The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a wonder for many reasons, not least of which is the way it wove together an intricate continuity across all of its movies. Throughout23 films and counting, there are crossover characters, intersecting storylines, and resonant names, locations, and even brands. Of course, when you step back, you realize that the MCU was only doing what comic books have been doing in print for decades. Take another step back, and you'll notice that what they've done isn't all that unique to movies, either. Because Quentin Tarantino, for one, has been doing it for decades, too.
From his earliest days as a struggling screenwriter to his iconic and era-defining films, Tarantino has built his own world of interconnected characters and original brands. In honor of the 25th anniversary of his legendary opus Pulp Fictionreleased October 14, 1994, let's take a look at the QTCU — the Quentin Tarantino Cinematic Universe.
My Best Friend's Birthday 1987
A short film co-written, directed, and starring Tarantino while he was famously working at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, California it's no longer there, so don't plan a visit, My Best Friend's Birthday only exists in a truncated 36-minute cut because large parts of it were destroyed in a fire. Still, the seeds of the QTCU are there. For one, Quentin plays a character named Clarence who, early on, discusses his love of Rockabilly music and Elvis' acting ability. This would, of course, foreshadow Christian Slater's character in True Romance, a script written by Tarantino but directed by the late Tony Scott. In Birthday, Tarantino's Clarence hires a call girl to show his friend a good time on his special day — a sequence of events that would be flipped in True Romance,when Slater's Clarence finds himself on the receiving end of a birthday call girl surprise.
Tarantino's signature work, the movie that launched him as a filmmaker. In this tale of a jewel heist gone wrong, the audience is treated to flashbacks that fill in the stories of each of the movie's black clad, code-named criminals. We find out that Mr. White Harvey Keitel used to run with a partner named Alabama. Of course, a woman named Alabama Whitman later, Worley is seen getting a taste for a life of crime in True Romance, the Tony Scott film that Tarantino wrote see below. We also learn that Mr. Blonde Michael Madsen is named Vic Vega, as in the brother of John Travolta's Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.
Apart from the obvious connectionsto earlier films — the Rockabilly-loving Clarence and call girl-turned-crook Alabama — there is a more subtle cinematic link in Tony Scott's Tarantino-penned action adventure. The movie climaxes with a drug deal in the hotel suite of big time movie producer Lee Donowitz Saul Rubinek, channeling real life producer Joel Silver. Donowitz is a producer of war movies — fitting because his father, Donny Donowitz, fought in WWII as part of the Inglourious Basterds. You might remember him as the baseball bat-wielding avenger known as “The Bear Jew” played by Eli Roth.
Pulp Fiction, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is arguably the Iron Man of the QTCU, because it's really the one that takes the threads and begins to weave them together.The filmintroduces us to several brand names that would become central players in Tarantino's world, starting with “that Hawaiian burger joint” Big Kahuna Burger — Samuel L. Jackson's Jules takes the world's most intimidating bite of one of these burgers and washes it down with “a tasty beverage” from the place early in the movie. Later, Bruce Willis' Butch Coolidge orders a pack of Red Apple cigarettes, a brand that shows up in just about every subsequent QT movie. Finally, Christopher Walken's Captain Koons — he of the legendary “gold watch” speech — is also a descendant of “Crazy” Craig Koons, one of Django's bounties in Django Unchained.
Although Natural Born Killers wasdirected by Oliver Stone, the script was pure Tarantino. We mentioned earlier the brother connection between Vic and Vincent Vega, but there is another set of brothers that was first introduced in Reservoir Dogs, too. In Dogs, Vic complains about a pain-in-the-ass parole officer named Seymour Scagnetti we never actually see him, whose own brother, Jack, would show up in Natural Born Killers played by Tom Sizemore.
In the Tarantino-written and -directed segment of this anthology film, the characters are seen smoking Red Apple cigarettes. Tarantino's character also refers to his drink as a “tasty beverage,” which echoes the same colorful turn of phrase Jules used in Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino wrote the script for this Robert Rodriguez-directed horror film and peppered in some of his signature touches. There are Red Apple cigarettes present and accounted for, and George Clooney's Seth Gecko at one point makes a run for Big Kahuna Burgers. The movie also introduces gravelly-voiced, no-nonsense Texas Ranger Earl McGraw played by Michael Parks, who would become a key player in the QTCU. It's also worth noting that the movie features yet another pair of brothers Seth and his brother, Richie, played by Tarantino who have a thing for black suits.
Beware of people who claim that, because it was based on an Elmore Leonard novel and not an original Tarantino idea, there are no overt connections to the QTCU in Jackie Brown. They're just not paying attention. Midway through the film, we see Jackie in the Del Amo Mallfood court, enjoying a meal from Teriyaki Donut — the same fictional fast food franchise whose food Ving Rhames' Marcellus Wallace is carrying when Butch Coolidge runs him down in Pulp Fiction. In a second food court scene not long after, we not only see Jackie indulging in Teriyaki Donut again, but her accomplice Sheronda LisaGay Hamilton sits down at hertable with a tray full of food from Acuña Boys, which would later be referenced in Kill Bill Vol. 2 and appear a couple of times in Grindhouse.
We'll treat this kung fu-inspired magnum opus as one film, with plenty of easter eggs to link it to the larger QTCU. For one, if you look at The Bride's Uma Thurman old gang, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, you'll notice that they all fit a little too easily into Mia Wallace's description of her failed TV pilot, Fox Force Five — the blonde leader, the Japanese kung fu master, the black demolition expert, the French seductress, and Mia's. character, the deadliest woman in the world with a knife or sword?. The first cop on the scene after the Bride's wedding day massacre is, of course, Earl McGraw, and Red Apple and Big Kahuna also make appearances. And rememberAcuña Boys from Jackie Brown?In Vol. 2, they happen to be the name of the gang that Michael Parks' Esteban Vihaio runs.
Photo by The Weinstein Co./Dimension
In both the Tarantino portion of this double feature homage, Death Proof, and the Rodriguez portion, Planet Terror, there are connections to the QTCU. Big Kahuna burgers are mentioned, and Red Apple cigarettes are smoked. On top of that, an ad forAcuña Boys “Authentic Tex-Mex Food” — first glimpsed in Jackie Brown—pops up during intermission, and one of Stuntman Mike's early victims, Vanessa Ferlito's Arlene, can be seen sipping from anAcuña Boys cup. Texas lawman Earl McGraw also reappears, along with his son, Ed, and we learn there is a sister named Dakota, too, who features in Planet Terror.As kind of a bonus, Rosario Dawson's Abernathy has a familiar ringtone on her phone — it's the same melody whistled by Elle Driver Darryl Hannah in Kill Bill Vol. 1.
In addition to Donny Donowitz, Michael Fassbender's English soldier-turned-spy Archie Hicox has deep ties to the QTCU, it turns out. Late in the old west-set Hateful Eight, it is revealed that Tim Roth's Oswaldo Mobray is actually a wanted man named “English Pete” Hicox, Archie's great-great-grandfather.
We've already mentioned “Crazy” Craig Koons, but there is another deep cut reference to Django hidden in an earlier Tarantino movie. In Kill Bill Vol. 2, Bill's brother Budd played by Michael Madsen — also another pair of QT brothers! buries the Bride alive in the grave of Paula Schultz. This is the lonely final resting place for the wife of bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz Christoph Waltz in Django.
In addition to the Hicox family tree, Red Apple tobacco — the early version of the soon-to-be ubiquitous in the QTCU, anyway cigarette brand — makes a couple of appearances here. Demián Bichir's Bob smokes a “Manzana Roja” right after the intermission, and Channing Tatum gets a custom-rolledRed Apple cigarette — his “favorite” — fromDana Gourrier's Miss Minnie.
At one point in Kill Bill Vol. 2, The Bride drives a blue Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. That same car shows up driven by Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth in Hollywood. And not only do Booth and Leonardo DiCaprio's Rick Dalton smoke Red Apples of course, but there's an end-credits scene in the movie that shows Dalton doing a TV commercial for the cigarette brand.
“It was an indie horror in its day, a bit rough around the edges yet it's one of the greatest and most haunting films ever made,” Robert Eggers told Shudder about F. W. Murnau's 1922 silent horror film classic. “The newly restored color tinted versions are really impressive, but I still prefer the poor black and white versions made from scraps of 16mm prints. Those grimy versions have an uncanny mystery to them and helped build the myth of Max Shreck being a real vampire.”
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Josephine Decker, on Luca Guadagnino's “Suspiria”
Remaking Dario Argento's 1977 horror classic “Suspiria” sounded like a bad idea to many genre fans, but Luca Guadagnino pulled off something completely original and utterly terrifying in his 2018 adaptation of the witchy story. “Its mystery is physical,” Josephine Decker told IndieWire about the movie. “Its dance is political. It goes one million different directions, and after months I can't stop thinking about it — [as with] any film that does not 'end' when the movie ends.”
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Guillermo del Toro, on “Eyes Without a Face”
Georges Franju's 1960 French-Italian horror film “Eyes Without a Face” stars Pierre Brasseur as a plastic surgeon obsessed with performing a face transplant on his daughter after she survives a terrible car crash. IndieWire named “Eyes Without a Face” one of the best horror movies ever made and the title has long been a favorite of Guillermo del Toro's. “[The main character is] like an undead Audrey Hepburn. It influenced me a lot with the contrast between beauty and brutality,” del Toro once told Criterion about the film. “The clash of haunting and enchanting imagery has seldom been more powerful. 'Eyes Without a Face' boasts an extraordinary soundtrack [by Maurice Jarre] too!”
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Quentin Tarantino, on “Audition”
Takashi Miike's 1999 horror movie “Audition” is often cited as one of the most disturbing films ever made. Ryo Ishibashi stars as a widow named Shigeharu Aoyama who stages auditions for men in hopes of meeting a new husband or life partner. Aoyama falls for Asami Eihi Shiina, but her dark past has unexpected and brutal consequences. Tarantino called the movie one of his favorites since he's been a director, referring to it as a “true masterpiece” in a 2009 interview.
