From Dusk Till Dawn: Miramax Dimension Films/ A Band Apart/ Los Hooligans Productions
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Rating: USA: R
If you've ever seen Robert Altman's film The Player, then you know what the stereotypical Hollywood pitch session looks like. In that film, would-be screenwriters meet with studio execs and pitch their film ideas, mostly combining other popular films as an example. After seeing that, I can't help but picture writer Quentin Tarantino pitching FROM DUSK TILL DAWN as "it's The Getaway crossed with Natural Born Killers with some Near Dark added in." A pitch like that looks pretty good on paper, and impressively enough, it worked on the big screen as well.
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is the story of Seth Gecko (George Clooney: BATMAN AND ROBIN, TV: ER) a bank robber who's just been sprung from a Texas jailhouse by his psychopathic brother Richie (Quentin Tarantino: PULP FICTION, RESERVOIR DOGS). On the run with every cop in the state after them, these two super-cool badguys need to cross into Mexico, where they'll meet a man who can take them to the mythical criminal wonderland of El Rey. In order to get across the border, they hijack a reverend with faltering faith (Harvey Keitel: RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION, and BAD LIEUTENANT) and his two children Kate (Juliette Lewis: NATURAL BORN KILLERS) and Scott (played by newcomer Ernest Liu).
After crossing into Mexico in what amounts to one of the film's tenser scenes, the Geckos and their unwilling travel companions arrive at a biker/trucker strip club open from dusk till dawn. Once inside, all hell breaks loose as Seth and company discover the place is overrun with vampires.
As far as premises go, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN's is a simple one. But, what really makes the film stand out is the execution. Director Robert Rodriguez (DESPERADO, EL MARIACHI, THE FACULTY) and writer/actor Tarantino show that they have some very similar aesthetic sensibilities when it comes to onscreen carnage. Both also clearly have a love for trash exploitation cinema, witnessed through the inclusion of Blaxploitation legend Fred "The Hammer" Williamson (THREE THE HARD WAY, HELL UP IN HARLEM, BLACK CEASER) FX wizard Tom Savini (DAWN OF THE DEAD, MANIAC, KNIGHTRIDERS) and genre legend John Saxon (CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) all being cast in various roles.
The performances are great across the board. Clooney plays the tough guy with a well-refined sense of coolness. Tarantino is less grating than usual playing the psychotic, yet strangely child-like, Richie. Keitel shines as he always does, and Lewis and Liu manage to play their roles convincingly. The real standouts, though, are the aforementioned exploitation actors. Williamson and Savini are great, both camping it up here as they slaughter hordes of the undead. Cheech Marin manages to play three roles, including the club's barker who gives us the infamous "vagina" monologue. Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo (CON AIR, ANACONDA, THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS) also turns up, as does the lovely Salma Hayek (THE FACULTY) who manages to take a five minute part and make it one of the most unforgettable of the entire film.
Rodriguez's direction is superb, with frenetic pacing and quick cuts working overtime to capture all the gore flying around. The direction here is nearly as inspired as that in Desperado, with lots of weird angles, cool shots, and zooming around. After watching this, one has to wonder why his work on THE FACULTY was so bland. The sets are highly realistic, from the seedy motel all the way to the garishly lit strip club (complete with a hellish looking parking lot), managing to convey the film's gritty, campy tone.
Tarantino's script (based on a story by Robert Kurtzman) is great, full of his trademark hip dialogue and the usual intriguing, yet odd, criminals. Clooney gets the bulk of the cool lines, including references to The Wild Bunch and what is perhaps the coolest vampire speech ever filmed.
KNB FX did the SFX work and did a super job. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN features a little bit of everything for the discerning gore fan...there's exploding heads, ripped/slashed/hacked off appendages, a bullet and a knife through a hand, a ripped out heart, a head that gets an arrow through it, loads of vampire bites, and a cool looking hellhound/rat (I'm not sure which it was supposed to be). Most of the weapons are cool too, whether it's Kate and her crossbow, Clooney and his motorized staker, or Savini with his whip and the infamous crotch gun from Desperado, there's more here than the standard pistol...these are some bad men, afterall.
Graeme Revell (THE CRAFT, BATS) handled the film's score, managing to cross Tex-Mex rockabilly with gothic horror music. Rodriguez favorites, Tito and Tarantula, also added several cuts to the soundtrack and appeared as the strip club's band.
Like NEAR DARK, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is what a vampire film should be: an action-packed gorefest where the bloodsucking undead are monsters bound and determined to feast on your flesh. Fans of Anne Rice's fey and foppish vamps will hate this movie, as will most of the Goth contingent. There's no romantic counts flying around here, seducing people and whining about how awful it is to live forever...nope, these vamps are monsters--and they're hungry.
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is an interesting hybrid film from two of this decade's most intriguing filmmakers. It's a kick-butt action flick with some heavy horror overtones that works because it so desperately wants to be viewed as a campy exploitation flick. Tarantino and Rodriguez have done what they set out to do--make a big budget trash flick. It's that lack of pretension that allows the film to succeed. You're not supposed to take the movie seriously, so just sit back, grab a beverage, and enjoy.
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