From Dusk Till Dawn was catching lightning in a bottle; a nutso half baked script (just being honest) falling into the perfectly raw directing hands and being miscast in a manner so wrong that it turned out to be so very right. And so a half movie about brothers fleeing the law being confronted by an insane bar full of vampires, came to be one of the cult films of the 90s, with almost mass appeal despite the crazy material.
It was inevitable that a sequel – actually sequels – would arrive, but hard to see where subsequent films could recapture the magic without lamely subscribing to the formula that was so unlikely the first time.
Let’s at least start in a happy place…
Written by Tarantino back in his video shop employee days, and directed by Robert Rodriguez fresh off his Desperado breakout, From Dusk Till Dawn is really two episodes combined to make a fun, funny and original, yet totally off-the-wall film.
It also had an in-her-prime Salma Hayek dancing in a bikini with an albino snake wrapped around her neck. Never a bad thing.
The opening scene has Earl and Pete yakking up a storm in the local bottle-O. Among other things they discuss a local string of crimes perpetrated by two low life brothers named Seth and Richie Gecko, that include robbery, murder and kidnapping. It seems they are headed for the border which will mean they go right through the local area. Earl hopes that will be the case, he is the local sheriff after all.
A quick reveal shows that Seth and Richie are indeed nearby, and after an action packed and frankly hilarious shootout they leave the smouldering remains of the bottle-O and hit the road.
The Gecko’s aren’t your regular petty crims, Seth (George Clooney) is the heavily tatted mastermind, cool, calm and calculated. All business. While Richie is deeply insecure, cold-bloodedly violent and basically fucking nuts, always a good combination.
They are indeed on the way to Mexico, to be more specific a backwater town named El-Ray, where they will be meeting their fence, (the guy who will buy the stolen goods), but first they must cross the border, where they are Public Enemy No. 1 & 2.
Enter Jacob, Kate and Scott, a family on holiday in their campervan. Jacob has lost his wife in a car-wreck, which made him question his faith to the point that he has given up his role as a Priest, Kate and Scott are his children, the fact that Scott is of Chinese descent is acknowledged but never explained.
Seth and Richie abduct the entire family and demand that they escort them across the border to safety, now even though Jacob has a troubled past he is still humble, yet steely determined, and he initially says “no chance”. That is until Seth threatens to sic Richie onto Kate.
Now to expedite proceedings after some shennanigans they find themselves across the border and in Mexico, where Seth directs them to a local bar called the Titty-Twister for celebratory beers.
Now up to this point the happenings in this film were only improbable. Here it gets a little bit crazier.
At the totally-O.T.T. Titty Twister the Tarantino part of the film ends, the rest being all Rodriguez. The bar is populated by heaps of familiar character actors and film personalities, a short list includes Cheech Marin, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, Danny Trejo and Fred Williamson, Salma arrives later. The bar has strippers and crazy dancers, an inhouse band, surly staff and dangerous looking clientele.
After some petty fights involving various staff and drinkers, (featuring what I would venture a guess as being the first genital cannon in cinema outside of porn!) the tone slips down a notch, as Salma arrives.
53 minutes running time.
Salma plays Satanico Pandemonium, the exotically named, exotic looking, exotic dancer, complete with the previously mentioned albino reptile. Over the next three or so minutes she puts on a dance that has the bar transfixed, and I dare say many bars in the audience were transfixed from this point too.
Now up to this point the happenings in the film were only wildly improbable. Here it goes cuckoo-fucking-bananas!
58 minutes running time.
Salma, (the one we know and love) moves on, and all shit breaks loose.
The remainder of the film has scant plot aside from the fact that our characters are beset by honest to goodness vampires from this point on until the credits. There are numerous sightgags, some effects work that is equal parts dodgy and inspired, and gore galore, but all of it more cheesy than cringe-inducing.
Most “standard” vampire rules apply, stakes, holy water, crosses etc… and the small group of surviving non-bloodsuckers must make it to dawn to see if the final rule, that of death by sunlight, applies.
There is some great dialogue, frenetic action and inspired chaos, there are also some quite hilarious intermissions, most notably Fred Williamson’s ‘Nam recollections that seem to ramble on and on, all the while becoming more animated.
While this isn’t as critically embraced as Pulp Fiction or even Sin City, and with reason, From Dusk Till Dawn is amazingly efficient genre-busting filmmaking. I’ve said before you can’t watch the same film over and over again without getting bored, you need some variety, something different sometimes.
The fact is that From Dusk Till Dawn is likely totally different from almost anything you’ll watch this year. But it is also a great film, and hugely entertaining.
Final Rating – 8 / 10. I hate the description Horror-Comedy, but this film and Shaun of the Dead prove that it can be done well.
From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money
A scant 80 minutes with at least 4 or 5 minutes padding, From Dusk Till Dawn 2 lays its cards down early, proving beyond doubt that it should have folded in the process. A fivesome of dodgy males decide to pull off a heist, lead by Buck (Robert Patrick). Pausing first to meet to discuss the finer details at… where else? The Titty Twister, (where they actually run into nothing of note), the crew depart to a motel, where the ‘fun’ really starts.
Although there will be no fun here.
Somehow the film tries to be more Pulp Fiction that’s the original FDTD, but ends up stealing not one worthwhile skerrick of either film. What it does manage is a couple vaguely clever camera angles, and nothing else.
Yes there are boobies. Yes vampires show up. Yes some of the vampires – and of course humans – are dispatched bloodily. But the guilty pleasures that littered From Dusk Till Dawn, and the dignified acting that set that film off to such a good start, are nowhere to be seen.
Exit Tarantino, Rodriguez, Clooney and Keitel. Enter sub-mediocrity.
Final Rating – 4.5 / 10. This is what not catching lightning in a bottle looks like.
From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter
Ok let’s erase the recent unpleasantness from our memory. Let us forge back to before that crap took place. Let’s say a century or two before that crap took place. Just to be safe.
Personally I couldn’t run far enough from that mess.
Naughty bandidos have forced Ambrose Pearce (Michael Parks) the elderly drunk, and an innocent young God-fearing couple, to seek refuge at a quaint public house. A public house called the Titty Twister… Oh the humanity.
For some reason the film decides we might not have my knowledge of what lies within this awkwardly named establishment – or maybe they are desperately trying to pad this over 90 minutes – whatever the reason they build the scene painfully slowly until a 25 odd minute free for all in the bar featuring the innocent newcomers, the nubile pre-vamps and the fully em-bat-is-ised.
Unfortunately while this sequence is the only mildly effective one in the film, it only serves to remind you how good the first film was.
Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. FDTD 3 is light years ahead of 2, but this is another case where ‘better’ really means ‘not nearly as bad’.
In Summation: When you win a poker hand with a pair of twos, don’t go ‘all-in’ again and again when you have no cards. Bluffing with nothing behind it eventually ends in disappointment.
Another ‘trilogy’ that should have ended at one.