From Dusk Till Dawn
Screenplay : Quentin Tarantino
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : George Clooney (Seth Gecko), Quentin Tarantino (Richie Gecko), Harvey Keitel (Jacob Fuller), Juliette Lewis (Kate Fuller), Cheech Marin (Guard, Chet, Carlos), Salma Hayeck (Santanico Pandemonium)
"From Dusk Till Dawn" is a movie screaming for a bad review. It has shallow characters, raunchy dialogue, and an overabundance of visually shocking gore and violence as its centerpiece. The problem is, in its own sick and twisted way, this movie is just too much fun not to like.
It was scripted by Quentin Tarantino (if you don't know who he is by now, you might as well stay in whatever cave you just crawled out of) and directed by Robert Rodriguez (the UT film student who gained instant notoriety by selling himself to science to pay for his low budget 1992 film "El Mariachi"). The script is actually one of Tarantino's oldest. He sold it four years ago for $1500 in order to get "Reservoir Dogs" made, and the rest is history.
"From Dusk Till Dawn" is a radical departure in genre for both Rodriguez and Tarantino, but it starts out in the typical fashion of both filmmakers. The witty and obscene dialogue is pure Tarantino, while the rigorously edited action sequences, wide angle shots of dusty highways, and off-the-road liquor stores and motels definitely belong to Rodriguez.
Early on we are introduced to the Gecko Brothers, Seth (George Clooney from television's "ER") and the slightly psychotic Richie (Tarantino in a role custom fitted to his spastic personality). They're bank robbers who are running for the Mexican border with the cops, the FBI, and the Texas Rangers following closely behind. At a motel they kidnap a family of three: an ex-preacher (Harvey Keitel with an on-again-off-again Texas accent), and his two children, the daughter played by Juliette Lewis with the same sweet innocence she emanated in 1991's "Cape Fear."
The first half of the film is standard fare. But near the middle of the film, everything changes and the real spectacle begins. The five central characters make it past the border and head to a strip bar called The Titty Twister. Standing completely by itself in the middle of the Mexican desert, surrounded by eighteen-wheelers and Harleys, it glows with neon perversity and calls so much attention to itself that the audience knows something big is bound to happen there. From that point on, the movie descends into a netherworld that defies description.
In a bizarre twist of fate, it turns out that the strippers, bouncers and bar tenders at The Titty Twister are, in fact, vampires. And not the beautiful, tragic vampires of Anne Rice novels, but grotesque, rabid, animalistic creatures. In a moment, the screen is suddenly filled with them, and the innocent patrons of the bar quickly meet a grisly fate that is filmed in an in-your-face sequence that leaves nothing to the imagination.
And so goes the rest of the movie. The last 45 minutes are devoted to nonstop carnage and gore as a stand-off ensues between the vampires and the surviving humans; something like Sam Raimi redoing "The Wild Bunch." It becomes a romp in excess as body parts fly, people are disemboweled, heads explode, and vampires are impaled with everything from chair legs to pencils.
It's shocking at first, and the squeamish will probably leave the theater in tears. But, if you stick around long enough, you realize that the violence is so exaggerated and so gratuitous, that it's impossible to take it seriously. And that's when the fun begins because you recognize that Tarantino and Rodriguez are not taking anything seriously either. They just want to push the envelope and be as outrageous as they possibly can. They use every cliché in the book to kill the Undead, everything from wooden stakes to crosses made out of shotguns.
There film is highlighted by good gags for film buffs, including Cheech Marin in a triple role and a long cameo by Tom Savini, the make-up special effects master who virtually invented this genre with his spectacular work in George A. Romero's 1978 film "Dawn of the Dead."
And like that film, "From Dusk Till Dawn" will draw controversy. Some people will think it's hilarious and invigorating, while others will find it absolutely obscene and wonder how it got past the MPAA Ratings Board.
When watching it, keep Tarantino's own description of the film at the forefront of your mind: "It's an exploitation movie," he happily admitted. "It's a head-banging, drive in movie."
Everything else is just details.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat