In one of many startling scenes from Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Kurt Russell smashes an acoustic guitar while declaring, “Music time is over!” Making that moment more shocking is the recent revelation that this demolished prop was a priceless antique on loan from a museum. Actress Jennifer Jason Leigh (whose panicked shriek of, “Wait!” is 100% genuine) had just used the instrument on her charmingly rough-edged rendition of the Australian ballad “Jim Jones at Botany Bay” before Russell decided to channel Pete Townshend. The incident is presented in full on the soundtrack album, where David Hess’ “Now You’re All Alone” (from 1972’s The Last House on the Left) gets abruptly aborted by a shotgun blast, both symbolic of a significant switch in Tarantino’s approach to scoring his movies.
For Hateful Eight, rather than cobble together a dozen pop songs from his personal record collection, Tarantino took a giant step forward by collaborating with legendary composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly). It was an unexpected, eleventh-hour pairing. Tarantino had already compiled a list of intended tunes (everything from The Velvet Underground to Bill Monroe), but in merely two weeks’ time, Morricone delivered what became this Oscar-nominated instrumental score.
Morricone’s themes for Hateful are unlike his operatic scores for 1960s spaghetti westerns because Tarantino’s snowbound tale is unlike those movies. Dark, subdued, and ominous, they resemble Morricone’s music for another sub-zero Kurt Russell drama, the 1982 horror film The Thing. (Three repurposed tracks from The Thing appear in the theatrical print of Hateful but are absent from this CD.) We do hear the occasional choral grunt of a male choir, and a twinkling music box evokes For a Few Dollars More, but Morricone more directly references such classics as “Mars, the Bringer of War” from Holst’s The Planets and slyly quotes Prokofiev’s icebound Alexander Nevsky.
A few pop songs did make the cut. The White Stripes’ “Apple Blossom” concludes unmolested, and the final number is Roy Orbison’s haunting anti-war sarabande “There Won’t Be Many Coming Home” from the soundtrack album of The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967). Orbison’s stately lament provides a fitting epitaph for the Shakespearean bloodbath at Hateful’s finale, but Morricone gets the final word on the CD with “La Puntura Della Morte” (“The Sting of Death”), 28 seconds of orchestral flourish that bring down the curtain with a most appropriate chill and confirm that, yes, music time is over.
Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight