On the run from “Johnny law”, Seth (George Cloony) and Ritchie (Quentin Tarantino) Gecko, two newly escaped convicts, hot off the heels of their most recent bank heist, abduct a family of innocent commuters as they proceed to evade the authorities by fleeing across the U.S. border, into Mexico, so that they can rendezvous with their foreign criminal counterparts at a local dive bar known as the “Titty Twister”. Using their freshly acquired hostages as collateral, so as to ensure the stability of their otherwise expendable lives, the two ruthless brothers force the family’s father, Jacob, a faithless preacher, (Harvey Keitel) and his two kids, his son, Scott, and his daughter, Kate, (Julliette Lewis) to accompany them into the excited bar while they wait to meet up with their Mexican affiliates. Unbeknownst to them, however, is the fact that the seedy establishment actually serves as a well-disguised feeding ground for a bloodthirsty cult of famished vampires lead by their equally ferocious queen, (Salma Hayek) who slyly masquerades as the joint’s main attraction, a seductive stripper who opportunely diverts the club’s clientele from realizing the absurd, horrific horrors that lie ahead.
From Dusk Till Dawn is one of those movies that appear to always be playing on T.V. throughout all hours of the night. Essentially two films for the price of one, the movie accounts for an extremely distinctive blend of the taught “70sesque” crime-caper, exploitation film meets the comically grounded, gratuitous gore fest of an Evil Dead picture. Both these genres are wrapped up even further in, what you could say, accounts for the film’s third genre known as “Tarantinoism”.
Director Robert Rodriguez makes sure to keep that well known brand of Tarantino madness in tact while he still keeps things fresh, bringing to the table, his own unique eye for a quick cut, spaghetti western, John Woo “shoot ‘em up” style of filmic execution. Essentially, Rodriguez applies the same acclaimed style that initially propelled him to become one of the most innovative filmmakers of his generation to the horror genre. Working from a screenplay written by Tarantino himself, Rodriguez creatively retains that “no-holds-barred” sense of horror movie-making aesthetic. Harkening back homage to the great, grotesque gore-fests of the 60s, 70s and 80s, From Dusk Till Dawn’s own 1996, release, unfortunately, didn’t quite generate nearly half as much the buzz as anyone of those eras, yet since then, it undoubtedly has gone on to be hailed as an innovative cult classic.
The film kicks off with a drop kick to the face that sets the viewer in check reminding us to acknowledge the fact that this is indeed a movie based on all things Tarantino. We are immediately introduced to the movie’s abundant amount of “badassery” from the second the actors start to retort Tarantino’s unique brand of unconventionally witty dialogue.
Michael Parks’ first screen incarnation of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw initially warms us up to the film’s crime-caper element while setting us up for the ridiculously cool, deadpan cast that is to follow directly after his own arrival into the picture. He enters a local convenient store, wandering into a classic Tarantino monologue ranting politically incorrect obscenities with his old-fashioned, raspy voice and squinting Dirty Harry mannerisms in the store clerk’s direction. Park’s screen time, here, is brief, nevertheless, he truly owns every second of it. He is magnetically charismatic in a John Wayne type of way while his poised delivery of Tarantino’s “talky” dialogue alone is enough to make you believe the film itself revolves around his character That is until he is shot dead, with a bullet through the head, by the cold-blooded Geckos. The brothers then proceed to shoot up, and burn down, the convenient store, adding more corpses to their rapidly escalating body count, while the film’s tone is deceivingly established as reflecting yet another exercise in post Pulp Fiction crime lore. Nevertheless, midway though what appears to be a predictable ride, Rodriguez brilliantly shifts his movie into Desperado horror movie mode as the film devilishly reveals its true identity; the local “barflys” populating the film’s sleazy bar setting unexpectedly reveal themselves to be well disguised vampires equipped to feast on anyone unlucky enough to be trapped within their horrific, evil domain.
Once this brilliant shift in genres occurs, From Dusk Till Dawn truly alters into something shockingly different. Not only does Cloony’s anti-hero protagonist become the guy the audience is ultimately rooting for but also the movie itself takes on an exceptionally absurd sense of style and filmic execution. Rodriguez uses the action spawned switch, within the story, as a well advised cue to up the stakes as he takes the opportunity to run creatively rampant shooting every type of gratuitous gore gag in the book. Gone is the downcast, moody, angst filled suspense pacing of the film’s first half and, while the tension is indeed still apparent, accompanying it, is a slyly comedic pastiche blend of “in your face” action and squirting blood and guts-carnage. All of this is eccentrically strung together by an underlining sense of campy hilarity that seems to get stronger as the film’s action scenes grow gorier and more graphically excessive in nature.
Starring in his first screen role post E.R. fame, George Cloony deserves major “cred” as the brothers’ hard-bitten, yet persistently professional, leader; enthusiastically playing the movie’s anti-hero as if he were the rejected reservoir dog cousin of Snake Plisken. Cloony’s Seth Gecko seems bound to leap off the screen, destined to shove a 357 magnum down the throats of the film’s collective viewers. Indeed Cloony stylishly brings a certain amount of suave charm and charisma to the role; however, he fuses these likable traits with such a towering level of contrasting toughness that his performance truly shines as this constant, indestructible force of brooding male machismo. Almost as equally impressive as Cloony’s unconventional acting is Tarantino’s own subdued portrayal of a sex addicted rapist. Atypically restraining his well-known flamboyantness, Tarantino opts to portray Ritchie Gecko as a disturbingly reserved individual with a clear sense of pent up sexual rage. Essentially, Tarantino makes his role work because he plays it straight while, for the most part, cleverly managing to avoid slipping into just another self-referential caricature of himself.
Also, adding to the list of actors playing against type, the great, and underused, Harvey Keitel is featured, here, as a swift speaking, holy man with a shattered belief in god and himself. Keitel humbly downplays his obvious command until it ‘s tonally time for him to digress the faithless preacher persona into a vampire slaying, scripture citing badass. Keitel plays his role with such prevailing and convincing delivery that even when the movie drastically transforms into a surrealistic horror-action-comedy, his performance, and ultimate unflinching dedication to the role, never once seems false.
From Dusk Till Dawn is a volatile burst of creative oomph. While, admittedly anyone looking for an award friendly crime picture will most likely leave with a bad taste in their mouths, Tarantino enthusiasts, action junkies, and horror freaks alike should rejoice in seeking this flick out … and grab a beer.