On the most recent installment of the “Empire” magazine podcast, Quentin Tarantino names the Spahn Ranch sequence in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” one of “the best things that me and my team have ever accomplished” (via The Independent). The filmmaker, who scored a Best Director Oscar nomination for his work on the movie, goes as far as saying the set piece has more “terror” in it than Jonathan Demme’s famous climax to “The Silence of the Lambs,” which centered on Clarice Sterling’s night vision showdown with serial killer Buffalo Bill.
”There’s a difference between suspense and terror,” Tarantino said. “Suspense is what’s going to happen. Terror is [when] you’re afraid you know exactly what’s going to happen and you don’t want to see it. You think the worst.”
While Tarantino believes Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs” sequence is “magnificent,” he argued classifying the climax as “terror” would be incorrect. For Tarantino, the sequence falls into the “suspense” category as the viewer always knows what’s going to happen.
“I did not think Jodie Foster was going to die,” Tarantino said. “At that point in the movie, I would have been surprised if it ended with Buffalo Bill killing Jodie Foster. I’ve seen too many movies to think that that was going to happen. I got caught up in the moment, but I still had a movie brain going on.”
Tarantino views his Spahn Ranch sequence in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” as “terror” because the viewer is less certain of what is going to happen. The director explained, “One of the reasons the [Spahn ranch] scene works so effectively is Cliff could die. Narratively, movie wise, in every way shape and form, not only could he die in that sequence, dramatically it might even make sense that he dies.”
“When you watch the movie with an audience [for] the first time, it achieves something that I think is very difficult to achieve in a movie,” Tarantino continued. “It achieves terror; the audience is terrified for Cliff. The air in the theater changes. Everyone becomes riveted and they’re genuinely afraid.”
Speaking to IndieWire in 2019, “Hollywood” editor Fred Raskin remembered getting the dailies from the Spahn Ranch sequence and thinking Tarantino had suddenly created his own version of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” As Raskin said, “The sense of dread that goes through that entire sequence is palpable.”
Listen to Tarantino’s recent appearance on the “Empire” podcast here.