Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, January 17, 2019

RECENT WATCHES: From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (2000)

Dimension Films made a habit of filming their direct-to-video horror sequels back-to-back, resulting in the movies being released only a few months apart. This is the strategy they took, for example, with the “Dracula 2000” sequels that exist for some reason and the Christopher Walken-less “Prophecy” sequels that exist for no reason. I guess the idea was to strike while the iron was still hot. The first time Dimension did this, as far as I can tell, was with the “From Dusk Till Dawn” sequels. Less than a year after “From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money” hit video store shelves, “From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter” followed. A prequel, Robert Rodriguez actually has a story credit on this one, perhaps explaining why it’s a little better regarded than part two.

In December of 1913, author Ambrose Bierce rides into Mexico with the intention of joining Pancho Villa’s revolution. In the wagon, he is accompanied by newlywed Christian missionaries, who he mocks. In a near-by town, a criminal named Johnny Madrid faces the gallows. He is rescued by a tomboy sharpshooter who wants to learn how to become an outlaw. Johnny then runs off with Esmeralda, the frequently abused daughter of the hangman. They are pursued by the hangman, after his daughter, and some of Villa’s men, after Madrid. Eventually, these divergent groups gather at a bar that will some day be known as the Titty Twister. The vampire residents soon make themselves known and Esmeralda discovers her past.

The final shot of “From Dusk Till Dawn,” which showed the strip club actually being part of a buried Aztec temple, suggested a greater mythology for this story. Making the third film a prequel smartly allows a chance to explore that world more. There’s even something clever about more-or-less moving the original’s premise - innocent travelers are abducted by on-the-run crooks before ending up at a bar run by vampires - back into the western era. Yet “The Hangman’s Daughter” still has some serious scripting problems. The film has far too many characters and feels the need to properly introduce all of them. A few of these, like that would-be outlaw disguising her true gender, end up contributing little to the story. This causes the film’s first act to feel seriously bloated. It takes way too long for everyone to get to the bar.

Once we get to the bar, “The Hangman’s Daughter” does display some interesting ideas. Director P.J. Pesce, who has largely worked in television and the world of D.T.V. sequels, does successfully create a creepy atmosphere. When the innocent Christian couple walk through the bar’s brothel, unspeakable things are briefly seen behind billowing curtains. That feeling of depravity is revisited once those two are no longer so innocent. Pesce also throws in a black-and-white tango just for fun, an inspired decision. The prequel continues the first film’s belief that vampires are monsters that can do anything. The vampires have characteristics of bats, cats, and snakes. At one point, a decapitated vamp sprouts a cobra head. When another is cut open, a hoard of bats fly out. One sprouts tentacles. It shows a definite streak of grotesque imagination that was lacking from the previous sequel.

While the cast is too large, I will say most of its characters are interesting. Michael Parks returns to the “From Dusk Till Dawn” universe as Ambrose Bierce. Parks’ refined but acidic delivery is perfect for the famously sardonic author. Parks really classes up the joint, even when staking vampires, and I partially wish the film focused solely on his rendition of Bierce. Temuera Morrison is furious as the hangman, creating a hugely intimidating villain. Are Celi is gorgeous and fittingly vulnerable as the titular character. Rebecca Gayheart and Orlando Jones also bring some energy to fairly nondescript parts. Danny Trejo is here too, of course, showing that Razor Charlie hung around that bar for a long time.

“The Hangman’s Daughter” has its problems. It drags throughout and the characters are never as compelling as those in the original. While the first film’s excess left the audience exhilarated, the prequel’s craziness largely exhausts the viewer. But the decision to explore the Titty Twister’s past was a great idea. The way the prequel connects with the original, establishing the origins of one of its most memorable villains, is pretty damn cool. A television series premiered on Rodriguez’ El Rey network in 2013. I’ve never seen the show - people seem to like it and, by the way, Robert Patrick returns to the franchise by stepping into Harvey Kietel’s role - but it sounds like it explores that backstory even more. As for this prequel, I’d say check it out. It’s nearly theatrical level production values and some interesting decisions makes it a worthy watch for fans of the original. [6/10]

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