Perhaps the most notable bit of trivia about The Hateful Eight—that has nothing to do with the script—is that it’s the first Quentin Tarantino film that features an original score. With the director’s first two features, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, he favored using rock and roll tracks that played on the radios or loudspeakers that the characters were listening to. Many of these needle drop moments were instantly iconic, such as the “Stuck in the Middle with You” torture scene in Dogs and the getting-ready-for-a-party confusion of heroin for cocaine scene from Fiction set to “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon“.
Post-Fiction, as Tarantino—who received massive acclaim as a writer—began to grow as a director he not only started to use more camera angles and less pulpy lighting but he also started to overlay compositional scores on top of his films, not just music that his characters were listening to. However, although he was working hand in hand with the lenser of his new visual language (Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson has filmed every Tarantino film Kill Bill onward), Tarantino wasn’t using a composer, instead he selected bits from previous film scores to “score” his films.
Tarantino’s favorite record crates to pull from are 1960s-70s Italian giallo (slasher) films, blaxploitation flicks, American b-movies and spaghetti Westerns. There is a common theme with the sounds of these era-specific genres, so let’s toss aside an accusation that they’re chosen for their obscurity, as Tarantino has never been shy about tipping his hat to his influences. No, instead of sweeping sentimental scores that many are used to, these genres of films favored guitar arrangements for their strings, whistles for their winds and a little distortion for their production value.
The very fact that Tarantino was using a film score to dictate the pace of a scene—as opposed to the characters pushing play on a cool song and cutting loose—shows his growth as a director; he needed to find moments in editing to get the response he wanted, as opposed to writing the energy he wanted directly into the script which strips away the room for potential editing. His first foray into cherry-picking scores was a bit obvious, using music from Pam Grier‘s blaxploitation films for the score to his celluloid statue built to Grier, Jackie Brown. Afterward, the Kill Bill films showed an increased awareness of accompaniment of tracks to match the action and seamless editing, but it wasn’t until Tarantino began setting his films in the past that he started to explore the idea of having a consistent sounding score throughout.
Ennio Morricone‘s (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) composition for The Hateful Eight is quite evocative and quite possibly the best score of 2015. Morricone’s score perfectly melds with previous score selections Tarantino had chosen in editing his previous films, so perhaps this is a hint to the director that his desired sound can be achieved organically with his input.
While I applaud Morricone’s score, I’d like to single out some of the perfect score selections that Tarantino chose that might’ve assisted his ability to identify what he’d want from his first original score. As The Hateful Eight is advertised as Tarantino’s eighth standalone film (which doesn’t count Death Proof and Four Rooms), I’ve added some honorable mentions in a playlist of all tracks (including a few songs that were written for movie soundtracks)—at the very bottom of this list.
[Correction: Tarantino counts Kill Bill as one movie and also counts Death Proof, that’s how he comes to eight. However, the playlist and write-ups below still remain awesome]