With one foot in the past and the other firmly planted in the future, the iconic filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has unparalleled knowledge of the history of cinema, suffusing the identity of creatives across the globe into his own vision. Having helped to shape the very fabric of contemporary cinema, Tarantino has imbued the modern medium with his own sharp sense of pace and sophistication. From the cinematography to the soundtrack, the films of Quentin Tarantino embody one complete cinematic vision.
Just as he borrows from film history to inspire his genre stories, Tarantino also takes iconic soundtracks of the past, from films such as the Japanese action film Lady Snowblood and John Ford’s classic The Searchers for use in his own pictures. Rich with songs that both reference popular culture as well as the history of cinema, Quentin Tarantino usually has a deft ear for the most appropriate soundtracks with his 2003 film Kill Bill: Vol. 1 showing off the director’s most impressive collection of songs.
Asking RZA, a member of the iconic hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan to help score the film, the soundtrack for Kill Bill: Vol 1 is a mashup of original tracks and repurposed songs from the history of cinema.
Covering the complete journey of Uma Thurman’s Bride from plight to ultimate success, let’s take a look at every hidden reference between the Kill Bill: Vol 1 soundtrack.
The hidden references of the Kill Bill: Vol 1 soundtrack:
Quincy Jones – ‘The Theme from Ironside’ (1967)
Of all the songs in Kill Bill: Vol 1, Quincy Jones’ theme from Ironside is among the most popular tracks, with the strange siren underlining many of the film’s most violent and dramatic moments.
Occurring throughout the film as a continuing motif, the opening of the song appears when Thurman’s Bride comes face to face with her most dangerous adversaries. As well as an ode to the series Ironside, this motif also nods back to the kung-fu film Five Fingers of Death directed by Jeong Chang-Hwa that also uses the now-iconic theme.
Bernard Herrmann – ‘Twisted Nerve’ (1968)
That iconic, catchy whistle seemingly performed by Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver in the film is a strangely creepy tune that causes a shiver through the spine, particularly as it appears shortly before the Bride is brutally attacked.
The very same whistle actually originates from the song ‘Twisted Nerve’ by Bernard Herrmann from the film of the same name directed by Roy and John Boulting and starring Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett and Billie Whitelaw.
Bixio Frizzi & Tempera – ‘7 note’ (1977)
Shortly after the Bride is attacked in the hospital, she escapes unharmed after biting the lip of her enemy off. As she recovers the sound of ‘7 note’ by Bixio Frizzi & Tempera can be heard.
A slow, creeping song, this musical moment is lifted from the 1977 film The Psychic from the iconic horror director Lucio Fulci of whom Quentin Tarantino was a big fan. The film starred Jennifer O’Neill, Marc Porel and Gabriele Ferzetti.
Multiple songs – ‘The Anime Sequence’
There are simply too many songs to name that appear in Kill Bill’s violent anime sequence that tells of O-Ren Ishii’s childhood, with Quentin Tarantino taking inspiration from several moments of Western and Eastern filmmaking.
Telling the brutal story of her father’s death, much of the scene uses ‘Grand Duel’ from Luis Bacalov, taken from the film The Grand Duel by director Giancarlo Santi. ‘Run Fay Run’ by Isaac Hayes follows when O-Ren assassinates the president, a song also taken from Three Tough Guys, a 1974 film by Duccio Tessari.
Finally, when O-Ren’s father brutally receives a sword through the head, ‘The Long Day of Vengeance’ by Armondo Trovajoli can be heard, lifted from the western Long Days of Vengeance directed by Florestano Vancini.
Al Hirt – ‘The Green Hornet Theme’ (1966)
Another iconic tune of the Kill Bill soundtrack, the frantic, insane sound of Al Hirt’s Green Hornet theme can be heard when the Bride’s plane is flying over an orange sunset, itself a reference to Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell from director Hajime Sato.
The track is, of course, taken from the classic 1966 TV series that starred none other than Bruce Lee, with many of the influential actors’ films being referenced throughout Kill Bill: Vol 1.
Tomoyasu Hotei – ‘Battle Without Honour or Humanity’ (2000)
As the film nears its explosive final sequence, the film’s references also heighten, with several references to kung-fu films being used from the cinematography to the costumes.
When we first see the antagonists, ‘The Crazy 88’, ‘Battle Without Honour or Humanity’ by Tomoyasu Hotei plays, an epic score that, by its own name, works to define the imminent scene of violence. The song also appears in the film Battle Without Honor Or Humanity by director Junji Sakamoto.
Ennio Morricone – ‘Death Rides a Horse theme’ (1967)
Shortly before the Bride begins to fight O-Ren Ishii and ‘The Crazy 88’ she stares up at her antagonist from the grand main room.
Whilst she stares in a standoff with O-Ren Ishii, the theme from Death Rides a Horse directed by Giulio Petroni and composed by Ennio Morricone, a favourite of Quentin Tarantino who would go on to create the soundtrack for his 2015 film The Hateful Eight.
Meiko Kaji – ‘Flower of Carnage’ (1974)
In the end, Uma Thurman’s Bride comes out on top, killing O-Ren Ishii in a frosty fight sequence under snowy twilight. After she falls, ‘Flower of Carnage’ from Meiko Kaji plays.
It’s probably the aptest way to bookend the film, considering the song is well known for appearing in the 1973 classic Lady Snowblood from director Toshiya Fujita, the film on which much of Kill Bill is based. What’s more, the song itself is sung by the lead actor of Lady Snowblood Meiko Kaji.