically tatty diner in Los Feliz. McGowan is small enough that our booth seems to swallow her up. She’s almost literally incoherent from hunger, but as her blood sugar finds its equilibrium, she regains her customary state of mind: funny, acerbic, just a bit contemptuous of the idiocy of the world she has to live in.
“In a town that’s supposed to be visual and creative, it’s really quite shocking how much they cannot imagine,” she says. “I didn’t get hired for a movie once because they didn’t like the part in my hair. Sometimes I would like to crawl through the phone wire, take the phone and smash them in the head.”