Tuesday, December 19, 2006

From Dusk till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter – review


Directed by: P J Pesce

Release Date: 2000

Contains spoilers

The third film in the series and like number 2 this was straight to video. However it goes back in time from film number 1, back to approximately 1913. This film’s story was created by Robert Rodriguez, however, and the screenplay was written by his cousin Álvaro Rodríguez. I do feel that the story in this is more satisfying, and the screenplay better, than film 2 – but it still doesn’t match film 1.

Michael Parks as Ambrose BierceI know the approximate setting date because the film introduces us to Ambrose Bierce (Michael Parks, who played Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in the first film). Bierce was a writer and journalist, creator of the Devil’s Dictionary, who travelled to Mexico in 1913 and joined, as an observer, revolutionary Pancho Villa’s army at the battle of Tierra Blanca. He vanished some time in 1914, fate unknown. In this we see a fictional account of his journey to meet Villa. To discover more about Ambrose Bierce click here. Interestingly, in 1893 he wrote a book called “The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter.” The title of the film refers obviously and we see the manuscript at one point.

We begin the film by seeing Bierce stood before a firing squad. This fits in with something Bierce wrote, “Good-bye — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia.” A small boy plays with a gun and as the bullets from the firing squad hit him he awakens to hear the sound of a gun being played with. A kid, at first we believe to be a young boy but whom we later discover is a girl named Catherine Reece (Jordana Spiro), has his gun. He hits her and gets it back but she overhears him saying that he is transporting something of value to Villa; he is advised to get the stagecoach. Also getting the coach are newlyweds John (Lennie Loftin) and Mary Newlin (Rebecca Gayheart), who intend to open a bible school in Tierra Blanca.

There is to be a hanging in the square. Bandit Johnny Madrid (Marco Leonardi) is due to be executed. He is dragged to the gallows and the Hangman (Teumuera Morrison) whips him before the execution. The Hangman spots his daughter, Esmeralda (Ara Celi – the Inca Mummy Girl from the TV series of Buffy) in the crowd and tells her to go home. She defies him and so he whips her too – we can see old whip scars on her back.

As Madrid is positioned to be hung we see Reece position herself with a rifle. The noose is released and she fires, breaking the rope and allowing Madrid to escape. A gunfight breaks out as they try to stop Madrid. At first his hands are tied and his only weapons are blades in his boots, but then he gets his hands free and Reece throws him a gun. There is plenty of gunfire but he gets a horse, grabs Esmeralda and gets away.

Love is in the airGetting back to his camp we see the first blossoming of romance between Madrid and Esmeralda, though he denies it to himself. We also see him kill Chato (Terence Bridgett) one of his gang who took control whilst he was held captive and obviously saw fit not to mount a rescue. Reece appears and asks to be his apprentice, Madrid is sceptical but she tells him that the old gringo (Bierce) is carrying something of value on the stagecoach. Its time for some stage coach robbery.

On the stagecoach Bierce dreams of his death by firing squad again and in the middle of it we see a flash of a vampire’s face. When he awakes Mary says he is ill because of drinking, and Bierce really is depicted as a bit of a drunk. Bierce tells her that inebriation brings a form of clairvoyance. The bandits attack and capture the coach but all of Madrid’s men, bar two plus Esmeralda and Reece, die in the attempt. They cannot find the valuables until Bierce admits that what he is transporting is himself, he intends to fight with Villa. With the coachmen dead the three Americans are left to their own devices, but John soon gets the coach stuck and they are forced to walk across the desert.

Madrid takes his people to a graveyard. He has been talking to Reece who tells him she wants to be a legend like him; she wants to be a monster. At the graveyard he tells her to be a legend she must inspire fear and to do so she must know fear. He sets up a noose and then has her put it on whilst stood on a rickety cross. He and his men taunt her and then he shoots the cross away, hanging the girl – we later discover because she accused him of being a monster not because her information was wrong. Disgusted Esmeralda rides off. Madrid chases after her and his men go on their own merry way. Later the Hangman and his men find Reece and she is still alive.

All four groups, Madrid who catches up with Esmeralda, the two bandits, the three passengers and the Danny Trejo as Razor CharlieHangman with Reece and his men eventually get to a bar in the dessert. The Hangman already knows of it. The bar is called La Tettila Del Diablo – open from Dusk Till Dawn. The first to arrive are Bierce and the Newlie’s; it is still light out and no one seems to be around. Suddenly a barman appears. It is Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo), from the first film. Obviously, once the other groups have arrived, all hell breaks loose.

The film follows pretty much standard patterns. Vampires, (vampire) whores, a slaughter and a few survivors. One survivor is bitten and becomes a threat to the others etc. Where this film differs from its predecessors is centred on the character Esmeralda and this part of the review contains massive spoilers...

Flashing vampire eyesWhen Esmeralda arrives, the mistress of the bar, Quixtla (Sonia Braga), tastes the blood from her whipped back, her eyes flashing with a vampish unholiness. She knows her name, she knows her story and she takes the girl off to a back room – where she begins to comb her hair. Esmeralda seems to be in a trance as she does not notice that Quixtla has no reflection. This is not necessarily the behaviour we have seen before in the series.

The old oneIt becomes apparent as the film progresses that Quixtla is her mother and that Esmeralda is half vampire. She is referred to as the princess by some of the vampires and her identity can be tasted in her blood. Later the Hangman, who knew of the bar and seemed acquainted with Razor Charlie, confesses that he beat his daughter to keep her obedient in order that she would not stray. He was told that so long as she did not enter the bar she would remain human. When asked why he did not kill her he confessed he did when she was a child but she kept coming back. The vampires have been waiting for her and they awaken “the Old One” to take part in a rite which will see her kill the ancient and take her rightful place.

Ara Celi as Santanico PandemoniumWhat we are witnessing is the birth of Santanico Pandemonium, Salma Hayek’s character from the first film. This is interesting and yet partially unsatisfying. This is not down, despite my self-confessed Salma fixation, to a different actress playing the role – honestly it isn’t, though Celi doesn’t have Hyak’s presence. It is because the lore is not explained fully, we are left wondering how this has occurred and the film is silent. It is interesting to see the birth of the character and yet we are left in the dark.

The effects in the film are fairly poor compared to the original, a human faced snake that grows from a vampire’s severed neck looks awful and the bats, if anything, are poorer than those in the second film. The film doesn’t have the humour of the second film, never mind the first, and so when humorous sections are added such as the really annoying brush salesman, Ezta Traylor (Orlando Jones), or Madrid kicking a vampire bat creature in the groin and getting its testicles stuck on his boot blade (and the look of comedic repulsion on Madrid’s face) it tends to fall flat. The exception comes in the form of Bierce’s wit, which does work in a sardonic way. The one or two melting and burning vampires do not look good.

Green blood makes its returnOther than that all the staples from film 1 and 2 are there, with green blood yet again, plus additions such as vampires being able to project snakes from the stomach. I did like a bit when Razor Charlie notices a cross tie pin that John Newlie wears. Rather than jump back in melodramatic fear he gives it a hateful and disgusted look – that really worked nicely. That said the film does work its way, in the vamp slaughter section, into an orgy of gore – perhaps a little more than the first two films – if you don’t like gore, you have been warned.

feeding on a horseThere was also a vampire stable lad who was not allowed to feed and so sated himself on horses – a kinda cool throwaway bit. I should just also add a little about the moment when the turned Traylor gets Mary Newlie. Suddenly the scene turns sepia and they begin to dance – until he bites her. It really feels quite odd and not necessarily in a good way. The clairvoyant moments with Bierce do work, however, and continue in the bar – as the vamps begin to feed when he sees himself on a balcony waving down to himself.

wonderful visualWhere the film excels is in some of the visuals. Some of the desert photography is really quite breathtaking and there are some scenes, such as the vampire in a wedding dress licking blood from the floor, which are wonderfully macabre. Acting wise the strongest performance came from Parks, though there are stretches of the film where Bierce has nothing to do.

The biggest problem with the film is its length, however. To be honest I thought it could have done with being longer so that we might get to know the characters better (in truth they are drawn fairly thin, which leaves us without a true lead – is it Bierce or is it Madrid?) and more story exposition could have been added.

Rebecca Gayheart as MaryViews seem divided over which is the better film, 2 or 3, though most agree neither is a patch on the first. I tend to lean towards this being the stronger film of the two sequels and will say 4.5 out of 10.

Just time to mention a deleted scene on the DVD that depicts Bierce in a modern day bar, having told his story to a disbelieving patron. Of course he is a vampire – though in the actual film he survives to continue his journey to find Villa. I think the film worked better without this scene in its finished form.

The imdb page is here.


Anthony Hogg said...

I agree that this film wasn't a patch on the first in the series (1996), but it definitely has a b-movie charm and style to burn.

I found Sonia Braga's performance as Quixtla to be quite captivating. A noticeable contrast to Ara Celi's insipid, melancholic turn as Santanico Pandemonium.

Though, admittedly, she had rather big shoes to fill.

I also liked the Western aspect. It's a notoriously difficult genre to blend in with vampires, but I think it was carried off reasonably well with this film.

The second film (1999), however, was much more disappointing. It wastes Bruce Campbell in a pointless opening scene, contains a ridiculous plot involving vampire bankrobbers and just didn't gel well with the first film.

Have a read of Mark Stewart's interview with Scott Spiegel (the director of FDTD 2) to get an idea of the film that could've-been.

That said, I didn't hate the second film - it was vaguely Tarantino-esque - but it could have been a lot better.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Celi had mighty big shoes to fill! That said I am a self confessed Salma-holic.

I agree that the vampire western is a difficult blend to get right, some of the visuals in this do work nicely though (in that sense)

Horror Movie Medication said...

Nice review. Quite thorough. Personally, I love the first movie of this series, but can't say the same for the next two. The last two just have weird plots and lots of bad acting. I think that only the genius of Quentin Tarantino could pull together the strange premise of these movies and make it work.

I got the chance to review of couple others in this series on my blog. They are short reviews but cover most the series. Check it out if you get the chance.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers for that Horror Movie Medication. I'll make sure i come on over :)