REVIEW: From Dusk Till Dawn [1996]

“I’m Sex Machine, pleased to meet ya”

This year’s Grindhouse was not the first of such collaborations between Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. One could argue that their production of From Dusk Till Dawn laid the seeds for that schlock-fest extravaganza. I remember while watching Planet Terror thinking how overboard Rodriguez was going, and loving every minute of it. Revisiting this film, however, showed how he didn’t stray too far from where he had already been. Sure Tarantino’s dialogue is at the forefront for much of the film’s duration, but when the action amps up and the vampire gore starts splattering, one can see the connection with Rodriguez’s later film. Overall, this movie delivers big time. The laughs are many, the pop culture references are sprinkled throughout, the characters are all fully fleshed no matter how little screen time they are given, and the action is great to watch.

The story is a simple one. The Gecko brothers have pulled off a heist and need to get to Mexico in order to pay off their partner. They kill and steal along the way until meeting up with a pastor who has lost faith and his two children in an RV. Taking the family hostage, they make their way south to a sleazy topless bar awaiting said partner’s arrival. This specific bar, however, is inhabited by vampires who feed on its customers once the sun goes down. What is first a crime tale of men on the run soon turns into a fight for survival against the supernatural.

While Rodriguez handles the directing well, showcasing some nice special effects and make-up work, it really is the script that shines. Tarantino has crafted a tale with just enough realism to keep it from going too far overboard. The dialogue is sharp and with himself and George Clooney starring, the delivery is spot-on. Quentin’s Richard is a lunatic, pedophile/rapist who recently broke his brother Seth out of jail so they could complete this job. Seth is the brains of the operation and understands all the angles. His temper leads to many great one-liners and his release of tension when they cross the border successfully gives us even more. The relationship between the two is classic and I don’t see Tarantino giving a better performance ever. His low-key psychopath is effective and I love his soft delivery of lines when his brother is not in the room to hear him.

Our entry point into the film opens the action perfectly with what on the surface appears to be a generic scene between a sheriff and a gas station proprietor. When the officer goes to the bathroom we are finally able to meet the Gecko boys and understand what is really happening. Richard goes crazy, Seth shows his vindictive side, and John Hawkes is brilliant as the man stuck in the middle, doing what he is told, but subverted at all times by Richard’s bloodlust. The rest of the film, until they meet the family that sticks with them to the end is full quality dialogue and acting. That family consists of Harvey Keitel, great in a role that is uncommon for him—the good guy, Ernest Liu as the son, with a nice realistic turn, and Juliette Lewis as the daughter, giving many memorable moments, especially opposite Tarantino.

It’s when they arrive at the Mexican bar and the vampires show themselves that the film really picks up. The script remains witty, but the supernatural flair infused with it brings a freshness that keeps the film from ever hitting a rut. Cameos are plenty, Cheech Marin, Salma Hayek, Tom Savini, and Fred Williamson among others, blood and guts are everywhere, and the violence rises to a crescendo. Clooney is allowed to run free, to great effect, with Keitel there at all times injecting a bit of calm wisdom whenever possible. From Dusk Till Dawn is far from a masterpiece, but it is fantastic entertainment and can be played with Grindhouse to create a highly enjoyable night of carnage.

From Dusk Till Dawn 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


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