Sean Wilson breaks down the Oscar nominated score for Quentin Tarantino’s blood-splattered epic…
Proud recipient of an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe, Ennio Morricone’s spine-tingling score for Quentin Tarantino’s Western opus The Hateful Eight is rich with a sense of menace and paranoia.
Morricone’s first Western soundtrack in over 30 years is also the first commissioned orchestral soundtrack for a Tarantino project; in the past, the controversial Pulp Fiction filmmaker has been reluctant to trust a composer with the essence of his movie. But if you’re going to trust it to anyone, the legendary Morricone (reportedly responsible for over 400 scores) has got to be that person. Here are the awesome cues that put the hate in The Hateful Eight.
L’Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock
The overarching theme of Morricone’s brooding and gripping soundtrack tells you everything you need to know: something violent and dangerous is riding into town. Built around a recurrent bassoon motif that soon gathers extra layers of strings, brass and male voice choir, it’s the perfect musical distillation of the dark secrets fuelling the movie’s characters. It’s also classic Morricone: beautifully structured music whereby each track takes the listener on a distinct journey, whilst also adding to the wider tapestry of the score as a whole.
Remember those classic watch chimes in Morricone’s seminal A Fistful of Dollars score? He pays homage with this eerie, undulating secondary motif, capturing a sense of time ticking away to eventual doom.
Morricone wrote 50 minutes of original music for The Hateful Eight but that didn’t stop Tarantino, in his usual magpie style, from pilfering memorable tracks from the composer’s own oeuvre. Case in point: the unexpected inclusion of the lyrically beautiful, choral main theme from critically lambasted 1977 horror Exorcist II: The Heretic. Hey if you’re going to remember that movie for anything, it’s going to be Morricone’s typically outstanding music.
Also cribbed for use in the movie: two pieces of music from Morricone’s The Thing score. The 1982 horror classic ultimately featured few of Morricone’s own compositions due to creative differences between the latter and director John Carpenter. Enter Tarantino, who decided The Hateful Eight (itself a kind of loving homage to Carpenter’s movie) would act as a showcase for Morricone’s icy, prickly work. Just try not to listen to this when you’re drinking coffee…
Back to the material Morricone composed specifically for the movie: this gargantuan piece sprawls over 12 minutes and is a masterclass in how to build musical tension. With the central bassoon theme gradually attaining more menace as it proceeds, the track also demonstrates the composer’s remarkable flair as a storyteller: although the music is uncomfortable and unsettling, it also possesses a hypnotic air that draws the listener in, a testament to Morricone’s formidable dramatic intuition.
As everything kicks off towards the movie’s raucous, bloodthirsty climax, Morricone’s score follows suit. Building extra layers of choppy, stabby strings atop the main musical ideas, it also has more than an air of Psycho master Bernard Herrmann about it.
La Lettera di Lincoln
After so much musical build-up and turbulence, the score finally allows itself a climactic moment of catharsis in this gorgeous, noble trumpet solo (which gets an extra ironic kick when heard within the context of the movie). Resplendent in the kind of lush harmony for which Morricone is revered (it bears comparison to the haunting ‘Carriage of the Spirits’ cue from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly), it’s a relative note of calm on which to resolve this darkly gripping score.
Sean Wilson is a film reviewer, soundtrack enthusiast and avid tea drinker. If all three can be combined at the same time, all is good with the world.