Friday, September 13, 2013

From Dusk Til Dawn 3: the Hangman's Daughter

From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999)
Dir: P.J. Pesce
Written by Alvaro Rodriguez
Starring Michael Parks, Temuera Morrison, Marco Leonardi, Sonia Braga, Danny Trejo

A couple years back I watched the DTV sequel to the Robert Rodriguez bait-and-switch vampire classic FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, which starred Robert Patrick and, I thought, was slightly elevated above the usual late 90’s DTV-sequel dreck through the hyperactive camerawork of director Scott Spiegel and the surprising effectiveness of it’s cast. I meant to watch the third sequel the next day and do a two-parter, but I guess something came up and then two years passed. It probably wasn’t worth the long wait, or watching at all, but hey, I did it, and now you get to read about it.

FDtD 2: TEXAS BLOOD MONEY seemed to be set in modern times, probably a sequel to the original film since there seem to be way less vampires around. HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER, on the other hand, jumped on the then-current bandwagon of unnecessary and inferior prequels, setting the story in 1913. Just as the same year’s STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE correctly postulated that audiences were desperate to know what Darth Vader was like when he was a dopey little kid, HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER revolves around explaining how a young version of Salma Hayek’s “Santanico Pandemonium” character got to be a performer at the bar, because who among us hadn’t felt a little unsatisfied without specifically having that question answered? What can I say, 1999 was a weird time.

"We're wanted men. I have the death sentence on 12 systems.""I'll be careful." "You'll be dead!" 

What makes the story mildly worth watching is that in an effort to tell a story no one could possibly be interested in (in fact, I had forgotten the character’s name and hence missed the point of the big reveal) they actually create some filler which is kind of clever. You see, the story’s central protagonist is FROM DUSK TILL DAWN veteran Michael Parks, playing one of literary history’s most interesting and enigmatic characters, Devil’s Dictionary and Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge author Ambrose Bierce. In fact, the film’s subtitle comes from one of his stories. This is a stroke of brilliance because Bierce did indeed disappear mysteriously in Mexico, and for all we know it could have been cuz of vampires. These things happen, you know. Heck, it certainly would have been a fitting end for the guy. So you’ve got this great character actor playing a great character (Bierce’s acerbic, misanthropic wit is the stuff of legend) whose fictional depiction dovetails nicely into a real life mystery and subtly incorporates a bunch of fun details from Bierce’s real life and literary output. I mean, that’s just too damn good a setup to ruin, right?

Well, that’s what I said about THE RAVEN, and we all remember how that turned out. I’m sorry to report that director P. J. Pesce and writer Alvaro Rodriguez (who I’m sure got the job because he was the most talented person to apply and never even mentioned he was related to the producer) manage to fuck this up pretty convincingly, and they do it exactly the same way THE RAVEN did: by making the most interesting things completely unimportant. Although Parks is the ostensible star, he has nothing whatsoever to do here, spending most scenes petulant or drunk in the background, and never turning out to be important to the plot in any meaningful way. The fact that he’s playing Bierce is never relevant to anything, nor does the script capture anything interesting about Bierce’s personality or draw anything meaningful from his work or life. He’s just a minor character in a vampire story, except that he happens to be Ambrose Bierce. One character (the embarrassing, lisping Stepin Fetchit stereotype played by Orlando Bloom Jones) does summarize his story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and it seems for a while like the plot might reference that story’s famous twist, but nope, turns out not to have any bearing on anything.

Parks displays the maximum amount of enthusiasm anyone could have towards this role.

To make certain that at no time does Bierce turn out to have any effect on the plot, Pesce and Rodriguez make sure to overstuff the cast with pointless, unlikable and uninteresting characters who are constantly competing for screen time and junking up the film with their worthless and abbreviated narrative arcs. I mean, you got this annoying religious couple (Lennie Loften and Rebecca Gayheart), you got this bandito Johnny Madrid (Marco Leonardi, teenage Sal from CINEMA PARADISO!) who escaped the noose with the help of the title character (Ara Celi), plus you got her father the hangman (a weirdly cast Temuera Morrison, I guess playing a Mexican?), a wannabe female bandit (Jordana Spiro), the what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking traveling salesman played by Jones, a bunch of soldiers, two members of Madrid’s bandit gang, and a whole bar full of vampire hookers. All seem to be under the mistaken impression that the script is about them (except Danny Trejo’s series trademark bartender character, who appears in a scene or two and then is replaced by a noticeably taller, skinnier body double in vampire makeup) and none of them go anywhere. You’d assume they were there as cannon fodder, except they’re all dispatched so offhandedly that you wonder why the movie would waste it’s time introducing them at all.

Listen up camera guy, that filter you're using had better not turn me into an orange Oompa-Loompa.

And waste time it does. It turns out only Madrid and girlfriend have any impact on the narrative at all, but the movie spends so much time introducing new characters and giving them them rudimentary arcs that it doesn’t even get around to the first vampire until about an hour in, with only 30 minutes left for the obligatory bloodbath. Once the blood starts spurting things get a little more tolerable, but there’s still not much to get excited about since it’s just an obviously smaller, cheaper, uglier restaging of the original. No good gimmicks, nothing too memorable, except for one awkward, badly staged but nonetheless amicably unexpected tango dance sequence which occurs out of the blue during the climatic bloodbath. It doesn’t really work (nor do the two dancers look like they had much time to rehearse), but at least it’s different, so you gotta like that. Otherwise, the only distinguishing thing about this vampiric slaughter is that it has a decidedly Aztec flavor to the proceedings. Head villainess Sonia Braga (KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN) plays “Quixtla” which obviously is at least meant to sound like a Nahuatl name, and she favors a feathered coat and other iconography that casually reads as Aztec-inspired. Seen in this light, the film’s final shot (which mirrors the final shot of the original -- with the reveal of a huge temple in the back of the bar, only here it’s adorned with piles of covered wagons instead of cars, haha--) has a distinctively precolumbian design, too. What Aztecs have to do with Vampires, I do not know, but it’s different, it gives a little bit of color. I like it. Oh, and there’s a tiny post-credit stinger that doesn’t exactly make sense but is still enjoyable, in that it finally gives Michael Parks something to do.  

Other than that little bit of weirdness, though, there’s just not much here to hold your interest. P. J. Pesce doesn’t have Scott Spiegel’s fetish for the wacky camera angles which saved Part II from being utterly unwatchable, and while Michael Parks, Marco Leonardi and Temuera Morrison are an acceptable substitute for Robert Patrick, Muse Watson and Raymond Cruz, they are all completely underused (I didn’t even notice Temuera Morrison was riding along with the soldiers until maybe 20 minutes from the end) and simply don’t add much value to this already value-deprived vampiric hustle. What little welcome gore there is at the end isn’t voluminous or imaginative enough to make up for the listless first ¾, and when I add in the fact that most of the film is shot through eyeball-punishing colored filters… well, that’s an experience that only Ritchie Gecko could wish on anyone. Oddly, this sequel actually seems to be better liked than part 2 throughout most of the internet, but don’t believe the hype. Part 2 scared people by being slightly different from the original; this one got them back by being exactly what you might expect. But why anyone would prefer a smaller, cheaper, uglier, duller copy of something they already like is beyond me. And unfortunately, since both Part 2 and 3 were released at the same time as sort of an early test for the idea of DTV sequels, the relative success of this one seems to have helped put us on the cursed path of terrible retread sequels which still haunts genre franchises to this day. One of many examples as to why Ambrose Bierce’s outlook on humanity is as relevant today as ever.

Oh yeah, I forgot this was in there. I like this part, obviously. Maybe mankind isn't so bad after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment