Needless to say, as in the case of most sequels and prequels, it is arguable that a film like this one isn't really needed and adds little new to the overall story. That said, From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter is a nifty piece of trash filmmaking that, while never surpassing the original, still entertains in its own way. Had the original never been made, this film would have been a minor if but pleasant alternative.
True, aside from its obvious bigger budget, part one is definitely the superior film, being much crazier, more extreme, more cynical and simply better made, acted and directed than The Hangman's Daughter, but this pre-quel has enough spark and juice to stand on its own as good, entertaining trash. Shot in South Africa, The Hangman's Daughter supposedly had a budget of $10 million dollars, half of that of the original, but some sources say that the $10 Million was actually the budget of both Part 2 (The Hangman's Daughter) and 3 (Texas Blood Money [1999/trailer]) together – which is easy to believe at times, especially with the CGI.
The story takes place in Mexico around 1913, some 80+ years before that of From Dusk Till Dawn (1996/trailer) and ostensibly narrates how Santanico Pandemonium, originally played by Salma Hayek, comes to be the queen of the vampires. The actual origin of the vampires in general is never explained, but Santanico seems to have been product of a vampire-human mating, though the how and when the human dad and the vamp mom did the down and dirty is not gone into in any detail.
The story structure is 100% the same as From Dusk Till Dawn in that the first half of the film narrates how a variety of anti-heroes and hanger-ons end up at the Titty Twister (in this case called "La Tetilla Del Diablo" – or, translated, The Devil's Nipple) while the second half is a gore-fest of vampires feasting and desperate fighting. But now, before all the fangs get bared and the guts start spilling, instead of white trash terrorizing RV tourists in America, we have a violent, over-the-top spaghetti western. (In fact, one idea – that of the hanging rope being shot apart just as a man is hanged – is lifted directly from the classic Leone/Eastwood western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly [1966/trailer]. On the other hand, another idea, that of blades that pop out from the tip of boots, is taken from From Russia with Love [1963/trailer].) Director P.J. Pesce probably got the job because of his previous film, the similarly direct to video western The Desperate Trail (1994), which also has its own moments of fun excess.
The tale of The Hangman's Daughter is structured loosely around the actual disappearance of the famed American caustic wit, writer and alcoholic Ambrose Bierce, who, as any decent student of American literature knows, disappeared into the sunset of Mexico and supposition when he road off to join the revolutionary forces of Pancho Villa. (Whether or not he ever made it is not revealed in the final, released version of this film, but in the first cut of The Hangman's Daughter he was revealed as having become a vampire.) Bierce is well-played by Michael Parks, a regularly employed but forgotten great white hope of the 1960s who started his career with a splash imitating James Dean in the trash-classic The Idol (1966) before his career eventually devolved into stuff like The Private Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1977). (Now he is another definition of what one calls a "cult actor.") Passing through a tiny fart of a town, he witnesses how the hanging of Johnny Madrid (Marco Leonardi) gets foiled through the assistance of Catherine Reese (Jordana Spiro) and how Madrid and Esmeralda (Ara Celi), the titular hangman's daughter, ride away through a rain of bullets. Later, the stagecoach he is sharing with the bible-thumpers Mary (pre-crack Rebecca Gayheart) and John Newlie (Lennie Loftin) gets robbed by Madrid and his men. Through a variety of contrivances, the three stranded passengers end up at La Tetilla Del Diablo, followed soon after first by Madrid, Esmeralda and company and then by the Hangman (Temuera Morrison) and his men (with Reese in tow) as well as an assortment of others stragglers. (Including the mandatory African American, Orlando Jones as Ezra Traylor, a fuller brush man.)
As in all three films, Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) is the bartender, but this time we also have Sonia Braga as Quixtla along for the ride. The vampire mother to the human hangman father, Braga is both excellently cast and one damned sexy 50 year old – in fact, until she turns all monster like, she actually looks to be one damned fuckable old lady and displays all the dangerous sexuality and magnetism that Hayak had in the original and Ara Celi lacks in this one. The blood of a barroom brawl is the trigger for the vampires to cut loose, and the rest of The Hangman's Daughter features the disparate survivors fighting to survive and dying off one by one before the last survivors ride off, leaving the converted Esmeralda as the new queen of the vampires. The film's last shot is a virtual exact copy of that of the original From Dusk Till Dawn, showing the ruin of the Aztec (Incan? Mayan? Olmec?) temple descending down from the back of the bar.
In general, the character's are not that likable, but they do at least have individual personalities. The violence is high but not as hilariously over the top as in the first film, though the scene in which a vampire gets his testicles kicked out does reach a new high point in tasteless ideas. All in all, The Hangman's Daughter is a fine B film full of irredeemable violence and gore that holds up well either as a sequel/prequel or simply as a film in its own right. It deserves more than the ignominious realm of straight to video and forgotten films that it has been relegated to.
I agree--this this little gem deserved better than a direct to DVD release.
But then again, I directed it, so I'm probably biased...
I find it cool but hard to believe that anyone who actually makes films would read my commentary.... and even cooler that you could also see past the points that I criticized to see that I actually liked the film.
So, how was it to work with Michael Parks and Sonia Braga?
Nice review. Quite thorough. Personally, I love the first movie of this series, but can't say the same for the next two. The last two just have weird plots and lots of bad acting. I think that only the genius of Quentin Tarantino could pull together the strange premise of these movies and make it work.
I got the chance to review of couple others in this series on my blog. They are short reviews but cover most the series. Check it out if you get the chance.
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