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Martin Scorsese, on “The Innocents”
Jack Clayton's 1961 psychological horror film “The Innocents” is often regarded as one of the most terrifying movies ever made, and Martin Scorsese agrees. The filmmaker has called “The Innocents” one of his favorite horror films, writing, “This Jack Clayton adaptation of 'The Turn of the Screw' is one of the rare pictures that does justice to Henry James. It's beautifully crafted and acted, immaculately shot by Freddie Francis, and very scary.” The movie is also a favorite of fellow directors such as Guillermo del Toro.
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Edgar Wright, “Dead of Night”
Edgar Wright famously released a list of his 100 favorite horror movies in October 2017. One entry that is also a favorite of Martin Scorsese's is “Dead of Night,” a horror anthology movie consisting of four short films directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, and Basil Dearden. Scorsese once told The Daily Beast of the movie: “A British classic: four tales told by four strangers mysteriously gathered in a country house, each one extremely disquieting, climaxing with a montage in which elements from all the stories converge into a crescendo of madness.”
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David Lowery, on “Hereditary”
“Ari Aster's debut is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen,” indie favorite David Lowery told IndieWire in 2018. “I caught it at an advance screening in Vancouver, and had to sleep with the hotel lights on afterwards — something I haven't had to do since 2002. I was traumatized. I wondered if the movie might be too brutal. The only way to find out, of course, was to drag as many friends as I could to see it when it opened a few weeks later. Maybe it was thanks to my loudly screaming chums, but this time around I couldn't stop laughing. What a wicked movie. I can't wait to rewatch it every October for the rest of my life.”
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Ari Aster, on “Climax”
Gaspar Noé's psychological horror movie “Climax” was a big influence on Ari Aster when he was making “Midsommar.” Aster told IndieWire that he looked to the wayNoé created a sustained descent into madness in “Climax” in order to craft the tone of “Midsommar.” Aster said, “Gaspar is just miraculously good at sustaining oppressive moods that feel like you're on a bad trip, and the most important thing to us was to be able to sustain that vibe, because the symptoms persist for a long time in our movie and we didn't want them to become obnoxious. I wanted you to be able to look at the characters if you wanted to and not be distracted by what's happening around them, but if your eyes do stray to the periphery you'll see that everything is warping like crazy.”
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Jordan Peele, on “Misery”
“'Misery' is a movie where the unlikely villain turns out to be the scariest,” Peele told USA Today aboutRob Reiner's 1990 Stephen King adaptation. Kathy Bates won the Oscar for Best Actress thanks to her performance asAnnie Wilkes, whose obsession with famous authorPaul Sheldon James Caan has disturbing results. “It's also a movie where the acting and the performance and the script and the dialogue is where the fear in the movie lies,” Peele said. “I love that kind of technique.”
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Jennifer Kent, on “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”
“I look at an earlier film like 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' the original, and that's a masterpiece,” Jennifer Kent told Shutterstockwhen discussing her favorite horror movies. “It's saying something deeper about humanity. For me, it's like how an animal must feel at the slaughter. Some people identify with Leatherface, but I identify with the victims in that one...There's something so rough and coarse in a really great way running through that film. It's a genius film. It's still shocking. There's an energy to it, whereas last night, the Friday the 13th remake was on TV and I felt like I was watching a shampoo commercial.”
Speaking to Vulture in December 2018, “Suspiria” filmmaker Luca Guadagnino hailed David Cronenberg's body horror classic “The Fly” an “all-time masterpiece.” “The horror of it for me is at the end when you realize that the character of Jeff Goldblum and the character of Geena Davis desperately love each other, but they're not going to be together,” the filmmaker said. “The ultimate horror of that movie was the impossibility of the love between the two of them.”
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Sam Raimi, on “Night of the Living Dead”
“I really had never been so terrified in my life,” Sam Raimi told Den of Geek this year about watching George A. Romero's zombie classic. “I was screaming and shrieking, begging my sister to take me home, and she was trying to shut me up. I'd never experienced horror like that before. It felt so real, like a docu-horror. I had never seen a black-and-white movie in a movie theatre before; it looked like a documentary. There was nothing Hollywood about it — it was just unrelenting and complete madness and very upsetting for me.”
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Anna Biller, on “Peeping Tom”
When Vulture asked “The Love Witch” director Anna Biller to name her favorite horror movie, the filmmaker picked Michael Powell's 1960 psychological horror “Peeping Tom.” The film stars Carl Boehm as a serial killer who uses a film camera to record his murders. It's a terrifying film, but what excited me most was how it captures the essence of cinema and reveals how we are all Peeping Toms when we go to see a movie — any movie,” Biller said. “The movie exposes the fetishism of filmmaking, how creepy it is that we pose bodies and wring out raw emotions from people we light and manipulate and record it all to experience later when we are alone, or give to others to watch in the dark.”
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Christopher Nolan, on “Alien”
Along with Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott was a filmmaker who left a big impression on Christopher Nolan during his coming-of-age years. As Nolan once told Media Company, “The director I have always been a huge fan of... Ridley Scott and certainly when I was a kid. 'Alien,' 'Blade Runner' just blew me away because they created these extraordinary worlds that were just completely immersive.”
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Andy Muschietti, on “Near Dark”
Andy Muschietti has become one of the top horror directors in Hollywood after helming Warner Bros.' two-part “It” saga, the first of which is the highest-grossing horror film ever released worldwide. In a discussion with Shortlist about his favorite horror movies, Muschietti named Kathryn Bigelow's “Near Dark” his favorite vampire movie. “It was such a breakthrough,” the director said, “These are like trash vampires, going around in an RV, and that blend of Americana, and Western underbelly and, shitty, trashy vampires was just mind-blowing for me. I had never seen anything like that. And there's a lot of very dark and obscure humor in it...The way [the vampires] play with their victims is so terrifying.”
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James Wan, on “The Others”
The Nicole Kidman-starring horror movie “The Others” features one of the best twists in movie history, and it made a big impression on “Insidious” and “The Conjuring” director James Wan. “Alejandro Amenabar's movie with Nicole Kidman is exquisitely photographed, crafted, and old school,” Wan told The Hollywood Reporter when asked about the horror films that inspired him “It's truly one of the finest 'bump in the night' Victorian ghost stories ever committed to film.”
Lars von Trier is known for making some of cinema's most disturbing films, but with “Antichrist” the provocateur leaned heavily into the stylings of experimental horror. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour told Criterion that “Antichrist” is one of her top five favorite movies ever made. “When this came out, the hysteria over the clit-scissors scene was all I heard about, and when I watched the film, that was the least shocking thing for me,” Amirpour said. “That scene with the crow in the foxhole and Dafoe beating on it trying to get it to die — that reminded me of an anxiety dream I've had, like a déjà vu from my own emotions. It's comforting when someone else's darkness mirrors your own. Lars is brave with how intimate he is in his films.”
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Bo Burnham, on “Raw”
French directorJulia Ducournau broke out onto the international film scene with her feature directorial debut “Raw,” a horror film about a young vegetarian who becomes flesh-obsessed after trying meat for the first time. “I watched it three times in theaters. I can't believe that's a debut,” Burnham told Rotten Tomatoes. “It only feels like seasoned masters are able to really manipulate an audience, beat to beat, to really feel like you are being so perfectly manipulated, and you're just in the hands of someone who has complete control of you. It's just unbelievable to have out of the gate.”
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Eli Roth, on “Creepshow”
For Eli Roth, the 1982 horror classic “Creepshow” was so special because it brought together three titans of the genre: Director George A. Romero, writer Stephen King, and special effects makeup artist Tom Savini. “The movie, told in five stories, is designed to look like a comic book, but it is creepy. And disgusting. And really, really fun,” Roth once told “Today.” 'Plus it's an anthology so you don't really have to pay attention, and if you're not that into the story, a new one will be on in 10 minutes... An amazing cast, incredible script, brilliant makeup effects, and nonstop fun. A very underrated horror movie that's a guaranteed good time.”
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Ben Wheatley, on “Eraserhead”
“The dark lord of midnight movies,” Ben Wheatley once told Criterion about David Lynch. “Lynch films are scary in a way that modern horror films seldom are. He talks directly to my inner child, to the nightmares of my seven-year-old self. It's a singular cinematic experience. I remember watching this whenever it was on in London — 'Eraserhead' and 'Blue Velvet'...double bills...mmm.”
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William Friedkin, on “Funny Games”
In discussing his 13 favorite horror movies with Entertainment Weekly, “The Exorcist” director William Friedkin singled out Michael Haneke's “Funny Games” as being the most terrifying. ”It's probably the scariest film on the list because it involves two young punks in a rural village terrorizing a family in their home,” Friedkin said. “It's the kind of thing you see on the news very often today. There is the possibility of this actually happening. It's brilliantly done.”
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James Gunn, on “Green Room”
“Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Slither” director James Gunn published a list of his 50 favorite horror movies on Twitter in 2017. While the list was topped by Steven Spielberg's “Jaws,” Jeremy Saulnier's 2015 horror-thriller “Green Room” had a strong showing by cracking the top 10 in the number six position. “Green Room” stars the late Anton Yelchin as the leader of a punk band who become the targets of ruthless neo-Nazis. Patrick Stewart plays thrillingly against type as the leader of the racist skinhead group.
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Gaspar Noé, on “Un Chien Andalou”
Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali's “Un Chien Andalou” is a surrealist short film with horror undertones that have long rattled numerous filmmakers, including French provocateur Gaspar Noé. “The opening scene of the movie, of the short film, with Buñuel cutting the eye of a woman — even if the close-up, they replaced the eye of the woman by the eye of a cow — is so shocking that I wish I could have been in the audience, if I could not be behind Bunuel,” Noé told Rotten Tomatoes. “If I could see the reaction, I'm sure there's never people turning more crazy in the history of cinema, than the first audience that that movie had.”
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John Carpenter, on “The Exorcist”
John Carpenter's “Halloween” was a pioneer in the slasher-film subgenre, and when it comes to the horror director's own favorite scary movies he often singles out William Friedkin's classic “The Exorcist.” As Carpenter told The Fader,“You know what's scary about 'The Exorcist'? Everyone knows what's scary about that movie. It's the devil. The first time I saw it, I thought, in order to be really effective, this movie requires a belief in a higher power. But since then I've come to appreciate it just for what it is. I watched it again recently and was surprised by how intense it is. The things that they did back then, with this little girl, they broke a bunch of taboos, my god. It's pretty damn good.”
