Two criminals and their hostages become trapped
in a vampire infested bar on their way to Mexico.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Starring George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel,
Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Tom Savini, Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson, Danny Trejo, Michael Parks, John Hawkes
At a time when two well-known creative forces in cinema were in their infancy, they came together to make a memorable genre splash (or splatter, if you will) with the film about Seth and Richard Gecko. Prior to this Rodriguez burst onto the scene with his debut feature El Mariachi (later remade into Desperado) by funding the production with money he got by volunteering for scientific studies. Tarantino made a memorable entrance with Reservoir Dogs and the follow-up Pulp Fiction. They had significant momentum going for them and then came out with this nod to grindhouse exploitation films. Something they would try again with the Grindhouse double feature of Planet Terror and Death Proof but I argue they got it right the first time with this flick.
This is two different movies that are mashed together with style (Rodriguez's editing, camera work and Tarantino's writing) and balls to the wall commitment. The first half is a jailbreak/heist movie centering on the Gecko brothers, Seth and Richie (Clooney and Tarantino respectively), as they are making a break for the Mexican border. They have left a trail of dead cops in their wake and have a hostage in tow for insurance. The performances in this movie bring Tarantino's script to life and, looking back, this is textbook dialogue by him. Snappy, clever, and cool.
After a spectacular fuck up by Richie results in a liquor store being blown up, the brothers cross paths with Jacob (Keitel) and his kids: Kate (Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu). They are forced to ride with the brothers into Mexico and stay at the wildly named Titty Twister, a biker bar in the middle of nowhere Mexico. Their arrival is one of my favorite scenes in this flick and that's saying something because this is a very quotable film. Cheech Marin is like a freak show carnival barker as he announces all the varieties of pussy offered at this fine establishment. At this point, the film begins to turn into something else. When the twist happens and they're thrust into a horror movie, the audience is just as shocked and confused as the group we've been with from the beginning. That is the brilliance of this flick that slaps you hard with this twist and then further cranks up the craziness as we find out that Seth and company have to face the ultimate evil: goddamn vampires.
This film also has cameos by special effects maestro Tom Savini as Sex Machine (and he shares a scene with Greg Nicotero who also did the special effects with his KNB team) and Fred Williamson as Vietnam vet Frost. The gore is batshit crazy and the makeup effects of the creatures doesn't hold back. Once the horror film starts, it doesn't let up until the end. By the time this movie is over, you have been on a ride through the highways of Texas and the desert of Mexico that you'll never forget. The sequels and TV show that followed this do not add much to this original idea so seek them out if you want, just don't expect much.
From Dusk Till Dawn is one of the most bizarrely entertaining films I've ever seen and is a perfect example of what can happen when two great filmmakers put their heads together. From the minds of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino comes a one-of-a-kind vampire flick that has no equal, simply because there is nothing else that even comes close to this level of insanity. Top it off with a loaded cast of character actors and you've got a modern classic.
This film marks the first major film role for George Clooney, who totally owns the role of Seth Gecko. His performance turned Seth into a likable psychopath, which is a difficult trope to play. Oddly enough, I actually enjoyed Tarantino's performance as Seth's brother Richard, as his general weirdness and foot obsession made him perfect for the role. Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis were believable as the Gecko brothers' hostages, who helped make the first half of the film very tense. Before they all arrive in Mexico, the audience is tricked into thinking this film is a straightforward crime thriller. Then, as we all now know, all hell breaks loose.
Nobody but Rodriguez could have made a movie that contains a vampire band playing instruments made out of human flesh without coming across as goofy. The scene of the vampires' reveal was done perfectly, starting with Salma Hayek's iconic dance with a snake and culminating with her transformation into a demon from Hell. Suddenly, the film becomes straight-up horror, with Tom Savini (playing a character named Sex Machine, by the way) and Fred Williamson helping to fight off a horde of the undead. Seriously, this movie is all over the place but is incredibly entertaining. I consider it one of the most enjoyable vampire films of all time.