Originally conceived it as a novel and sequel to Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight marks both a major change in Tarantino’s career — it’s the last he’d make for The Weinstein Company, as he ended his relationship with them following allegations of sexual abuse against Harvey Weinstein — while yearning back for the days of 70 mm films, as this was released as a limited edition roadshow in theaters that could still show it before it made its way to modern theaters. It’s also the first of his films to be re-edited as a longer miniseries for Netflix.
Tarantino was inspired by the TV Westerns that he had grown up watching, particularly episodes where bad guys would come to town and take the heroes hostage, saying “What if I did a movie starring nothing but those characters? No heroes, no Michael Landons. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens.”
Bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel Jackson) is on his way to Red Rock with three dead men when he hitches a ride from a stagecoach driven by O.B. Jackson (James Parks). Inside is John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who he is also taking to Red Rock for hanging. The two men know one another, as they bonded over Warren’s personal letter from President Abraham Lincoln. Another man, militiaman Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), joins them as he’s also traveling to Red Rock to become the town’s new sheriff.
However, the trip runs into a massive snowstorm, so they decide to visit Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they learn that Minnie (Dana Gourrier, Cora from Django Unchained) has gone to visit her mother. The stagecoach lodge is filled with all manner of scum and villainy — Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), who claims to be traveling home to visit his mother; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a British hangman who ends up being English Pete Hicox, making him Archie Hicox’s — from Inglorious Basterds — great-great grandfather; and General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), who is on his way to bury his son.
Ruth doesn’t trust anyone, so he takes everyone’s guns but Warren. The group all has stew together, with Mannix realizing that Warren’s letter from Lincoln is fake, which angers Ruth. He feels lied to while Warren explains that it allows him to move amongst white people more easily. Then, he gives Smithers a gun, hoping he reaches for it after he explains how he tortured, assaulted and killed the man’s son in revenge for Smithers’ executions of black soldiers at the Battle of Baton Rouge.
While Warren shoots Smithers, everyone misses the coffee being poisoned. Jackson and Ruth both drank it and start throwing up huge amounts of blood before Daisy kills her captor with his own gun. There’s a flashback where she sings the traditional Australian folk ballad “Jim Jones at Botany Bay” on a vintage Martin guitar that had been loaned to the production by the Martin Guitar Museum. Somehow, no one told Kurt Russell that the guitar needed to be switched out before he was to destroy it, so the entire set was freaked out that an irreplaceable guitar was destroyed. Needless to say, the museum no longer loans out its guitars.
Warren disarms Daisy, leaving her shackled to the dead body of Ruth, while holding everyone but Mannix at gunpoint. He quickly deduces what’s happening — Minnie hates Mexicans and would never hire one, much less leave them in charge. Bob has to have killed her, so he kills the man, When he moves to kill Daisy, Gage admits that he was the one who poisoned the coffee. Then, someone in the cellar shoots Warren directly between the legs and all hell breaks loose. Mobray pulls a gun and shoots Mannix, who fires back on him.
That’s when we learn that Mobray Bob, Mobray, Gage and Daisy’s brother Jody (Channing Tatum) had come to the lodge in disguise and killed everyone but Smithers, telling him that they would spare him if he stays quiet (Zoe Bell and Lee Horsely make appearances here). Mannix and Warren may be wounded, but they still have the advantage. Luring Jody out of hiding by threatening Daisy, he comes up from the cellar only to be shot and killed.
What follows is a long Mexican standoff between Warren and Mannix with the dying Mobray, Gage and Daisy, who continually attempts to manipulate Mannix into taking the money and killing Warren.
The Hateful Eight is at once a return to the Western film while also a look back to Reservoir Dogs, in that no one is innocent and everyone pays for it with their lives. While so many of Tarantino’s films afterward had promises of somewhat happy endings, none of that is in store for anyone in this movie.
Accompanying all of the bloodshed is a new score by Ennio Morricone, the first Western that the Italian composer had scored in 34 years. Tarantino had previously used Morricone’s music in Kill Bill, Death Proof, Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds. There are also three unused songs from Morricone’s score for John Carpenter’s The Thing and “Regan’s Theme” from Exorcist II: The Heretic.
Despite saying that he would never work with Tarantino after his displeasure with how his music was used in Django Unchained, Morricone came around and worked with him. Perhaps that’s because he liked the script, but Morricone was also given complete freedom to score the film, which he saw as an adventure instead of a Western. After a little over a month, Morricone gave Tarantino five pieces of music, which he could use in the movie however he wanted.
In addition to fifty minutes of Morricone’s music, the film also features the songs “Apple Blossom” by The White Stripes, “Now You’re All Alone” by David Hess from The Last House on the Left and “There Won’t Be Many Coming Home” by Roy Orbison from The Fastest Guitar Alive.
At once a rumination of both The Thing and Reservoir Dogs, The Hateful Eight may not be my favorite Tarantino film, but it’s hard to deny that it’s a great film, filled with ambiguity and bereft of morals.