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Karyn Kusama, on “Habit”
“The Invitation” filmmaker Karyn Kusama told Nylon thatLarry Fessenden's 1997 vampire movie “Habit” is one of her favorite horror movies. “I remember seeing this film when it first came out in the mid-'90's, and being struck by its twin narrative threads: the story of a man possibly entangled in a romance with a vampire, and, more profoundly, the story of a man spiraling into catastrophic alcoholism,” Kusama said. “The film is an incredible thematic companion piece to Abel Ferrara's 'The Addiction,' and is a grimy, vivid portrayal of a life getting very out of control.”
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Patrick Brice, on “Jacob's Ladder”
Patrick Brice has made a name for himself in the horror world with his fan-favorite found footage movies “Creep” and “Creep 2,” both of which star Mark Duplass. When asked to name his favorite horror movie, Brice told Mental Floss that “Jacob's Ladder” is “one of the undervalued gems of horror.” The 1990 psychological horror movie from directorAdrian Lyne stars Tim Robbins as a Vietnam war veteran haunted by hallucinations.“There are moments in the film that use practical and in-camera effects to pull off scares that are beyond comprehension,” Brice said of the film. “I remember having to rewind certain moments asking myself how Adrian Lyne was able to pull them off, and it's his only horror movie!”
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André Øvredal, on “Poltergeist”
Norwegian filmmaker André Øvredal has emerged as one of the brightest new voices in horror thanks to “Trollhunters,” “The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” and this summer's box office hit “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” In an interview with Mental Floss,Øvredal named “Poltergiest” his favorite horror movie ever made. “It has a philosophy on its own subjects, not just trying to milk the opportunities for a scare,” the director said. “It's also extremely close to the characters. You get to know and care for them, so you quickly fear for them. I think the filmmaking is really clever, visually stimulating, and tells the story with a surprising amount of humor, that only adds to the horror and sense of reality.”
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Tim Burton, on “The Wicker Man”
“It's like a weird musical,” Tim Burton told Rotten Tomatoes about Robin Hardy's legendary 1973 horror movie “The Wicker Man.” “That is actually one of Christopher Lee's favorite movies that he did... It was not a very successful movie when it came out but it's really quite a hypnotic and amazing film I think. It's like a weird dream. Some of these films I can't kind of watch over [again], because they play in your mind like a dream. It reminds me of growing up in Burbank. Things are quite normal on the surface but underneath they're not quite what they seem. I found this film to be such a strange mixture; the elements are very odd.”
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Pedro Almodóvar, on “Rapture”
In naming the 13 Spanish films that inspired him most as a director,Pedro Almodóvar told the British Film Institute that Iván Zulueta's 1979 horror movie “Rapture” was a no-brainer to include on the list. The movie centers around a horror film director who becomes consumed by directing itself while trying to record his consciousness during drug abuse. “It's a fantastic tale of self-immolation, of dedication to both heroin and cinema as beginning and end of everything, and to the dark side as the only possibility for self-fulfilment and self-knowledge,” Almodóvar said. “'Rapture' is an 'accursed' film that nobody saw back then and which is now an absolute modern classic. Its actors would appear in some of my 1980s films.”
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Jim Jarmusch, on “American Psycho.”
In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, indie icon Jim Jarmusch hailed Mary Harron's “American Pyscho” as his favorite movie ever made. “A masterful adaptation of words to cinema by Mary Harron, an important American director, and writer,” the director said. “This is adapted from Bret Easton Ellis's 1991 novel that was set in the 1980s. And I think that the film resonates even more now than when it was made almost 20 years ago. Though at the time it was called sexist filth by some. Christian Bale's performance is brutally riveting, and the entire cast — Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon, and Jared Leto — are all just really good.”
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Ti West, on “The Shining”
“The House of the Devil” director Ti West once told Rotten Tomatoes that “The Shining” was not just his favorite horror movie ever made but one of his favorite movies, period. “It was the first movie that I saw when I was a kid that, like, really traumatized me,” the director said. “What I think's great about it is that it's not only a horror movie, it's more a movie about an alcoholic man who hates his family, and then it's a horror movie. To me, all the best horror movies are a regular movie first and then they're a horror movie.”
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Rob Zombie, on “28 Days Later”
“House of 1000 Corpses” mastermind Rob Zombie has a soft spot for Danny Boyle's beloved zombie horror “28 Days Later,” telling Vice, “I thought it was great.I like the fact that, I don't know how much credit [Danny Boyle] gets for it, but the zombiemania that's going on with everyone, no one could really figure out what to do with zombie movies. Everyone was just sort of retreading what George Romero was doing. And he was the first person to come along with a fresh take on it, which came along in kind of a stagnant genre, and I never really thought of it of being stagnant until I saw that film.”
Pulp Fiction is a profanity-laden crime drama with drugs, sodomy, and exploding brains, but when it hit theaters in mid-October 1994, it was technically a Disney movie. After Disney acquired the independent film studio Miramax in 1993, Pulp Fiction was the first project to receive a greenlight. The 2010s would commence with Disney shuttering Miramax, then selling it as it shifted focus to more lucrative in-house brands with theme park and merchandise potential, like Pixar and Marvel. Now, we’re reaching the end of the decade and the end of a peak-geek year when, among other things, Disney has set a new studio box office record, with five of its tentpole features grossing over a billion dollars worldwide.
