From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Starring Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Michael Parks, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, and Cheech Marin.
Seth and Richie Gecko, a pair of escaped criminals on the run seek refuge, along with a family of hostages, in a bar on the US/Mexican border. Unbeknownst to the brothers and their prisoners however, the bar is a haven for a horde of vampires.
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have carved themselves a unique corner of the cinema landscape. The pair (especially Tarantino) using their love of old school B-movie grindhouse cinema to create affectionate throwbacks that honour a proud past of good old fashioned All American schlock. Released twenty five years ago today is one such work, an unlikely melding of a road trip, crime flick and gore-drenched terror that is also one of my favourite horror films ever; From Dusk Till Dawn.
Many films can best be described as one of two halves. For instance, one might start as a slow-burning character drama, while gradually transforming into scare-fest of loud clanging noises. Some can manage this precarious juggling act while others struggle. However, From Dusk Till Dawn isn’t so much a film of two halves, instead, it feels more like two halves of two completely different films.
For almost the first hour; the film is a road trip in which criminals Seth and Richie Gecko kidnap a family to make a getaway to Mexico to escape the authorities. The tone is very much in the vein of Tarantino’s films, a mixture of violence, profanity and snappy quips as our unlikely companions find themselves forced together. While light on action, this half is a great way to get the ball rolling. The dialogue is sharp and laced with Tarantino’s usual rapid-fire style and liberal use of cursing and the odd pop-culture reference. Violence is depicted in a relatively realistic fashion, particularly in the gruesome aftermath of an off-screen rape and murder that is shown quick, blink and you’ll miss it, flashes. The majority of the scene focusing on George Clooney’s horrified face, an approach that stands out for its restraint. Also, this half seems to suggest that this film takes place in the same world as Tarantino and Rodriguez’s other films, with the character of Sheriff Earl McGraw (played by Michael Parks) later re-appearing in Kill Bill and both parts of Grindhouse. Makes me think that the Gecko’s once did business with the Vega brothers.
When things change though is when we arrive at the Titty Twister, the rowdiest bar in all of Mexico that is, as our heroes find out, run by blood-sucking vampires. Most films would make this change from comedic crime film to blood-soaked horror a slow one, gradually easing the viewer between the genres. Tarantino and Rodriguez, on the other hand, switch genres while distracting us with a sultry dance by the wonderfully named Santanico Pandemonium (performed by Salma Hayek in a short but very memorable appearance). It’s a scene that also seems to have been included, particularly in one notable moment, to satisfy Tarantino’s foot fetish. The man loves his toes.
Once the dance is over though, all hell breaks loose. The film transforming into a relentless, action-packed, green goo soaked splatter fest as our heroes are forced to do battle with the undead. It’s fast-paced gruesome stuff that is loaded with many stand out moments, such as effects guru Tom Savini battling his foes with a phallic-shaped gun or Fred Williamson, during a pause, regaling us with the most gruesome ‘I was in Nam’ story ever. My personal favourite, however, is Harvey Keitel using a shotgun/baseball bat combo to form a make-shift cross, using the combined power of Jesus and 12 gauge to blast the crap out of the fanged beasts. There is a lot to love about From Dusk Till Dawn, and if I could, I would spend the rest of this review detailing all of it. But, just go and watch the damn thing already.
On the acting front, George Clooney dominates the film as Seth Gecko, a ruthless criminal whose voluminous tongue-twisting profanity and short temper are matched only by his almost admirable levels of professionalism. It’s great fun to watch Clooney, who I usually regard as a dapper charming leading man or as a more serious dramatic actor, excelling at playing a real son of a bitch. Yet, even though he’s a bastard, he’s not a fucking bastard, still playing the role with enough charm and charisma that make this otherwise violent thug into a likeable anti-hero. The supporting cast (which also includes Tarantino himself) is also great. Although Cheech Marin steals the limelight with his trio of roles, most notably the gentleman known as Chet Pussy, a colourful individual who, in his hilarious introduction, helpfully informs us about all the plentiful varieties of female nether regions available at his drinking establishment.
If you can’t tell already; I fucking love From Dusk Till Dawn. Perfectly paced, sharply scripted with a wicked sense of humour, drenched in old school sleaze and soaked through with gooey gory green goodness (that’s a lot of alliteration); From Dusk Till Dawn might not be high art, but it is a bloody great time. Check this one out. And be cool. YOU! Be Cool.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★