The Hateful 8 And The Shadow of Agatha Christie – Look! It Moves! By Adi Tantimedh

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Adi Tantimedh writes,

Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful 8 is Reservoir Dogs reconfigured as a dystopian 70s Western and filtered through Agatha Christie‘s And Then There Were None. It openly references the authentic snowbound setting of the Spaghetti Western The Great Silence, even including its downbeat and pessimistic tone.  It has Italian Horror-style levels of gore that almost push it to realms of Horror. It has political undertones as he wants it to be a microcosm or allegory for an America founded on violence, especially vengeful and spiteful violence (not to mention racism and misogyny) where everyone is guilty and no sin, past or present, is unpunished, sooner or later.

It is unabashedly cinematic in technique despite being mainly a chamber piece. It is self-consciously mindful of his legacy as an auteur.

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It’s an interesting coincidence that The Hateful 8 should be released at the same time that the BBC’s new TV adaptation of And Then There Were None. With its almost overpowered cast featuring Charle Dance, Miranda Richardson, Toby Stephens, Sam Neill, Anna Maxwell-Martin, Aidan Turner, Noah Taylor and Burn Gorman and reportedly the first truly faithful adaptation of the original novel in all its bleakness, it’s considered Agatha Christie’s masterpiece and is one of those adaptations that play the story for its darkest themes of people hiding a crime they committed, usually out of greed, betrayal, murder and retribution. Its plot of ten people who have all gotten away with causing people’s deaths who are brought together in a remote mansion the middle of nowhere to be judged and murdered for their crimes by an unseen vigilante. Like Tarantino, the story has an Old Testament view of morality where no sinner gets away free, that he or she will pay eventually, and that’s here and now. Published in 1939, right on the cusp of World War II, the book captured Britain’s dark national mood as it faced an uncertain future of war and destruction. It’s the culmination of Christie’s themes of the underbelly of English middle and upper class life where class status is no shield or disguise for the people who hide dark, murderous motives while hiding in the plain sight of polite English society. Agatha Christie’s books often carried a sense of moral outrage at the hypocrisy and meanness of the English, and And Then There Were None was an expression of that outrage at full blast without the comforting presence of one of her detective heroes. The characters are all adrift in a moral purgatory as they fight against impending retribution. That the BBC are producing a new adaptation and embracing the darkness of the story more than any version had previously might be part of the current dark mood that Britain is experiencing, with the bad economy, war and a sense of looming disaster causing the same kind of anxiety as 1939 did. It’s ultimately an attack on the hypocrisy and meanness lurking under polite English society, so that’s in keeping with the current mood of things unravelling towards disaster.

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Tarantino has voiced his admiration for Agatha Christie’s books, especially her ability to structure whodunnits, and The Hateful 8 sees him taking an Old Testament approach ot his characters, none of whom is particularly heroic, and all of whom have done things terrible enough to deserve retribution, here at the hands of each other. And Then There Were None actually casts a long shadow over movies and storytelling over the decades. It has been endlessly lifted, commented on, ripped off and spoofed. The story has enough undertones of horror to have served as the template for what eventually became the Slasher movie. Mario Bava used the same plot structure for his 1971 Giallo movie Bay of Blood about a bunch of people betraying and violently murdering each other in extremely gory ways until virtually everybody is dead by the end. Friday the Thirteenth was actually a beat-for-beat remake or rip-off of Bay of Blood, replacing its middle-class couples with horny teenagers getting picked off by a mystery murderer to pack in a subtext about the fear of sexuality. The Saw movies also carried the theme of retributive chaos that And Then There Were None first established, capturing the post-9/11 mood of culpability where Everyone Should Be Punished.

That the BBC should adapt And Then There Were None now feels like everything coming full circle, and The Hateful 8 feels like a culmination of the legacy of Agatha Christie’s book, also paying homage to the gore of the Bava movie while also melding the plot with The Western to use the latter as a state-of-the-nation commentary that Hollywood Westerns used to do in their hey day. It’s an attempt to make The Hateful 8 more than the sum of its parts, and there are a lot of parts chugging away under the hood. It’s big and long and bloated and decadent, trying to give CPR to Cinema as a dying artform as we approach the End of Movies As We Know Them in the age of digital video and streaming on the internet.

And then there were lots at lookitmoves@gmail.com

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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