Meanwhile, at a ‘50s-themed restaurant in L.A. called Jack Rabbit Slim’s, two people dominate the dance floor. It’s a human moment, no special effects involved, just twisting legs, scissored fingers, and movie magic. When Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace John Travolta and Uma Thurman accept their dance trophy for the night, there’s a part of them that might stand in for the whole ‘90s film scene, with its upswell of great indie dramas from new and exciting young filmmakers. Amid the current flood of remakes, reboots, sequels, and spin-offs, even the brain of an avowed comic book movie fan like yours truly might go hurtling back to the time when writer-director Quentin Tarantino and his contemporaries emerged on the scene in Hollywood. Back then, mid-budget dramas targeting adult theatergoers still seemed like the norm, as opposed to the exception.
Quotable dialogue and memorable characters come in all forms, including quippy, world-saving superheroes which, again, I like more than Martin Scorsese; but with its down-to-earth lowlives and street-based plot turns, Pulp Fiction is a reminder of an all but bygone cinema era. Indelible music, cineliterate stylings, and a novelistic format help round out the perfection that is Tarantino’s sophomore feature. A quarter-century ago, Pulp Fiction shook up what critic Gene Siskel called “the ossification of American movies.” For its sheer innovation and cultural impact, this remains the most important American film of the last twenty-five years.
The Other Great Redemption Movie of 1994
Given its initial box office failure and slow build to popularity on TV and home media, not everyone will remember the first time they watched The Shawshank Redemption. But do you remember the first time you saw the other great redemption movie of 1994: Pulp Fiction?
The first time I caught a snippet of it was when a friend and I snuck into it after buying tickets to A Goofy Movie. We had no interest in watching a G-rated Disney animated feature that day but we were 13-year-old middle schoolers and it seemed like the best way to smuggle ourselves into a violent R-rated flick. I remember seeing the definition of the word “pulp” come up onscreen, followed by the opening shot of the two loquacious lovebirds, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer, as they chilled in the booth at the diner they were about to rob. Two ushers promptly caught us and kicked us out the back door of the theater.
The repeated mentions of Disney here go toward illustrating a larger point about Tarantino and his place in the grand scheme of American pop culture. In 1994, the highest-grossing film was the The Lion King. In 2019, the second highest-grossing film is … The Lion King. Back in July of this year, Tarantino invoked Walt Disney’s name in his latest feature, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. In that movie, there is a scene where a precocious little girl, an actress, is reading a biography of Disney, talking about how he was a once-in-a-generation visionary. With its Leone-esque title, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood puts an improbable storybook spin on the Manson murders. It continues a wishful, history-correcting trend in Tarantino’s work that began ten years ago in Inglourious Basterds. Over the last decade, his films have become progressively more fantasy-like in their endings, which has led to some talk of his unpredictability becoming predictable.
Whatever you think of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood I’ve come to like it more as I’ve sat with it in my head since summer, it’s clear that Tarantino is, on some level, grappling with his own cinematic legacy in 2019 via that film. In 1994, Pulp Fiction showed him to be a visionary, if not necessarily one on the same empire-building, once-in-a-generation level as Walt Disney. Tarantino’s critics sometimes dismiss him as a mere pastiche artist who pilfers elements from other obscure movies, repackaging them as superficial homages in his own flashy flicks. By way of an example, in Pulp Fiction, the supposed Bible passage that Jules recites — Ezekiel 25:17 — is actually a longer speech that Tarantino lifted almost verbatim from the opening crawl of the ‘70s martial-arts film The Bodyguard, starring Sonny Chiba. Chiba would later go on to appear as the Man from Okinawa in Kill Bill, Vol. 1. You may know him as the sword-making sushi chef, Hattori Hanzo.
Much has been written about Pulp Fiction’s discursive, nonlinear narrative, how its stories intersect and snake back around on each other. The film offers up a trilogy of tales — or ouroboros tails, if you will — where the theme of redemption plays out in various ways. Over the summer, Sergeant Subtext, soldier of movie themes which is how I like to think of myself went back and rewatched all of Tarantino’s films in preparation for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I was particularly struck by how well Pulp Fiction held up in relation to his other films. When I felt like I finally, fully understood the movie these twenty-five years later, it caused me to reorder my Tarantino ranking prior to this, my favorite ‘90s film of his had been Reservoir Dogs. Newsflash: Pulp Fiction is still an unqualified masterpiece.
This time around with Pulp Fiction, I found myself focusing on the redemption theme along with a specific aspect of the film’s structure that had always struck me as somewhat random before. It has to do with the gheri-curled Jules — played by Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson — and his doughy partner, the aforementioned Vincent. Beyond the obvious answer that it sends them and us looping back into the movie, why does Pulp Fiction end the way it does, with Jules and Vincent walking out of the diner in clothes that make them look like “dorks?”
