Quentin Tarantino, a master of blood, gore, death and ‘aesthetic violence’  

Over the years, Quentin Tarantino has turned the portrayal of violence in modern cinema by making gore fun to watch. Illustration by Prathap Ravishankar.

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino said that violence is one of the most fun things to watch and surely he’s applied this thought in all his creations in the best possible way.

Over the years, the winner of two Academy awards has turned the portrayal of violence in modern cinema by making gore fun to watch. You know you are experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions in a Tarantino movie when swords, bloodshed and high-intensity action scenes start to tickle your senses.

Since the 1990s – Tarantino one of the most influential directors in the business – has had fans waiting with bated breath. His latest release, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is no different. Here is a look at some of Tarantino’s trademarks and fetish.

Gore is fun

Revenge is the main theme of most Tarantino movies and with it, violence comes as a package. Bloodied hands, over-exaggerated display of uncensored violence and death form the crux of his films.

Violence in Tarantino’s movies are placed in unexpected moments, with scenes of three or more characters pointing guns at each other, supported by an intense scene to set the mood for a gory suspense.

Remember when Mr. Blonde uses a razor to cut Marvin Nash’s ear in Reservoir Dogs (1992)? Butch killing Maynard with a Samurai sword (katana) in Pulp Fiction (1994)? The graphic display of bloodshed and pure violence is the trademark move followed by the director in all of his eight movies till date.

The use of sharp weapons such as a butcher knife which Vernita Greene uses to fight the bride donning a samurai sword in Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Vol. 2 or even a Bowie knife used by Lt. Aldo Raine to cut a swastika in Colonel Hans Landa’s forehead in Inglorious Basterds (2009) is vividly witnessed in the movies.

And with Tarantino already mentioning that violence is one of the most fun things to watch, it’s evident that he has to power to aestheticize violence even for the non-violent impressed audience.

Normal is non-existent

Scenes from Tarantino’s movies are anything but normal. The extensive use of retrospect in Reservoir Dogs, non-linear the storyline in Pulp Fiction or even the chapter format used in Kill Bill Vol.1 and 2 are the kind of plots usually kept off-screen, however, the two-time BAFTA awardee likes to take the unconventional route.

A set pattern of one long unbroken take following the character leading to a plan that goes wrong often and extended dialogue delivery is also the key features that contribute to the movie having a stronger hold on the audience.

But quick cuts and extreme close-ups are also used equally to create a balance and make the movie more visually comfortable.

Tarantino seems to have a fetish for automobile and car trunks, since shots from inside the trunk and recording conversations of people inside the car are a thing in his movies.

However, he is specific of what cars to use too. General Motors vehicles are the personal favourites of the lead characters, particularly Chevrolet and Cadillac, such as Jules’ 1974 Nova and Vincent’s 1960s Malibu.

A dialogue-heavy entertainer Pulp Fiction is the best example to show how much screen time each character gets. The conversation between Tim Roth and Amanda Palmer is a classic which would look like chatter on paper but a treat on screen.

The recurring theme of honour among criminals like never seen before is balanced by the introduction of comedians in random places. Brutal protagonists and bigoted antagonists form the cinema to be gorier with each scene.

Repeated references to Wild West and World War II and nonchalant use of expletives make the movie dark yet comic.

Soundtrack that speaks

The Emmy and Grammy nominated director focuses the most on the score and soundtrack in his movies. Mostly backed with pre-recorded film music and songs set in 1960s to 1980s are the cult classics which make the scenes more powerful than ever.

Highly influenced by Ennio Morricone’s music, Tarantino’s selection of soundtracks have a lasting effect on the viewers.

What if the final battle scene from Thor: Ragnarok didn’t have Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in the background score to create the ambiance? It would have been a flop show.

Similarly, the final battle where Django goes on a shooting spree from Django Unchained is boosted to give the audience goosebumps with James Brown’s fusion rap “The Payback” and Tupac’s “Untouchable”.

But an audience favourite has to be David Bowie’s “Cat people” before Adolf Hitler is set on fire in Inglorious Basterds.

Cast and Characters

Tarantino is known to have his favourites in the industry. Be it actors, cinematographers or even directors, he is specific about whom he collaborates with.

A famous ensemble cast whose references are made in various movies is a vast variety of influencers. Some of his favourites are Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Uma Thurman, Michael Bowen, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Parks, and Christoph Waltz. However, special appearances with important roles are mostly donned by Samuel L. Jackson whose impact on the movie comes as no surprise.

In fact, Tarantino is known for giving powerful comebacks to characters from his previous movies. Forgotten actors and cult characters are seen making repeated appearances with important roles to play such as John Travolta in Pulp Fiction and David Carradine in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

Aliases form the basis of giving the characters depth in the story. Starting with Mr. White, Blonde and Orange in Reservoir Dogs, Honey Bunny and Pumpkin in Pulp Fiction to The Basterds from Inglorious Basterds, nearly in all his movies, Tarantino has used pseudonyms for his characters.

However, the director’s cameos are the highlight of his movies. Though Tarantino has played small roles in his movies, the influence he’s created is immense. Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs, Jimmie Dimmick in Pulp Fiction, the voice on answering machine in Jackie Brown, The Rapist in Grindhouse and Warren in Death Proof are some of his screen appearances.

Power-packed references

Tarantino is a man who loves to mix and match. His movies are full of strong references and flashbacks from the past. The screenwriter once said that his filmography is highly influenced by the Italian filmmaker Sergio Leon and Elvin Persley.

In an interview with the Empire magazine in 1994, Tarantino said that he steals from every movie ever made starting right from Reservoir Dogs from City on Fire, Kill Bill from Game of Death and Lady of Snow Ball, Django unchained from Django and Jackie Brown from Foxy Brown.

His repeated references to the Wild West and World War II makes its presence felt, for instance with Adolf Hitler’s death in Inglorious Basterds. The movies have references to Tarantino’s home state Tennessee. From Butch’s plan to meet his partner in Knoxville in Pulp fiction to Lt. Aldo Raine hailing from Maynardville, Tennessee in Inglorious Basterds, the director has made enough references to tell where he hails from.

Fun fact

Red Apple cigarettes and Big Kahuna Burger is still fresh in the minds of people since their first use in Reservoir Dogs in 1992 as Tarantino’s love for them keeps bringing them back. Also, the characters use the phrase “Bingo” extensively and that’s something interesting.

Talking about fetish, Tarantino seems to have an obsession with a woman’s foot. Extreme close-ups following the female feet have appeared in every Tarantino movie. It’s as if you know you’re watching a Tarantino movie if the female feet fetish is thoroughly fulfilled. Uma Thurman features barefoot during the introduction of Mia in Pulp Fiction. Feet of lead characters hanging out of the window and talking about foot massages, Tarantino movies have it all.

Tarantino also pays homage to cult genres such as Heist, Blaxploitation, Kung Fu and Spaghetti Western which sums up the influence references from the yesteryear have on his movies and life.

It’ll be interesting to see which of these you will spot while watching Quentin Tarantino’s 9th movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood featuring Leonardo Di Caprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie, releasing on August 15 in theatres near you.