Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Hangman's Daughter

Continuing my Machete anticipation, I thought it was a good time to re-visit From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter.

Like Machete, The Hangman's Daughter credits Robert Rodriguez and Alvaro Rodriguez are credited with the writing duties, Robert here with only a story credit.

Before I get lost in The Hangman's Daughter, let me take a moment to link Exclusive Interview: Alvaro Rodriguez, co-writer of Machete by Adam Stephen Kelly and Exclusive!!! Machete co-writer, Alvaro Rodriguez speaks with Corona! Pobrecito.

The Hangman's Daughter takes the original From Dusk Till Dawn as a rough template, starting off as a fairly straight western - the setting, but little else, suggests a Spaghetti Western - before unleashing the vampire madness.

My impression here is that the screenplay continually tries to expand past the formula and subvert audience expectations, but it seems like the directions, by P.J. Pesce, struggles the opposite direction, to meeting expectations wherever possible. I suspect the truth is at least a little more complicated, but that was certainly the feeling I got.

The story involves Ambrose Bierce, on his way to join Pancho Villa, where he would eventually disappear mysteriously. The inclusion of Bierce is a nice way of evoking the horror stories of the time period as well as his war journalism. Michael Parks brings a lot of charisma to the table, giving a smart, ambiguous performance.

While the movie focuses on Parks, Sonia Braga, Danny Trejo, Temuera Morrison and even Orlando Jones, who gives an hilarious summary of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

Unfortunately, the direction doesn't have the energy to hold up the rest of the actors, none of whom hold the screen when left without the more charismatic and talented cast members. Admittedly, goddamn Rebecca Gayheart is surprisingly tolerable here, but I suspect only because her character itself is supposed to be annoying.

It feels like Pesce reserved his directorial energy for the action sequences, all of which do have an energy and inventiveness that's frustratingly lacking from much of the rest of the movie, leaving an open question whether story co-writer/executive producer Robert Rodriguez didn't lend some uncredited assistance in that area, although I may be drawing an unfair conclusion there.

I can't help thinking that a version that pushed further, for instance the rather transgressive suggestion of vampiric, literal and symbolic, maternal incest, while it might have thrown off early casual viewers, might not have had a longer life with its own cult following, rather than just being a minor direct-to-video sequel to another cult movie.

Ultimately, teaming Rodriguez's sensibility with Pesce's seems odd to me. As I noted in Lost, my thought following watching Lost Boys: The Tribe, my take on Pesce is that he seems to keep things pretty safe, while I think Rodriguez's most admirable quality, among many, is a kind of creative fearlessness. Here they come together with generally enjoyable results and good ideas, but good ideas I would have loved to see taken even further.

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