Jules sees divine intervention, “the touch of God,” written in his fate. His reform comes about after he and Vincent miraculously survive gunshots at point-blank range in an apartment with a glowing 666 briefcase which may or may not hold their boss’s soul, if you believe that vintage movie MacGuffin theory. Ready to retire now, Jules confesses that he never gave much thought to his quasi-religious, Chiba-inspired speech, the one he’s been saying for years as a warm-up for whacking his hitman targets. He tells Pumpkin, a.k.a. Ringo, “I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin’ made me think twice.”
Before his brush with death, Jules was a parrot of pop culture. He kept mindlessly repeating that Chiba-inspired speech, never knowing what it meant. His only reason for doing this was to entertain himself. Now, however, he’s able to offer up three different interpretations of what the speech might mean in the context of the diner robbery. Tarantino once said, “Movies are my religion and God is my patron.” Jules finds God and that entails walking away from the life of an unthinking peon in the pop culture farm.
New Adventures in Pop Culture Discernment
Non-fans of Tarantino might see Pulp Fiction as a film devoid of meaning, all style, no substance, with no deeper authorial intent beyond that of a riffing raconteur named Quentin. In this view, the film becomes the ultimate blank slate for cockamamie theorists and erudite pundits to project themselves onto—as the spirit of Tarantino, who’s got the gift of gab, if nothing else, rouses their pseudo-intellectual selves from the stupor of passive entertainment. Yet if you look closer, as American Beauty once told us to, the redemption theme is there in Pulp Fiction and it’s very much there by design. “It’s explicit throughout the piece,” Tarantino told Vanity Fair in a 2013 retrospective. As Jackson put it, “The people who are worth saving get saved.”
Jules lives to walk the earth and get into adventures, while Vincent — the hitman and heroin junkie who refuses to recognize providence when it’s staring him right in the face — dies coming out of the bathroom. There’s a whole section on Wikipedia detailing how Vincent spends entirely too much time in the bathroom. He’s in there on the toilet reading escapist spy novels and when he comes back out to the real world, something bad always happens. That’s life.
Chronologically, the first of his return trips from the movie bathroom lands him in the middle of Pumpkin and Honey Bunny’s diner robbery, where he joins them, gun drawn, to complete the obligatory Mexican standoff. The second lands him in the middle of Mia’s drug overdose, after she’s mistaken his heroin for cocaine and snorted it. The third results in his surprising death at the hands of the fugitive boxer, Butch Coolidge Bruce Willis, who shoots him with his own casually abandoned MAC-10.
Vincent had three chances to change his ways. Three strikes, you’re out. The moment that always stays with me is when one of his eyes sticks shut and he slurs his words in the restaurant booth after tasting Mia’s five-dollar milkshake. They’re parrying back and forth, having this mildly antagonistic conversation, and then we’re reminded that he’s on drugs. Both of them are lost souls, with Mia’s glassy eyes barely containing her disappointment in life. She didn’t make it as an actress and now her ennui only lifts when people deviate from the predictability of yakking about bullshit.
Unlike Vincent, the jerky, amoral Butch heeds the call to change. He drives off into the sunset on his Easy Rider motorcycle, having redeemed himself by going back to save his enemy from the Deliverance den where men are raped and gimps sleep in black bondage suits. The ball-gagged victim there is Marsellus Wallace Ving Rhames, the boss Butch betrayed. Marsellus put down good money so that Butch would take a dive in his boxing match but then Butch took the money, bet more on himself, didn’t take a dive, killed the other fighter, and ran. And didn’t feel the least bit bad about it.
Butch, too, faces the choice of which kind of movie hero to be. He can be the bad guy and go about fighting the hillbilly pawnshop rapists with a chainsaw or baseball bat, like Leatherface or Al Capone. Or he can choose a more honorable weapon: the samurai sword. Who knows, the one in the pawn shop might even be a Hattori Hanzo sword.
For Quentin Tarantino, redemption comes through discernment of pop culture. I imagine that’s why we’re all here, on sites like /Film: because we like pop culture and because our most meaningful experiences with it do enrich our lives, redeeming them, first, from boredom, and later, maybe if we have the eyes to see it, like Jules from the worthlessness of unexamined lives.
Jules awakens to the unreality of postmodernity. He escapes the trap of hollow consumption. He’s already undergone a baptism of sorts in the backyard of his friend, Jimmy, played by Tarantino himself. Jimmy and the Wolf, played by Harvey Keitel Tarantino’s first movie-god patron on Reservoir Dogs, stand by as Jules and Vincent strip off their bloody hitmen clothes in the backyard. The Wolf then sprays them off with a garden hose. It’s a subtler invocation of baptism than Shawshank’s outstretched prison-escapee arms in the rain, but it gets the job done.
Jules leaves the diner a newly enlightened person who can go out into the world in his dorky casual clothes and get into new adventures in pop culture discernment. He now walks the true path of the righteous man. Tarantino’s torch-bearing ‘90s opus lights his way through the Zeroville door, back into this movie and others.
The 'Jackie Brown' director said that casting Forster in the film was "one of the best choices I've ever made in my life."
Following the death of Jackie Brown actor Robert Forster on Friday, Quentin Tarantino released a statement about his friend and colleague.
"Today the world is left with one less gentlemen," wrote the director. "One less square shooter. One less good man. One less wonderful father. One less marvelous actor. I remember all the breakfasts we had at silver spoons. All the stories. All the kind words. All the support. Casting Robert Forster in Jackie Brown was one of the best choices I've ever made in my life."
