From Dusk Till Dawn
from dusk till dawn | robert rodriguez | quentin tarantino | harvey keitel | george clooney | juliette lewis | vampire | vampires | vacation | action | crime | united states | mexico | ernest liu | salma hayek | cheech marin | danny trejo | tom savini | fred williamson
Film: From Dusk Till Dawn
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney and Juliette Lewis
Now this is an interesting film for me, because I recall watching this on the movie channels growing quite a bit. It always seemed to be on. The crazy thing though is I had no idea who Quentin Tarantino was until a bit after. There are also actors here that I would grow to realize who they are and their significance. This is now my second watch with a critical eye as I got to see this in the theater at the Gateway Film Center for a series they’re doing with vampires over the winter.
Synopsis: two criminals and their hostages unknowingly seek temporary refuge in a truck stop populated by vampires with chaotic results.
We start this film with Pete Bottoms (John Hawkes) working at a liquor store in Texas. He has a chat with Earl McGraw (Michael Parks), who is a Ranger. They go back and forth until the subject turns to two criminals who are on the loose. Earl uses the bathroom and we see the guys they’re talking about there. They’re brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Tarantino). They’re upset with Pete and just want him to get rid of Earl so they can leave. Richard claims that Pete is tipping off Earl so a gunfight ensues. In the end it leaves Pete and Earl dead with the liquor store up in flames. Seth is irate with Richard as they flee.
The two of them hold up in a cheap motel and we see that they have a hostage. She is told the rules of how to survive as Seth leaves to scope out their path to the border. The film then shifts to a family that is on vacation. Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) is a former priest who is having a crisis of faith after his wife passed away. With him are his daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) and son Scott (Ernest Liu). This family ends up at the same motel.
When Seth returns to the room, he finds that Richard has done something to their hostage. This angers him and they need a new plan to get over the border. This leads them to taking the Fuller family hostage. We see that Richard has mental issues as he thinks Kate makes a vulgar request.
They make it across the border and end up at a bar called the Titty Twister. It has a rough crowd and at first Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) won’t serve them. Jacob diffuses the situation when he proves he has a trucker’s license and they’re allowed to stay. Their attention is drawn to Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) entices everyone with a seductive dance. The night takes a turn when she and the others that work there reveal what they really are. This becomes a nightmare they’ll never forget.
As I kind of alluded to, I used to watch this one all the time and still enjoy it. It has such an interesting set up. If you had no idea what this film was about, you get a Tarantino crime film for the first part of it. Seth is in charge and is trying to get them across the border. On the other side you have the psychopath Richard who is sensitive if he is questioned. There is an even more interesting dynamic when you consider how Jacob interacts with Seth. He has the gull to call him out, but Seth sees he’s right. That comes down to how you word it. It just this hardened criminal can be questioned by a former priest. Seth knows that Jacob is right in what he is saying so that helps to see logic.
The film takes that dark tonal shift at the Titty Twister, which I also enjoy that aspect. I do have to say that the characters are way over the top, like Sex Machine (Tom Savini) who has a gun on his groin. He wouldn’t be able to shoot it unless there’s a mechanism that I’m not aware of, but that’s the comedy of the film. I will be honest; it does hurt my rating a bit as it does bring down the realism. I do understand this is a vampire film, but everything else is grounded. There are other bits of comedy. When its dialogue, it works.
The vampire part of the film I like as well. I do find it interesting that they are different looks to them. Santanico looks very similar to a snake when she turns, which is interesting as that is what she is dancing with. Others look quite monstrous and you get even more of that from the ones that show up later in the film as well, who are more like bats. It is almost like vampires from all over convene here at night to feed. There is a reveal at the end that explains things slightly and I absolutely love it.
That brings me to the pacing, which I think is great. I never find myself bored here. There’s a great way of introducing the characters that just feels natural and getting to know them. Even though you know the Gecko brothers are criminals, you worry about them getting over the border. We should be like Scott and want them to get caught, but there’s a charisma that makes you question yourself. That is an interesting duality to the film. There is never a lull and I love the reveal at the end. I remember the first time seeing it and just thinking it was great.
To move this next to the acting, which is great and carries this. I’m not sure if Clooney ever did horror movies before or after this, but he is so charismatic that I feel like he is Seth. There is something about him even when he is doing bad things that I had trouble hating him. Tarantino is also great as well. I love that we get a glimpse of what he thinks he’s seeing and reveals he’s crazy. I thought it worked well. Keitel is good, which is par for the course. Lewis was solid. Hayek was gorgeous and just had my jaw on the floor every time I saw her dance scene. It was fun to see cameos from Cheech Marin, Trejo, Savini, Fred Williamson, John Saxon, Kelly Preston, Greg Nicotero and Hawkes. The cast all turned in a great performance across the board.
That moves me next to the effects. KNB were behind them, which when I saw that made since. I think the blood and gore in this film looks good. It is done practically so that makes sense. There is CGI that works in this as well. It was used when people change into vampires, which was fine. There are times it isn’t so good. There are flames we see look fake and not all the looks of the vampires work for me either. I would say that overall, it is more positive than negative. I will say that cinematography is great. This is shot well to help build tension and set up these great set pieces like the RV and the bar. The last thing to cover is the music in the film. I’ll give a shout out to the mariachi band that is playing, because even though it isn’t my type of music, they do a good job fitting the bar. I do have to say it is a bit over the top cheese when they reveal themselves to be vampires and what they’re using for instruments, but I digress.
In conclusion, I still enjoy this film and it holds up. I love how we get a Tarantino/crime film to start out and it changes into a vampire film in the second half. It just moves so seamlessly. Not all the comedy works, but it doesn’t ruin it. What carries here is the acting. That is great from our leads and the cameos. The effects are good. There is CGI that doesn’t, but not enough to ruin this. The music fits what they needed as. With all that said I think this is a good film and would highly recommend it, even if you’re not a horror fan. I will warn you that this gets bloody at times. This is a just a fun ride though.
My Rating: 9 out of 10