The Italian Horror Film That Secretly Influenced the Proof of Tarantino’s Death


Although Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” was inspired by 70s car chase films such as Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, it is also largely based on the Italian horror film Dario Argento. “Death Proof” was a love message to the all-or-nothing days with practical special effects and dangerous car stunts. Kurt Russell’s villainous stuntman Mike yearns for the days when “real cars crashed into real cars,” taking his love of old Hollywood to a deadly extreme. “Death Proof” is described as a slasher film in which the killer uses a car instead of a machete, but the horror film’s influence is easily overlooked.

Quentin Tarantino is a fan of horror, and he has tried himself in this genre more than once, having written the script of Robert Rodriguez “From Dusk to Dawn” and inspired “Something” for “The Disgusting Eight”. However, “Proof of Death” may be his only film, which Tarantino specifically called horror. This film was part of the “Grindhouse” with Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet of Terror” and was supposed to be the starting point of low-budget category B films of the 70s, delivering thrills that these films often did not have. To create the dirty feel of a grindhouse movie, Tarantino turned to many films for inspiration.

The theatrical version of “Proof of Death” does not contain some references to the Italian horror film, but the extended version, released on home video, draws a direct line to the “Bird with Crystal Plumage” by the Italian horror director Dario Argento. In the extended episode, stuntman Mike tracks down his next victims, a group of women working on a film in the area. He takes voyeuristic photos of them while the soundtrack plays a song from Plumage, parallel to the opening scene of Argento’s film. This creepy and unearthly song gives the film a creepy atmosphere and shows how stuntman Mike is obsessed with his victims. There’s even a brief inclusion of Giallo-style authorities, played by Michael and James Parks, trying to unravel the mystery that is a staple of Argento’s work.

How Death Proof Honors Dario Argento’s Shooting Style

The worn visuals of “Death Proof” also reflect the style of Dario Argento’s early films. Most of the film has natural lighting and color correction due to the fact that Tarantino took on the duties of his own director of photography, giving the film a suitably gloomy atmosphere of the 70s. The extended version has a black-and-white sequence that abruptly turns into color. The colors in this scene are bright and saturated, which resembles the bold colors of Argento’s Suspiria.

At first glance, “Death Proof” seemed like something similar to a horror movie, as it is mostly inspired by car chase films of the 70s. Nevertheless, Tarantino brought to the film some undeniable features of horror films. The old Hollywood-obsessed stuntman Mike is one of the most sinister characters created by Tarantino, and in the expanded version of the film he appears as a fragile, unpredictable villain who would fit perfectly into an Argento film. The theatrical version of the film retained some of the frightening atmosphere, but the extended version reinforced it as a horror film that only Tarantino could make, with heavy references to Dario Argento’s horror films mixed with the thrill of exploitation of the 70s.