Tarantino concluded his statement with, "I will miss you dearly my old friend. Bye bye Max. Bye bye Miles. Bye bye Bob."
Forster starred in Tarantino's 1997 crime drama Jackie Brown opposite Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro and Michael Keaton. For his performance as bail bondsman Max Cherry, Forster earned an Oscar nomination.
Tarantino was one of numerous industry veterans to release tributes to Forster over the weekend. Among them was his El Camino co-star Aaron Paul, who wrote on Twitter that Forster was a "beautiful man" and "a true gentleman."
The actor died of brain cancer at his Los Angeles home. He is survived by longtime partner Denise Grayson; his children Elizabeth, Bobby, Kate and Maeghen; and his grandchildren Tess, Liam, Jack and Olivia.
Details of his memorial service have yet to be announced.
Director Quentin Tarantino, who directed Robert Forster in his Academy Award-nominated role of Max Cherry in Jackie Brown, remember the late actor today as a “straight shooter” and “good man.”
“Today the world is left with one less gentlemen,” said Tarantino. “One less square shooter. One less good man. One less wonderful father. One less marvelous actor. I remember all the breakfasts we had at silver spoons. All the stories. All the kind words. All the support. Casting Robert Forster in Jackie Brownwas one of the best choices I've ever made in my life. I will miss you dearly my old friend.
Robert Forster — Jackie Brown — 1997
“Bye bye Max. Bye bye Miles. Bye bye Bob. “
Tarantino's statement was but the latest in an outpouring by Hollywood following the well-respected actor's death on Friday from brain cancer.
Forster appeared in more than 100 films, including his latest, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, released Friday via Netflix.
Forster completed three projects in 2019: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, StevenSpielberg's Amazing Stories and Werewolf.
Details of a memorial service have not yet been announced.
Deadline's Pete Hammond interviews Robert Forster on his craft.
It is no surprise how many people are expressing grief at the death of Robert Forster from brain cancer at age 78. It was far too soon. He’s actually on screen now, in Vince Gilligan’s “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which hit both theaters and Netflix this weekend.
Anyone who met Forster knows what a kindly man he was, often handing out elegant silver letter openers to set visitors and new acquaintances; he gave me my second at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where he was promoting the intimate family drama “What They Had.” He steals the movie and provides its emotional center as the tough but vulnerable patriarch doggedly hanging onto his wife Blythe Danner as she slips into Alzheimer’s.
Bryan Cranston described his “Alligator,” “Breaking Bad,” and “El Camino” costar Forster as a “lovely man and a consummate actor,” he tweeted. “I never forgot how kind and generous he was to a young kid just starting out in Hollywood.”
Talking to Forster and his partner Denise Grayson at the Bleecker Street table at last year’s Academy Governors Awards, Forster was grateful to be in constant demand during the last chapter of his film career, thanks to “the best job I ever had,” he told me. Quentin Tarantino rescued the seasoned character actor from a 13-year run of villain parts when he cast him to play honorable bail bondsman Max Cherry opposite Pam Grier as wily “Jackie Brown.”
Both actors made huge comebacks; Forster earned his only Oscar nomination. And after that, he happily embraced all number of juicy roles in films: the Farrelly brothers’ “Me Myself & Irene” opposite Jim Carrey, who brought him in; a tough military man with a temper in Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants“; Gus Van Sant’s remake of “Psycho”; David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive”; and as Sheriff Frank Truman on the continuation of “Twin Peaks,” among other TV series like “Grid,” “Karen Sisco,” “Heroes,” and “Last Man Standing.” Forster’s last role was in “Dynoman and the Volt,” in the upcoming Apple TV+ “Amazing Stories” reboot.
“Twin Peaks: The Return”
Forster grew up in Rochester, New York, and shared two loves in college: football and musical theater. He was talking to the woman who eventually became his wife when he wandered into a musical casting session for “Bye Bye Birdie.” He launched a Broadway career with “Mrs. Dally Has a Lover,” where Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck spotted him and signed him to a studio contract; John Huston cast him in Forster’s first movie “Reflections in a Golden Eye” 1967, opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.
Forster had a decent run in Hollywood in television and such films as Haskell Wexler’s “Medium Cool” until his career slowed down in the ’80s and he was forced by his agent who was lending him money to reluctantly take on his first bad guy in “The Delta Force” 1986. From there, Forster was stuck with a string of villains, and not unlike Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Forster played a recurring role on a western TV series, “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Luckily, Tarantino had always been a fan. When Forster engaged him in banter at a small LA restaurant, Tarantino told him he was adapting the Elmore Leonard novel “Rum Punch” and told him to read it. Six months later, the director returned to the restaurant and handed Forster his “Jackie Brown” script. “Read this,” he said. “See if you like it.”
Forster landed the part after a grueling seven-hour audition. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself,” Tarantino told him. “Just prepare the way you normally prepare.” Forster hadn’t had such a meaty role in 25 years. “You can’t make that up,” he told me.
Forster is survived by his children, Bobby, Elizabeth, Kate, and Maeghen, and his grandchildren, Tess, Liam, Jack, and Olivia.