It was WAY back in the autumn of 1995, when I was in 8th grade, that I read about this crazy sounding film about bank robbers fighting stripper vampires in Fangoria. At this point in my life I was more of a franchise horror fan than a crime/action movie person. All that changed upon the films release in January 1996.
One of the most memorable statements I remember from the old Fangoria articles is that Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino had decided to make a B-film with an A-film cast. I’m not so sure how much successful they were with that: besides Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, and Juliette Lewis, you have cult film icons like Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Danny Trejo, and Tom Savini. John Saxon also makes a brief cameo as a news reporter and Micheal Parks makes his debut as Sheriff Earl McGraw and would go on to reprise the character in Kill Bill vol 1, and the Grindhouse films, which is strange because he dies in the first five minutes. Cheech Marin plays as three characters, a border agent, a vampire bouncer, and the Gecko’s El Rey contact Carlos. The film itself is batshit insane: a dramatic crime picture shifts gears halfway through into a horror flick, which surprises as much the audience as it does the characters themselves. It goes to show just how little people pay attention to previews because the twist was given away in it, and yet even to this day people find themselves surprised when it happens. Most everyone I’ve watched it with keeps thinking Richie is going to wake up form having a bad dream.
In the off-chance that you are unfamiliar with the film at this point 18 years after it’s release, here is a synopsis: brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richard “Richie” Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) are two bank robbing brothers on the run from the law trying to get to the town of El Rey, Mexico. Seth has a cool head on his shoulders and is a consummate professional. His brother, on the other hand, is a loose cannon. He is a mentally ill sex offender that often sends their exploits into the wrong direction. Seth is loyal to his brother out of a sense of obligation, after all it is Richie who broke Seth out of prison.
The opening of the story is at Benny’s World of Liquor in which Sheriff Earl McGraw (Micheal Parks, who reprized the role in the Grindhouse and Kill Bill films). Richie was sent in by Seth to simply get a road map; due to Richie’s schitzophrenia it leads to a rather violent shoot-out in which two hostages are taken and McGraw and Benny are killed.
After winding up in a roadside motel, the brothers end up taking a family in an RV hostage to gain access across the border. The Fuller family, led by patriarch Jacob (Harvey Keitel), daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) and son Scott (Ernest Liu) make the mistake of lodging in the same motel as the Gecko brothers. Seth uses the children as bait and Jacob is forced to drive them across the Mexican border. Jacob butts head with Scott on the way to handle the situation, as does Seth with Richie. The parallels between Jacob and Seth are drawn; both are family and honor bound. Led to a strip bar called the Titty Twister, they meet a unwholesome bunch that are set upon by a band of stripper vampires that have spent 100 years feeding on the outcasts of society.
After the vampires set upon them, Titty Twister patrons Frost (Fred Williamson) and Sex Machine (Fred Williamson) team up with the Geckos and the Fullers against the vampire denizens in an ultra gory fight for survival supervised by KNB FX. All of them get their crowning moment of awesome during this time. Bonds of loyalty are tested, faith once lost is renewed, and families are torn apart as they wait for the sun to finally rise.
I have read a lot of articles and opinion pieces written by a lot of people describing their reaction George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead saying how they lived in the Monroeville Mall in 1978; for what it’s worth I will describe this film as my generations version of that film. From Dusk Till Dawn also shares some family bonds with Romero’s Dead films; Tom Savini, who played as Blade in Dawn of the Dead and did the FX for that film stars as Sex Machine. KNB FX , who cut their teeth in Day of the Dead (and Greg Nicotero, the “N” of the group starred in) handle the grue soaked mayhem. Their work on this film is much like what they did in the splatter classic Evil Dead 2. The idea for this film came from Robert Kurtzman (the “K” in KNB), was written by Quentin Tarantino directed by Robert Rodriquez, making From Dusk Till Dawn the the perfect exploitation movie. This film opened doors for me as far as film is concerned. I began to get into more films about anti-heroes and rebels like in Escape from New York , and it introduced me to the works of Rodriquez and Tarantino.
This film, and others like it, hold a very special place in my heart because they helped me get through high school. There were many stormy North Carolina summer afternoons spent raiding video stores and watching horror movies for the 100th time during this period, and From Dusk Till Dawn was one of those films.
As important as the film was to me, words can not describe how much it must have meant to George Clooney. This was his first big time leading role besides ER. Clooney is completely believable as a cold blooded bastard owns every scene he’s in. The film was a true showcase for his charisma and acting talent. It must have been a great moment for him after having previously been in Grizzly 2, Return to Horror High, and the under-rated Return of the Killer Tomatoes. For the record, I like him more in all of the films previously mentioned than anything he’s done since. The less said about his Batman turn the better.
Selma Hayek’s role is good for what it is — she’s only in the film for about 10 minutes, but gives one of the most memorable dances in screen history. Her dance to Tito & Tarantula’s After Dark is legendary by this point. In my college days I took a Film Appreciation Class (which ended up being David Lynch 101, which is fine) and had to do a paper on a piece of mise en scene (cinematography) in a film. I chose to write about this scene, and got an A on that paper. Britney Spears tried to emulate the snake dance at the MTV Movie Awards to her hit I’m A Slave For You, but came across like a little girl trying to dress up as mommy. It’s a shame Hayek’s role as Santanico Pandemonium isn’t expanded through the film. However, the non-stop carnage keeps the viewer from dwelling on her premature death.
The film spawned a sequel and a prequel which are fun. But the most interesting thing that came from the film is it’s TV show adaptation which helped spearhead Robert Rodriguez’s new TV station, El Rey. El Rey, as you remember, is the fictional town the Geckos are trying to get to. It is also a reference to the Jim Thompson novel The Getaway, and it is described as basically being a limbo for criminals on the run to stay until their death. It seems in the film Seth knows what it is and it is why he doesn’t let Kate come with him. The first season of the series ends up much differently and you’ll have to see it for yourself if you haven’t already.
I will be doing an article on my feelings on the show sometime soon. I have a few mixed feelings on it but mostly ends up on the positive side.