Kill Bill Vol. 1 Original Soundtrack
was going to write a Classic Album Review for Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack, but then I saw the fourth film by Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. 1, then I saw it again, and then I bought the soundtrack. ‘Hell,’ I thought, ‘why review an old soundtrack everyone knows, when I can review a soundtrack for a film that’s hot and now?’ There is a clear link, anyway, to the score work of Ennio Morricone and Kill Bill Vo. 1, which is a samurai/kung-fu flick with a spaghetti western flavor. Morricone’s theme for the 1969 spaghetti western, Death Rides A Horse (starring The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly’s Lee Van Cleef) is featured in a rousing moment in Kill Bill, where Uma Thurman’s character, The Bride, first confronts Lucy Liu’s character, Oren Ishi, at the “House of Blue Leaves”. Alas, this great Morricone piece isn’t included on the soundtrack. Don’t ask me why. However, Luis Bacalov’s theme from the 1972 spaghetti western, The Grand Duel (again starring Lee Van Cleef) is on the soundtrack and proves to be the highlight. A very Morricone-esque piece of music, “The Grand Duel” is the haunting spaghetti western ballad played during the Oren Ishi origin/anime sequence; with typical Morricone elements: human choral, tribal percussion, frontier harmonica and sparse orchestration.
Following “The Grand Duel” is the track “Twisted Nerve” and this is where we realize how insanely knowledgeable Tarantino is regarding cinema. Try to follow me here. “Twisted Nerve” is the theme for an obscure 1968 British thriller in which acclaimed composer Benard Herrmann did the score. Herrmann is most known for the work he did with Alfred Hitchcock films, most notably his scores for Vertigo and Psycho. The scene in Kill Bill where “Twisted Nerve” plays is the Darryl Hannah/hospital scene (where she appears to be whistling the eerie theme); between Hannah’s donning of a nurse’s uniform for nefarious purposes and a split-screen moment, we are given a visual nod to Brian De Palma’s 1980 thriller, Dressed To Kill (De Palma is one of Tarantino’s heroes), which was a giant ode to Hitchcock (De Palma’s hero), especially Psycho; and De Palma actually got Benard Herrmann to score his 1976 film, Obsession, which was an ode to Vertigo. Whew. So, with one scene and one musical selection, Tarantino gives us an allusion wrapped in an allusion wrapped in another allusion. Post-modernists like Jean-Luc Godard (another one of Tarantino’s heroes) would be proud. Godard weaved similar allusion webs in his 1964 film A Band Apart (a.k.a. Band of Outsiders), which is the name of Tarantino’s production company.
The Kill Bill soundtrack is mainly comprised of snippets from other, older soundtracks from various genres. With Isaac Hayes’s “Run Fay Run” (used for the anime/assassination sequence), we get a funky jam from the 1974 blaxploitation flick, Three Tough Guys (which in addition to featuring his music, starred Isaac Hayes). Wu-Tang Clan leader/producer, RZA, is credited for “Ode To Oren Ishi” (in addition to the film’s “original music”), but the track’s music is actually the theme from the 1977 Italian thriller, Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes (directed by Lucio Fulci). In Kill Bill this music is featured, without the annoying rap provided by RZA on the CD; most effectively during the hospital scene in which The Bride cuts down “Buck” (who likes to fuck…comatose women); the creepy synth keys give the sequence a sort of John Carpenter feel and knowing the music is from a Lucio Fulcio film, it seems that Tarantino is pointing us to a filmmaker who, like himself, was notorious for graphic violence (Fulci is most known for 1980s gorefests like The Beyond). With all due respect to RZA (who did great score work on Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai), the Wu-Tanger doesn’t ad much to the mix—except for a nice drum machine beat on “Crane” (which also includes music from the 1973 action flick, White Lightning). We also get television themes; the Bruce/Lee “Kato” masks on Oren Ishi’s henchmen not being enough, we’re also treated to The Green Hornet theme, during a fun tour through a Toho model Tokyo. But, perhaps my favorite Kill Bill sample is Quincy Jones’ siren-whining Ironside theme (a 1970s Raymond Burr detective drama), which cries to life every time The Bride sees somebody on her revenge list.
Like with Pulp Fiction, there are forgotten pop gems on the Kill Bill soundtrack, ranging from Nancy Sinatra’s version of the Sonny Bono penned, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” and the Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” performed by the 1970s Latin disco act, Santa Esmerlda and used to magnificent effect in the film’s climatic duel between The Bride and Oren Ishi. We also get a slick and big 1980s-sounding instrumental (“Battle Without Honor Or Humanity”) by Japanese guitarist Tomoyasu Hotel and raw and bouncy garage rock (“Woo Hoo”) from Japanese girl group, The 5,6,7,8’s (who also appear in the film).
Overall, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is a bloody blast of a soundtrack for a bloody blast of a movie.
Reviewed by: Edwin C. Faust
Reviewed on: 2003-11-04