From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter
Review by Mike Finkelstein
Back in the days of the old Wild West, an outlaw, Johnny Madrid (Marco Leonardi) was about to be hanged (presumably for being a criminal). Among the crowd was Esmerlda (Ara Celi), a young woman in love with Madrid who also was the daughter of the Hangman (Temuera Morrison). Madrid narrowly escapes his death, and takes Esmerlda with him on his flight from the law.
Watching the proceedings was Ambrose Bierce (Michael Parks), a writer disillusioned with life who looked to make a legacy for himself by joining Pancho Villa's army. Bierce ends up on a stagecoach with a newlywed couple (Lennie Loftin and Rebecca Gayheart) who were on their way to setup a small bible school. They're attacked by Madrid's gang and are forced to go, on foot, across the desert to look for shelter.
What they find is an old seemingly abandoned inn and tavern, which just so happens to be the future location of the Titty Twister (of course, because it wouldn't be a prequel without the Titty Twister). All of our various characters end up at the tavern, and then vampires! The heroes and villains were forced to work together to escape the evil tavern, but only so many were going to make it out alive.
As with the first two movies, The Hangman's Daughter has us watching the adventures of ciminals and low-lifes as they make their way through life, all before ending up at the evil tavern and surprising us with vampires. If there's a formula to these movies, "and vampires!" would easily sum it up. There's no suprise left, so it's up to the actors to make their characters interesting enough before the vampires show up that we care about watching them die afterwards.
To that end, two characters stand-out above the fodder. Michael Parks makes his drunken asshole of a characer, Ambrose Bierce, the most enganging character in the movie. He's on his way to Pancho Villa, sick of life, tired of everyone, and sarcastic as all get-out. He's fun to watch, and steals every scene he's in. Without Parks, Hangman's Daughter would have been a largely unwatchable mess of a movie (for a largely unwatchable mess of a movie, see From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money).
Marco Leonardi also puts in a fine performance as Johnny Madrid. A more quiet, dark character, Madrid is shown to be thoughtful at times, and yet driven all the same. Leonardi gives Madrid a soulful quality that says "I'm a criminal, and yet, you'd almost think I don't want to be, despite how good I am at it." He's not a scene stealer, but his sections of the movie aren't boring, and I certainly could have watched more of him.
Sadly, the big gaping hole in the movie is also supposed to be the big connection to the first From Dusk Till Dawn movie -- Esmerelda. Not to ruin any of the plot-points (that is, if you really wanted to watch this movie), but Esmerelda is a character seemingly tied to events in the first flick, and watching her evolution is supposed to be interesting and a major plot-driver of the movie. Sadly, Esmerelda is under-written and under-played. She has nothing to do in the script except act as the damsel-in-distress, and Ara Celi can't even seem to give the character any fire, making all of us wonder why Johnny Madrid is so interested in her (or why she was made the titular character of the flick).
Of course, the other major issue with the flick is the "and then vampires!" moment. Once the vampires come on screen, all the various inter-twining plots are thrown out (literally, as one character basically says "all our bullshit will just have to wait"). The slow simmer of plots is ignored, and characters are simply picked off one by one, leaving a lot of potentially climactic confrontations by the wayside all so we can see vampires eat people. As with the first movie, this ends up completely killing the momentum of the movie we were watching, and everything ends up a vampire slog-fest.
As with the first two movies, too, the vampires just aren't interesting. The vampires are motivated by a single-minded determination to kill, eat, and possibly turn everyone around them, making them less characters than simple dangers to be killed and avoided. You don't care if any of the vampires die, and because the vampire effects are horrendously low-budget, you don't want to watch them die either.
In the end we're left with a movie that, as with Texas Blood Money, very much wants to be the first film and just can't manage to get its act together (not that the first movie was a rousing success, either). Better performances make this movie more watchable than Texas Blood Money, but there's still very little to recommend about The Hangman's Daughter. There are far, far better vampire movies out there.