1995 was a particularly prolific year for Quentin Tarantino. Among other things, it was the year in which the weird From Dusk Till Dawn came out, based on a script that he wrote for 1,500 dollars kinda as an excuse for Robert Kurtzman’s special effects rather than to write a cinematic masterpiece (in fact, it’s deliberately a B-movie, at least in the second part!). Tarantino at that time was still working on his career as an actor, as testified by his interpretation crushed by the critics in Destiny Turns on the Radio, also released in 1995.
The director is Tarantino’s friend Robert Rodriguez, who had already collaborated with him in Four Rooms that came out, what a coincidence, in 1995.
But let’s get to From Dusk Till Dawn. The cast is remarkable, as it was and still is customary for the projects of the actor and director of Italian origins. The protagonist is George Clooney (the two even became friends while working on this film), and among the co-protagonists here come Harvey Keitel and a very young Juliette Lewis who would go on to be a star of the Nineties (see for example Natural Born Killers by Oliver Stone, another film based on a Tarantino’s script, and Strange Days by Kathryn Bigelow). The plot is, to say the least, schizophrenic. Let’s see it.
Clooney and Tarantino play Seth and Richie Gecko, two criminal brothers fleeing to Mexico after committing various murders including that of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, interpreted by Michael Parks who has appeared in various movies by Tarantino and Rodriguez sometimes even re-interpreting the same character. In order to cross the border, the two brothers kidnap Jacob Fuller’s family who’s traveling in a camper van. The family is composed of Jacob, a former Protestant pastor who lost his faith after the death of his wife (Harvey Keitel), and his two teenage sons Katherine and Scott (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). Let me emphasize that the latter wears a splendid T-shirt paying homage to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13! The Gecko brothers arrive at their destination: a strip club called Titty Twister where they have a rendez-vous at dawn with someone who will lead them to a place where they will enjoy the rest of their lives with all the money they stole.
The group arrives at the Titty Twister at sunset, so all that remains to do is to sit tight and spend the night, at the end of which the Geckos should free the Fuller family. And so far the movie is a well-made and well-acted thriller. Then the movie takes an unexpected turn. The Titty Twister turns out to be a hideout for bloodthirsty vampires and the night becomes a long struggle for survival of the five together with other unfortunate patrons including, among others, Sex Machine, that that same Tom Savini who worked so much with horror master George Romero. In short, From Dusk Till Dawn is half a thriller and half a vampire b-movie!
This makes it hard to talk about this film. Over time it has become a cult, many sequels have been made in a straight-to-DVD fashion and recently a series with the same title was also produced. I kept away from all these products, both because the straight-to-DVD nature of a film is an unmistakable sign of its poor quality, and because I don’t watch many series (allow me to rephrase: I only watch Star Trek).
But do I like the Rodriguez movie? I’ve always been a little undecided on this one. Initially, I thought it was a serious movie and I felt cheated when suddenly vampires started coming out from everywhere. So I didn’t like it. Then, after watching it several times, I must say that I enjoy the film. The idea of the characters going from one genre to another without warning is funny (a bit like Hitchcock’s The Birds, which begins as a romantic comedy, or John McTiernan’s Predator, which begins as a war movie). If taken as purely entertaining, the movie is actually valuable.
The special effects are absolutely spectacular, with a lot of old-fashioned fake blood, unlike today’s digital blood which is used so much and looks invariably bad. There’s a lot of humor, maybe a little crude and obvious, but effective once you accept the “horror theme park” mood of the film. And the characters are all well written, having emerged from a serious and more traditional first part, so it’s easy to become attached to their destinies and enjoy their evolution (I’m speaking of those who manage to evolve, naturally, not those who are massacred by the vampires).
I also get carpenterian vibrations: a barricaded group against a more numerous and bloodthirsty enemy is totally in the spirit of works like the aforementioned Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and The Fog (1982), to name a couple of examples. And then, who knows, maybe without From Dusk Till Dawn, John Carpenter wouldn’t have directed Vampires in 1997!
For all these reasons, I consider this 1995 film by Robert Rodriguez a fun guilty pleasure, and I always enjoy it when I rewatch it. It’s also a flawlessly directed movie with a remarkable cinematography! But is it a stupid movie? Probably yes, but I enjoy it. Ciao!
PS: It’s true, I could have written a very brief review along the lines of “Watch it even if only for the sexy dance by Salma Hayek!” Ah, and the soundtrack is amazing!