So we are nearing an end to Robert Rodriguez Month, with one more after this, and I plan on it being a comic book movie. Feel free to guess which one. Until then, let us stay within the simmering melting pot of Mid-Nineties Cool. This is From Dusk Till Dawn.
Set in the Modern Day (1996) on both sides of the USA/Mexico border, our story revolves around two different sets of characters: The Fuller Family and the Gecko Brothers. The Fuller family consists of widower and troubled pastor Jacob (Harvey Keitel), his daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis), and his son Scott (Ernest Liu). The Gecko Brothers are Seth (George Clooney) and his younger brother Richie (Quentin Tarantino). The Gecko Brothers are on the run after they robbed a bank, took a hostage, then killed a clerk and a Texas Ranger in a shootout at an off-license (in a very well shot and funny opening sequence). After Richie murders the hostage from the bank in their motel room, they decide to kidnap the Fuller Family, who were going to Mexico in their RV for a holiday but decided to stop at the Motel first. The Geckos make a deal with the Fullers; get us into Mexico and we won’t kill you. While in Mexico, they stop at a strip club in the desert called the Titty Twister, where the Geckos will be picked up at dawn by a guy named Carlos, who will take them to a fugitive’s sanctuary called El Rey. However, the Titty Twister is more than just your average strip club, as the workers are a little more… bloodthirsty than you would expect. Then when Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) shows up to dance, all hell breaks loose.
Now to see what was from Dusk or Dawn:
The acting is Strong. Especially when you consider some of the casting choices (made possible with the now nineteen million dollar budget, compared to the seven million dollars for Desperado). In particular, George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis. Clooney was playing Dr Doug Ross in ER while this film was being made. Keitel’s reputation for playing some of the grittiest roles in cinema makes it a real shock to see him playing a spiritually oppressed but soft-spoken and well-meaning Pastor struggling with his relationship with God. Then there’s Juliette Lewis, who taps more into the good-girl roles that she has done before in this performance but gained traction with her Bonnie-Parker-eque performance as Mallory Knox in Natural Born Killers from two years before. We’re also treated to some other appearances and performances. Obviously, it isn’t a Rodriguez film without Danny Trejo (who plays the Bartender of the Titty Twister). Blaxploitation actor Fred Williamson as Frost could have his own movie, to be fair, and the legendary Prosthetic Make-up artist Tom Savini has a role as Sex Machine (who may or may not be a Vampire Hunter). Go-to actor Cheech Marin is here as well. Playing three different characters at different points in the film in more than a spaghetti western fashion. We’ll also mention Salma Hayek making her character work by overcoming her fear of snakes and putting on the most memorable scene in the film (regardless of where we stand when it comes to scenes like these).
Originally this was written by Make-Up Artist Robert Kurtzman and then transformed by Quentin Tarantino into a screenplay – the characters and story give us a balance between character-driven scenes and a plot-driven storyline. Seth is very much the brains of the Geckos’ operations and is a professional criminal. In particular, when it comes to bank robbing. However, the man has a code and attempts to avoid murder when possible. Relying on his charisma and aggressive social skills to get what he wants. His brother Richie has a lot of things wrong with him. As a murderer, sex offender, and possibly schizophrenic – there wouldn’t be a story without him. He is the one who messes everything up and driven by his urges (Ironic as well, considering Quentin Tarantino managed to incorporate one of his real life fetishes into the film). Keitel, as Jacob Fuller, is basically the nicest man here, and in my opinion, the one we relate most within this scenario. He provides a moral sanctuary while everything else is happening, and I like how he handles the entire situation.
The art, cinematography, CGI and special effects follow the quality and style of Desperado with some extra bite (no pun intended). They created monster movie effects that could be suggested as inspired by 1987’s The Lost Boys and could have aspired others when Buffy The Vampire Slayer comes along about a year later. The ‘extra bite’ I mentioned is the use of CGI. Which would have made the vampire transformations really freaky in the nineties. And while it could be seen as tame today, this was groundbreaking in its time. Tom Savini’s practical effects really shine through in this film, especially when it came to the Vampire make-up and their death scenes. His experience of working with George A. Romero is very evident. The cinematography by the returning Guillermo Navarro might be the film’s best quality, as I loved some of his longer shots were presented.
The music score is mostly by Graeme Revell, but the soundtrack includes some returns from Desperado. In particular, Tito & Tarantula as the Band who play in the Titty Twister (and they play the song “After Dark”, which is played during Salma Hayek’s dance with the snake. A very associated song at this point). Then you have the other tune most associated with this film; Dark Night by The Blasters. It is a seriously rocking tune, to say the least, and is a welcome way to begin and end the film.
Would I recommend Dusk Til Dawn? Yes. It is well made and good fun, with a gritty edge. Some could argue that it’s a product of its time due to how politically incorrect it can come across. But we also keep in mind that this generation has experienced Game Of Thrones and the From Dusk Till Dawn TV show. This is the second time Rodriguez and Tarantino have collaborated, and the craziness of both men when it comes to this (the kind of cinema they like best) shines brighter than the sun. It is an acquired taste. But I had fun watching it. And in case you’re wondering, I have not seen the sequels or the TV series. While I have heard that the series is pretty good, you won’t be hearing my opinion on it for at least a while. I would also like to say, after seeing Once Upon A Time In Mexico, I’m more inclined to call this film a much closer sequel or spin-off to Desperado. My mind tells me that El Mariachi and his band fighting Vampires with the Geckos would have been a real Avengers-eque moment.
CGI/Special Effects: ****1/2