From the Archive – From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

DTD1

 

Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Starring George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis

Hot- foot on the run from the law, the Gecko brothers Seth (Clooney) and Richard (Quentin Tarantino) take washed-up preacher Jacob Fuller (Keitel) and his children hostage and head for Mexico. Narrowly evading the law, and narrowly surviving Richard’s psychotic nature, the five of them wind up in the Titty Twister, a seedy desert strip-club where Seth has arranged to meet his Mexican contact.

Which is where the film takes off, and suddenly ceases to be a Quentin Tarantino ‘bad men in black suits crack wise and do terrible things to people’ film, and becomes a Robert Rodriguez crazy-ass Mexican vampire flick, as the staff of the Titty Twister – including barman Razor Charlie ( Danny Trejo) – reveal their darker nature, and start chowing down on the truckers, bikers, fleeing criminals and kidnapped preachers families who form their clientele.

With Richard dead, Seth must join forces with Jacob and his children to survive the second wave of vampires and live to see the sunrise.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s interesting that in a criminal road movie that turns into a vampire bloodbath, all the nastiest bits of the film are in the first half. It’s like a Quentin Tarantino movie with no restraint, and the vile Richard Gecko is like a whole new dimension in unpleasantness, to the point it can get difficult to watch. Seth is also no poodle, and it is a little jarring seeing him become the hero, but then that may be the point.

The vampires themselves are a little silly in places, and as the first half of the film suffers from unbridled Tarantino, the second suffers from Rodriguez Unbound, becoming a bloodbath of such total abandon that it becomes a little hard to keep track.

What’s right with it?

All that being said, the main reason to include this film is for the sake of completeness, and as a benchmark for the ones that followed. While not exactly Casablanca, and not to everyone’s taste, the film is professionally produced and does what it sets out to do with a minimum of ham and a modicum of dignity. Jacob and his daughter, Kate (Lewis) provide an emotional hook for the audience which offsets the darkness of the Gecko brothers, and allows you to feel some interest and investment in the proceedings.

How bad is it really?

The film is pretty much unbridled fun, if – and it’s a pretty big if – you don’t mind your movie fun spattered with viscera and peppered with deeply unpleasant characters being unpleasant. The first half is a particular offender in the latter category, the second half in the former.

Best bit.

Seth takes charge of the survivors, and realises that if Jacob retains his faith, he can bless the tap water to make a weapon for them. Keitel’s attempt to get into the spirit of Seth’s leadership style provides a high point of the movie, particularly since it includes the absurd notion of Harvey Keitel being unwilling to swear.

Seth: So what are you, Jacob? A faithless preacher? Or a mean motherfuckin’ servant of God?
Jacob: I’m a mean m… m… servant of God.

What’s up with…?

  • The crowd? How come this place attracts such a massive audience if they all get killed each night. Presumably there aren’t any regulars, and the Titty Twister is in the middle of nowhere!
  • The vampires sucking so desperately? Because they do. If one thief and a preacher can cause this much damage, you have to wonder how they’ve lasted as long as they have.

Ratings

Production values – Fair to good. Some of the vampire effects are a little silly, but in general the film is well shot and you can hear the dialogue pretty well too. 8

Dialogue and performances – Pretty much to par for a Tarantino co-script, namely there’s a swear word every three seconds, a lot of inconsequential ramblings of the meaning of life, and some holier than thou criminal code stuff from Seth. Of course, the person he’s being holier than is Richard, so that’s fair. The acting is solid, with Clooney managing to go most of the film without either grinning or twitching his head all over the place. Tarantino is rubbish, but then he always is. 10

Plot and execution – Simple, but effective. The genre switch is handled pretty well, and the two halves each has a distinct mood. The latter half is far better than the first, probably because it’s more Rodriguez’ thing, and because of the absence of Tarantino. 7

Randomness – Aside from the sudden attack of the undead – oh, and the codpiece cannon – the film plays it straight. ‘It’ is horde of vampires in a strip-club/brothel set atop an ancient Mexican ziggurat, but they play that straight. 5

Waste of Potential – Probably the best crime-road-movie-turns-into-a-vampire-flick you’re ever going to see. Certainly better than those crappy non-period Hammer efforts. 5

Overall 35%

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