About the Author: R.D Francis is the writer of The Ghosts of Jim Morrison, the Phantom of Detroit, and the Fates of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Tales from a Wizard: The Oral History of Walpurgis. Both non-fiction works explore the myth and mystery behind the 1974 album, Phantom’s Divine Comedy: Part 1—an album many believed to be a solo album by Jim Morrison of the Doors. You can read his music and film criticisms on Medium and learn more about the Phantom on Facebook.
If you’ve dove deep into the B&S Movies’ blood pool, you’re acquainted with this site’s affections for the Amicus and Hammer anthology films of the ‘70s—call them an omnibus film or portmanteau if you like. For the uninitiated: It’s a subgenre of films where the finished product is comprised of three to five short films threaded into a single narrative by a theme or premise or place—but mostly by a centralized character.
The finest example of this method of cinematic storytelling is Freddie Francis and Milton Subtotsky’s Tales from the Crypt (1972)—produced by Amicus and filmed at Shepperton Studios (Psychomania, Alien, and Saturn 3 were produced at Shepperton, just to name a few)—starring Sir Ralph Richardson as a mysterious crypt keeper.
I must admit, when you say “anthology,” I think of a horror film. I certainly don’t think of a romance or comedy. There are some who may cite Richard Curtis’s Love Actually (2003) (worth it for Billy Nighy’s burned out rocker, Billy Mac), but that’s really just an ensemble cast dangling on twisted narratives.
However, when you say “anthology” in the same breath as “Tarantino,” you’ve got my attention. And since he’s scared off the chicks with a Steelers Wheel chair-torture scene and balaclava-clad gimps in boxes—I’m on a cinematic lone wolf quest. The fact that Four Rooms is based on the macabre storytelling of Roald Dahl’s adult fiction writings—well that’s just icing. (At least it is for me; I wrote a high school English composition on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.) Do not let Dahl’s name—known for the children’s stories/films Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach—fool you. This is for the moms and the dads.
Quentin Tarantino, along with longtime partner, Lawrence Bender, produce the segments directed by Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriquez—and Quentin. The “crypt keeper,” if you will, framing this tale in The Q Continuum is Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs’ Mr. Orange), a bellhop in Los Angeles’ fictional Hotel Mon Signor on a fateful New Year’s Eve.
So, let’s get to the Quentin part!
He directs the film’s most faithful of the Dahl adaptations, “The Man from Hollywood,” which serves as the film’s final segment. High on the penthouse perch of the Mon Signor is world-famous director Chester Rush (Tarantino) and his hanger-on friends who’ve become empty, narcissistic shells void of the concepts of need or want. Think of Jerry’s Seinfeld-gang bored and flush with cash driven to the point of making outrageous concierge demands—such as wanting a block of wood, one donut, a ball of twine, three nails, a club sandwich, and bucket of ice, and . . . a hatchet?
What the fuck is going on, you ask? Hey, you’re not a frog and I’m not a bunny. Let’s not jump ahead. Just accept the fact that you are in the Tarantino universe. There will be appendage dismemberment and blood.
And how empty are these people? Rush freaks over champagne cork. As if he can’t afford to replace flat champagne—considering The Wacky Detective had a domestic gross of $72 million dollars.
. . .And before you know it, Rush and company are playing, well, I guess you can call it “Spin the Lighter”—a challenge issued to successfully light a cigarette lighter ten times in a row. The winner wins a car. The loser gets his pinky cut off. What happens to the pinky? It’s a Tarantino segment. What do you think happens to the pinky?
The film’s total box office gross equaled the film’s $4 million dollar production cost and became one of 1995’s worse-reviewed movies and biggest flops. Madonna, who floats through the film’s as a connective-character named Elspeth, won another Razzie for the shelf.
Four Rooms is one of those films with no grey area. It’s either loved or it’s hated. Those that love it praise Tim Roth—who’s excellent in anything and everything—and suggested the film is for Rodriquez and Tarantino fans only. So, with that said, if you dig Roth, Rod and the Tar, this film is for you.
Suffice to say: The duo fared better with their next collaborative endeavor: 1996’s action-horror hybrid: From Dusk Till Dawn.
If you’re in the mood to venture out on two more branches of the Tarantino tree carrying his production seal of approval, you can check out 1994’s Killing Zoe, written and directed by Tarantino’s longtime celluloid compatriot, Roger Avery, and the 1996 black comedy, Curdled.