As focus begins to turn to the prospect of Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming ninth film, we are prepared to look back on his appropriately titled eighth film, The Hateful Eight. As with his earlier movies, the filmmaker created an original take on the Western with yet another great cast in a story full of surprises and twists.
Even so, there’s more than a few things in the movie that probably will seem familiar to not only fans of Westerns, but to also fans of Tarantino’s previous movies, as well as a few funny moments that seemed like nods to more esoteric things.
So strap in buckaroo and be warned, this article contains The Hateful Eight spoilers.
John Carpenter’s The Thing Goes West
It’s impossible not to make comparisons between The Hateful Eight and a movie that has clearly had a huge influence on Tarantino’s career: the 1982 John Carpenter remake of the science fiction classic, The Thing from Outer Space.
First of all, he cast that film’s star, Kurt Russell, in a key role for a movie that once again involves people stranded in a cold location that’s being pummeled by a snowstorm. Then, there’s also the scene after Russell’s character arrives at Minnie’s Haberdashery where he already suspects one of the guests there as being in cahoots with his captive, creating the type of suspense that Carpenter’s thriller excelled at as Russell tried to figure out who in the camp was in fact an alien. There is even that thickly suspenseful sequence right in the middle where one of the heroes tries to figure out who among his lined up colleagues is not what he says he is…
The score for John Carpenter’s The Thing was likewise composed by Italian legend Ennio Morricone, and it (along with Morricone’s work on Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns) proved to be so much of an influence on Tarantino that he went to Morricone to compose a new score for The Hateful Eight. In the past, Tarantino has used Morricone’s previously recorded works from other movies in his films. But apparently, Morricone included some unused music cues from The Thing as part of his score for Tarantino’s latest.
The Thing’s Chilly Ending
Yet, none of the influences from The Thing are as bleakly apparent as the ending. In that original 1982 film, Kurt Russell’s R.J. MacReady and Keith David’s Childs are the two last men standing…. if in fact they are both men. For while the audience knows that they can trust Russell’s MacReady is still human—he just barbecued the alien parasite “Thing” to the detriment of having any shelter for himself in the frozen wasteland that is Antarctica—Childs disappeared for a large portion of the film. On his return, he claims that he got lost in the blizzard, yet anxiety about whether either man can trust the other remains, even if they know that they are both going to die in this cold within a matter of hours.
Similarly, The Hateful Eight also ends with two men left standing: Walton Goggins’ Chris Mannix, the supposed sheriff of Red Rock and son of a renegade Confederate, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren, an extraordinarily quick-witted bounty hunter and legendary Union cavalryman. Due to their racial and Civil War prejudices, neither man can fully trust the other. But at the end of things, such suspicion seems moot since they’ll likely bleed out and die before the blizzard outside stops. At the very least, they can share a final laugh at the finality of it, much like MacReady and Childs.
Kurt Russell’s Stache
It’s not too big of a stretch seeing Kurt Russell leading a Western, because he’s traveled in this territory before, most notably in the 1993 film Tombstone where he played Wyatt Earp. The moustache he sports in The Hateful Eight as John “The Hangman” Ruth is so similar that it looks a lot like what his previous lawman might have resembled after 20 years of growing the ‘stache and it turning gray.
That’ll Be the Day
Besides being a throwback to Tombstone, Kurt Russell’s character John Ruth seems to mirror John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. That John Ford film from 1956, which Tarantino has already homaged during Inglourious Basterds, featured John Wayne playing a relative anti-hero. Ethan Edwards was every bit as ornery and bigoted as John Ruth, and also had fought in the Civil War (though conspicuously as a Johnny Reb while John Ruth is a Lincoln-lovin’ Yankee).
But even with Russell imitating certain inflections and postures associated with the Duke, the biggest giveaway that this performance is influenced by The Searchers is that Ruth almost throws away the line “that’ll be the day” when someone suggests that Walton Goggins’ character could indeed be the new sheriff of Red Rock. This bit of dialogue was a catchphrase for Edwards in The Searchers and even inspired the beloved Buddy Holly song of the same name.
A Grand Stagecoach Entrance
The opening scene in The Hateful Eight when Ruth’s stagecoach comes upon Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren on the road harkens back to another John Ford/John Wayne film, 1939’s iconic Stagecoach. That movie is likewise about a group of people brought together in a cross-country journey. Warren is introduced in a similar way as Wayne’s “The Ringo Kid” by basically standing in the path of a stagecoach, which you can watch in the video clip above.
That film also deals with an eclectic mix of men and women thrown together for a stagecoach ride (though through the Monument Valley desert). There are even lingering Civil War tensions among the passengers.
An Overland Stagecoach
And while we’re on the subject of Stagecoach, the film’s opening scenes have one other major nod to this seminal Western about disparate and (sometimes) hateful personalities: the name of the carriage in Stagecoach is the “Overland Stage Line” while in The Hateful Eight it is the “Butterfield Overland Stage Line.” Of course, the addition of the word “Butterfield” gives it a Tarantino specific color (and a reference to the historic Butterfield Overland Mail Service), but the aforementioned references to the 1939 classic would indicate that this being a coincidence is highly unlikely.
A Torture That is Good, Bad and Ugly
Tarantino also seemed to go to the well with another of the all-time classic Westerns: Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. That film featured a torture scene that is very reminiscent to Major Warren’s punishment for General Sandy Smithers’ son.
In Leone’s 1966 masterpiece, Clint Eastwood’s Blondie is cruelly humiliated by Tuco—a superbly grotesque Eli Wallach—via an extended march through a sweltering desert that leaves Blondie on the edge of dying from dehydration. Indeed, Blondie is only spared by a last minute deus ex machina. However, Smithers’ son isn’t so lucky, as relayed by Warren’s flashback. Marquis similarly marched this Southern good ol’ boy through the elements, except this time it was a frozen Wyoming snow—and he was naked when he rolled down that hill. It only got worse from there since no fortuitous stagecoach appeared.
Oh, and the score for this slice of iconography was composed by none other than Ennio Morricone.
Roy Orbison’s Anti-War Croon
Maybe not as well as known as some of the other Westerns mentioned above, but the closing song in Tarantino’s film is Roy Orbison’s “There Won’t Be Many Coming Home,” which was taken from Orbison’s own Western musical film, The Fastest Guitar Alive. In that picture, Roy Orbison plays a Confederate spy during the Civil War (yes, you read that correctly) with the mission to rob the U.S. mint in San Francisco.
Posing as a musician and actor, Orbison’s character sings his way through the end of the Civil War with a guitar that fires bullets. But perhaps the best thing about it is the soundtrack, which includes this final, meditative anti-war croon. We suspect Tarantino listened to it in a loop oh, so many years ago.
Tarantino’s use of bounty hunters John “The Hangman” Ruth and Major Marquis Warren is just one of the aspects of The Hateful Eight that maintains a through-line from his previous pseudo-Western, Django Unchained, which had Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx playing bounty hunters.
Samuel L. Jackson was also in that movie in a very different role: he was the villainous butler and confidant, Stephen, to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie, a vile planter and slave owner. Yet Stephen, like Marquis Warren, still gives long speeches to move the story forward into the third act while using the same line “I’m sure I don’t know” in reference to one of the questions his character has.
Tarantino also brought back others from the cast of Django, including Walton Goggins and Bruce Dern, the latter of whom only had a small cameo in that film but plays a larger role as one of the eight here.
No Stagecoach Can Be Death Proof
Similarly, stuntwoman Zoe Bell, the star of Tarantino’s Death Proof, is also given a larger role as “6-Horse Judy” in The Hateful Eight after playing a masked bit in Django. (She also was famously Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill.)
While Judy is little more than a cameo that comes to a tragic end in The Hateful Eight, one imagines her stagecoach capabilities—she’s the only woman known to be able to drive six horses at once in the Wyoming Territory—is a knowing wink to her stuntwoman driving skills showcased in Death Proof.
Always Spilling the Beans
Additionally, there’s a scene in The Hateful Eight where someone gets shot and an entire jar full of jellybeans shatters on the floor. Tarantino had already used a similar visual in Django during the mandingo battle where one of Calvin Candie’s women watching the fight spills jellybeans in shock at the brutality of the combat.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
Bringing Tim Roth and Michael Madsen back is just one of the nods Tarantino makes to his very first movie as a director, Reservoir Dogs. Indeed, the very nature of the story in The Hateful Eight involves a number of people with disparate interests converging in a single location and not getting along.
Beyond that, the ending of The Hateful Eight also seems to mirror the ending of Reservoir Dogs as there are two survivors covered in blood lying on top of each other. However, whereas duplicity and lies make the two survivors in Reservoir Dogs—Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr. Orange (Tim Roth)—turn from friends to enemies, this Civil War strangely ends with a sense of acceptance and détente in The Hateful Eight. Goggins’ Chris Mannix and Jackson’s Marquis Warren have hated each other for most of the film but by being completely honest and surprisingly trusting of each other (the inverse of Dogs), they die as comrades, chuckling at their initial dishonesty that was precipitated by a certain Lincoln letter.
Don’t Shoot Passengers in the Face
Reservoir Dogs and Django Unchained aren’t the only throwbacks to previous Tarantino movies as there are a few less obvious nods to Tarantino’s second film Pulp Fiction. Heck, at times, it seems like Jackson’s character in The Hateful Eight could very well be a predecessor or ancestor to Pulp Fiction’s Jules Winnfield.
During that opening stagecoach sequence, Kurt Russell’s John Ruth hands Jackson’s character a gun to hold on Goggins, who refuses to put on handcuffs. As they ride along on that bumpy stagecoach with Warren’s gun pointed at Goggins, it’s hard not to remember what happened when John Travolta’s Vincent Vega was pointing a gun at their passenger, which led to that film’s final segment.
Mind If I [Kill You]
In another scene, Warren approaches Bruce Dern’s character, Confederate General Sandy Smithers, in the Haberdashery. And after an earlier confrontation, he politely asks if the general minds if he sits down. It’s reminiscent of when Jackson’s character Jules politely asks Frank Whaley’s college student, Brent, if he minds if Jules takes a “bite of your tasty burger” in Pulp Fiction… right before he shoots him. Jackson even uses a similar inflection when asking Dern to share a seat, and considering that they’re on opposite sides of the post-Civil War race relations, you might assume that something similarly bad is about to happen.
Disarmed from Behind
There’s a similarly tense scene between Russell and Michael Madsen’s Joe Gage where it looks like they’re about to start shooting at each other but then Jackson’s Warren steps in and suddenly, we’re right back in the diner at the end of Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino Does Love His Giallo
As mentioned by Tarantino at a recent press conference for the film, composer Ennio Morricone approached the picture’s score more like he would an Italian horror movie or “giallo,” of which he’s scored many. This is particularly obvious in one graphic and gory sequence where Morricone has the string players in his orchestra striking chords that might seem more apropos for something like Hitchcock’s Psycho.
An Animal House Reference?
Of all the references in The Hateful Eight, the one that probably feels the most out of place, but is worth a good laugh, occurs after Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue picks up an acoustic guitar and sings a beautiful ditty with an angelic voice unlike anything we’ve heard from the abrasive Daisy up until that point. Russell’s character doesn’t like the direction of the narrative, so he ends her song by smashing the acoustic guitar. Anyone who saw the 1978 comedy classic National Lampoon’s Animal House will be immediately reminded of a similar piece of music criticism by John Belushi’s John Blutarsky.
(Note: The song Leigh sings, “Jim Jones at Botany Bay,” is an Australian folk song published in 1907, in case you want to try to put a time period on the film, although we have no idea how she would have heard that song, especially since this is set only a few years after the American Civil War.)
(Second Note: That was an actual antique guitar from the Martin Guitar Museum that was smashed by Kurt Russell, who inaccurately thought the production had switched to one of the replicas designed for the moment. This destruction was so genuinely shocking to Jennifer Jason Leigh that it is her actual bewilderment and horror seen in the film, which was too unexpected for Tarantino to cut.)
Gene Jones’ Connections to the Civil War
Actor Gene Jones plays a fairly small role in the movie as Sweet Dave, husband of the owner of Minnie’s Haberdashery, although he’s only seen briefly in one scene. Normally, this would be a role played by a veteran character actor from one of the Westerns mentioned above. Instead, Tarantino went with Gene Jones, who has a small resume of roles, including the gas station attendant in the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. But if you look a bit deeper on Jones’ filmography, you’ll also learn that he provided his voice for Ken Burns’ classic documentary The Civil War, as well as its 1996 follow-up The West.
One has to assume that Tarantino was a fan of those docs or watched them as research for his last couple films, so Jones’ appearance could be a tribute to Burns’ non-fiction work.
A Familiar Plot?
While we cannot comment on the similarities, the website Cowboys & Indians has found an interesting contrast: apparently the plot of The Hateful Eight bears a striking resemblance to an episode of The Rebel entitled “Fair Game.” According to that site, this ABC Western TV series (which aired from 1959 to 1961) featured an episode where a bounty hunter arrived at a mountain pass lodging for the night with a woman prisoner handcuffed to his arm—which inevitably dovetails into a murder mystery with a rotating cast of the “usual suspects.”
It is hard to gauge if this is an influence, but Tarantino has previously admitted to being a huge fan of Western TV series like Bonanza and The Virginian.
There may be more references still to be found after we watch the movie a third or fourth time, but The Hateful Eight is clearly a Tarantino Western for fans of Tarantino movies and Westerns with lots of layers still to be mined.