Should I Watch..? 'From Dusk Till Dawn'
What's the big deal?
From Dusk Till Dawn is an action horror film released in 1996 and was directed by Robert Rodriguez. Written by Robert's close friend Quentin Tarantino, the film follows a dangerous pair of criminals who hijack a retired pastor's RV in an attempt to safely make it to the border with Mexico. Unfortunately, they pick possibly the worst place in the world to stop for the night and they find themselves trapped in a desperate fight for survival. The film stars Tarantino, George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis with cameos from Cheech Marin and Salma Hayek, stars of Rodriguez's earlier film Desperado. The film was released to a largely positive response from critics and went on to earn a worldwide total of $59.3 million. The film's stature has increased since its released and is now a cult favourite among fans. It also spawned two direct-to-DVD sequels while Rodriguez himself produced a TV series based on the film in 2014.
What's it about?
Professional bank robbers Seth and Richie Gecko - also known as the Gecko Brothers - are attempting to flee justice by making their way across the Mexican border to safety. After holding up a liquor store and killing the store clerk and a Texas Ranger in the process, they return to their motel room where Seth discovers that Richie has murdered their hostage from the bank raid. It's clear that they are going to need a new way of getting to Mexico.
Fortunately, the motel sees the arrival of retired pastor Jacob Fuller and his two grown children Kate and Scott in their family RV. Seizing the opportunity, Seth and Richie hijack their RV and persuade Jacob to take them to the Titty Twister - a remote strip club where the Geckos will meet their contact Carlos in the morning. Having safely crossed the border, they head for the bar but they are unaware of the unimaginable terrors that await them...
Richard "Richie" Gecko
Katherine "Kate" Fuller
Border Guard / Carlos / Chet Pussy
Release Date (UK)
31st May, 1996
Action, Crime, Horror
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst Supporting Actor (Tarantino)
What's to like?
It's a delight to find two such talented film-makers teaming up to produce a solid replica of a B-movie, which this film certainly is. Despite the A-list cast, the film is actually pretty dumb and little effort is made to disguise its low budget. But that's the point - like their later collaboration Grindhouse, From Dusk Till Dawn is supposed to look almost cheesy but still deliver lots of bloody action, tongue-in-cheek humour and low budget shocks. And they are all present in this film which begins solidly enough as a tale of two pursued criminals making a dash for the border before it violently switches around midway through, as though the director has been replaced overnight by a madman who suddenly wants to direct a gore-soaked vampire flick.
All the cast deliver performances that suit the material from Clooney's reluctant hero to Keitel's reformed pastor rediscovering his faith. Lewis has probably the hardest role to play but acquits herself brilliantly, going from naive teenager to traumatised warrior in a way that you completely buy into. I also enjoyed the cameo from horror legend and make-up artist extraordinaire Tom Savini as the larger-than-life hombre Sex Machine, equipped with possibly the most ridiculous firearm in history! Despite the bloodshed, violence and mayhem, the film retains a rich comic vein from the very beginning to the very end - in fact, it's possibly the funniest film either Tarantino or Rodriguez have ever worked on.
- Despite desperately wanting the part of the bar's exotic dancer, Salma Hayke had a real fear of snakes which she knew would prevent her from taking the role. However, Rodriguez convinced her that Madonna was also reading for the part so Hayek spent two months in therapy to help her overcome her phobia.
- Speaking of Santanico Pandemonium, the character was originally going to be called Blonde Death. Inspired by her performance in Desperado, Tarantino wrote the role for Hayek and renamed the character after a gory 1975 Mexican film called Satanico Pandemonium - one which Tarantino had seen on the shelves of the video store where he used to work.
- The film contains many references to other work by Tarantino. Seth brings back a takeaway from Big Kahuna Burger which was memorably used in Pulp Fiction, he also says "All right, ramblers. Let's get ramblin'" which was used in Reservoir Dogs and the character of Earl McGraw becomes a recurring character in Kill Bill, Death Proof and Rodriguez' Planet Terror.
What's not to like?
Rarely have I seen a film with such a split personality as From Dusk Till Dawn, which feels like two mini movies bolted together. The first half is more tense and (dare I say it) interesting as these criminals hijack the holiday of the peaceful Fuller family, the threat of violence never being too far away especially with the disturbed Richie on board. But the second half seems to dispense with the narrative altogether and settles for being a blood-drenched orgy of destruction with a variety of unusual vampire slayers and the familiar audience-pondering of which characters will survive the ordeal. It's not big, clever or subtle but at least you're having a good time.
I wasn't a fan of the vampire makeup which looks faintly silly. If one were to revisit Bram Stoker's novel Dracula (or even the Bela Lugosi film adaptation from 1931) as the font of all knowledge for vampire lore, I don't recall a mention of the good Count looking like an extra on some sci-fi TV show with ridges along the neck and forehead. It just took me out of the moment somewhat. I also would have liked more interplay between the Gecko brothers as well as a bit more depth to the Fuller family. I realise that a limited budget can only get you so much running time but it might have made the second half of the film more affecting if we'd spent some significant time with these people. As it is, they feel more like characters in some demented video-game which looks fun but a bit repetitive.
Should I watch it?
Anybody looking for some disposable violence and shameless blood-letting will be perfectly happy with this film which feels exactly just as B-movie as Desperado did but with a more mental screenplay. The film is a lot of fun so my advice is to not take it too seriously and watch it with all that candy you've procured trick-or-treating - although this obviously isn't for kids! The film is a curious blend of interesting thriller and explosive action and if you throw in some humorous characters, amusing cameos and vampires, what more could you possibly want?
Great For: Halloween, B-movie fans, anyone wanting to see Salma Hayek wearing next-to-nothing but a snake, unexpected comedy
Not So Great For: horror virgins, Mexican dive bars, the squeamish
What else should I watch?
It's difficult to imagine the Grindhouse project ever getting green-lit if this film had flopped or never found an audience. Grindhouse is the name of two films originally planned to be watched back-to-back, one directed by Tarantino and one directed by Rodriguez, which harked back to the days of trashy cinema showing at drive-in or discount cinemas. Bookended by trailers for equally trashy cinema (that ironically would inspire three real-life movies), Rodriguez' Planet Terror sees Texan go-go dancer Rose McGowan attempt to lead a group of survivors to safety after a chemical weapons leak turns the townsfolk into murderous cannibals. Tarantino's Death Proof depicts a blood-thirsty psychopathic stunt-man who targets a group of young women in his supposedly death-proof car, a souped-up muscle car. Both films are as demented as each other but follow a similar mantra to From Dusk Till Dawn of being entertaining in their own, grubby way. And the three films spawned from Grindhouse: Machete and the sequel Machete Kills and the amusingly named Hobo With A Shotgun. Don't expect anything deep and meaningful from these titles.
The problem with comedy horror films is that they often aren't that successful a merging - they're either too funny to work as a horror or too scary to work as a comedy. But when the balance is right, the results can be spectacular. Take the widely admired Shaun Of The Dead as an example - a film that owes a debt of gratitude to the likes of George A. Romero in portraying a zombie apocalypse but retains a genuinely hilarious comic streak throughout and is worth watching whether you are a veteran or horror films or not. And while it may look a little rough around the edges these days, I'd still recommend Gremlins for its mischievous sense of humour, subversion of the festive period and of course, its overly cute protagonist Gizmo.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox