e-mail:Smokey X. Digger
From Dusk Till Dawn
1996, Dir. Robert Rodriguez
From Dusk Till Dawn is the greatest movie I've ever seen in my life.
O.K., so I exaggerate. But it is pretty damn cool, and probably the best vampire movie of the last decade. Consider it the anti-Hunger. You ain't gonna find any moody Lestat Anne Rice bullshit here. Nor are you gonna find Lili fucking Taylor as a college student vampire as in The Addiction (Christopher Walken as a vampire, how do you screw that up?). Just like in the tagline: "Vampires. No interviews." These vamps suck blood and are proud of it, are ugly, hideous and proud of it, and Salma Hayek's their leader.
You can bet they're proud of that.
In 1996 Quentin Tarantino was some hot shit, Resevoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction having garnered him a reputation, and having a hand in True Romance and Natural Born Killers bolstered it. So his involvement in From Dusk Till Dawn primed many for a typically Tarantino gun fest with someone saying the word "fuck" every fifteen seconds; and for about the first hour, that's what one gets.
The film opens with a classic bit of Tarantino dialogue between a Sheriff and the clerk of a liquor store. After the requisite number of dirty words, the Sheriff goes off to take a pee. Enter bank robber / murderer Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his murderer / sex-offender brother Ritchie (Tarantino) along with two female hostages. Needless to say, before they escape the Sheriff gets a bullet in the head, Ritchie gets one through the hand, the clerk gets set on fire and shot, and the building goes up in flames and explodes. The boys pull into a motel and remove a middle-aged female hostage from the trunk. Seth lays down the law, and then leaves Ritchie alone with the woman. After viewing a news report where and FBI agent (Iniquity Films deity John Saxon) vows to hunt down the brothers, Ritchie rapes and kills her. He's a bit of a loose cannon. They then cross paths with faithless ex/minister Jacob (Harvey Keitel) and his children Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (someone of little consequence). The Geckos convince Jacob to bring them down to Mexico where they can evade the law. Jake has little choice and stows them away in his motor home. They set off for the Titty Twister where Seth is to meet Carlos, and from there move on to El Rey. They arrive at the Titty Twister, which is only open from dusk till dawn. They kick the shit out of the host, and witness some exotic dance courtesy of Satanico Pandaemonium (Salma Hayek). Ritchie ends up bleeding from a knife wound. Satanico notices the blood and ...
Forget everything you just read. Up until this point it was standard Tarantino doing his '90s Sam Peckinpah shtick (even referencing The Wild Bunch in the first scene). From here on in the film takes a serious left turn into the realm of Romero, Raimi, and even Fulci. Look, is that Fred Williamson? Whoah, is that Tom Savini? This just keeps getting better. Led by Satanico, the patrons and staff of the bar turn into blood sucking vampires and start tearing shit up. Our major characters band together and fight back, and there is gore aplenty. Flesh nibbled off, bites spurting blood, at least one slit throat, stakes galore, this is something else. And that's not even the best part. For the rest of the flick, the usual cliches of "humans under siege by evil creatures" come into play, and one by one they are reversed.
Cliche #1 - Bad people die. This one is acknowledged, as Tarantino's Ritchie is vampirized by Satanico and then put down by Seth. Seth however flaunts this horror flick tradition by surviving right up to the end. He also apparently had some kind of bullet / vampire repellent spray on because he manages to escape every bullet, splinter, stake, fang, etc. without a scratch.
Cliche #2- Good people don't die. Nuh-uh. Keitel's Jacob is vampirized and killed, and his son Scott is set upon by several vampires and dies a horrible death.
Cliche #3 - "That's not your _____ (insert family relation here) anymore!!" We all know this scenario. Someone's loved one turns into a vampire, zombie, Scientologist, Osmond, etc. The person fails to recognize that their loved one is now a mindless bloodthirsty creature and won't kill them. They in turn, get killed by their former acquaintance. Tarantino turns this cliche on its head not once, twice, but three times. Seth stakes Ritchie, Scott kills his father, and Kate kills Scott.
Cliche #4 - The criminal discovers his heart of gold. Seth and Kate are the only ones left standing at the end. Carlos shows up and he and Seth do business. Seth throws Kate some money and tells her to go home, as he goes off to El Rey and safety from the American authorities to live in carefree splendor. Instead of suddenly reforming, he stays true to his bastardness. OK, so he didn't kill her, he let her go home. Big whoop, what home does she have to go to? Her mother's been dead, and her father and brother have just been slaughtered by vampires.
IN CLOSING: Despite all my hemming and hawing, From Dusk Till Dawn isn't a perfect film. Its unlikely that the band of heroes would display such poise and vampire killing skill in their situation. Keitel's regaining of his faith is unconvincing and the only blemish in an otherwise worthy performance. The vampires vastly outnumber the humans, but are put down a bit too easily. But the film makes up for its shortcomings with several clutch performances. Clooney is convincingly badass, and Tarantino pulls off his neurotic rapist alarmingly well. His interaction with Lewis is quite unsettling. Keitel, Savini, Williamson, and Cheech Marin in three roles give strong support. And Juliette Lewis does what Juliette Lewis does best: portray a young woman who may or may not be a little slow. One can only wish that John Saxon had a larger role. The origin of these vampires is a refreshing twist as well. This film is a great ride, fans of Tarantino and fans of good-old fashioned gore shouldn't miss. This movie may not be "Friggin' brilliant", but it gets my second highest endorsement: it "Fuckin' rocks".
A review by someone who knows what they're doing: The Bad Movie Report