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Parental Warning/Heads Up!: This film is not meant for kids! It includes swearing, violence, nudity, graphic content, guns worn around the groin, sex, cursing, gore, and so on. Do not show this to your kids. Viewer’s discretion is advised. I will also be talking about the movie as a whole, since I can’t talk about it without spoiling it.
When I was picking films to review for Play it Again, I wanted to not pick typical super-cheesy or sleazy schlock. Even when it comes to making schlock, there is an art and proper execution for making B movie-style films. Sure, you can be more violent, over-the-top, self-aware, or sexual, but it doesn’t mean you can slack off in the other departments. It’s why I found the perfect film for this whole philosophy of well-made B movie entertainment that is more A-grade than B-grade. What film is that? It’s the Quinten Tarantino-written and Robert Rodriguez-directed, From Dusk Til Dawn.
The story follows two brothers, Seth and Richie Gecko, played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino. They are running away from the police after pulling off a heist, killing some people, and taking a bank teller hostage. They stop at a hotel, and end up taking a family including an ex-priest, Jacob Fuller, played by Harvey Keitel, his daughter Katherine Fuller, played by Juliette Lewis, and his adopted son, Scott Fuller, played by Ernest Liu. The two brothers end up using them to get across the border to Mexico. Seth tells the family that they are going to a strip club called The Titty Twister to wait for his “business” partner to arrive there at dawn. Unfortunately for them, after seeing a tantalizing dance from a stripper, played by Salma Hayek, they end up finding out, along with the other truckers and bikers, that The Titty Twister is a hive of vampires! Stuff hits the fan, and they have to find a way to survive until dawn. They team up with a biker named Sex Machine, played by Tom Savini, and a Vietnam vet named Frost, played by Fred Williamson. Can they make it out alive, or will the vampires be having an “all you can drink” buffet?
The first criticism I hear about this film all the time is the tonal shift. At first, it starts out as a fairly serious and imposing crime thriller. Every scene with the two brothers and the kidnapped bank-teller is filled with constant dread, due to how violent the two can be. Then halfway through, it turns into a B-movie with a stripper joint being the den of a horde of vampires. I can understand that being very jarring to some people, but at the same time, did people not see the shootout at the beginning of the film? Yeah, it had its serious moments, but it was also fun to watch, as you wait to see who pulled the trigger first. I can respect that back when this was released, this was jarring, and people didn’t like getting caught off-guard due to the sudden change, but if you sit back, and let it happen, it turns into one of the most entertaining tributes to B-movies of all of cinema. I think some people forget a lot of B-movies would have sudden change in tone or plot, and a lot of them are fondly remembered. There is just something so tantalizing about watching this film from start to finish.
From the quick witty writing of Tarantino, to one of Robert Rodriguez’s best directorial works, it’s a blast to watch all the characters work off one another to survive until dawn and to not be bitten or turned into vampires themselves. All the characters are memorable, and all have pretty great lines. It’s easily a film I quote when I’m talking with friends or quoting it back and forth with my parents. Yeah, I had cool parents who loved movies like this. The bar scene is especially memorable as you start from the dusty roads outside the bar, a loud and maniacal Cheech Marin, who is in this film three times, barking out that the girls are hot, and you walk in with the killer rock band, and Danny Trejo being your bartender. Of course, one of the most iconic scenes is the sexy and sultry dance done by Salma Hayek. It’s a bit sleazy, but it’s a strip joint, there is no Build-a-Bear Workshop built in. For the most part, the practical effects for the vampire make-up are superb, as everyone looks disgusting and monstrous. They even throw in a rat monster, just because they could. Some of the early CGI-dissolves look dated, but you don’t really focus on that when Tom Savini has a revolver gun around his groin and isn’t afraid to use it.
Even through all this madness, there is still this emotional investment with making sure everyone makes it out alive. While some characters get the short end of the stick, like Frost, you still feel bad for anyone that gets bitten or killed. It’s weird to say you stay emotionally invested when this sounds like an utter schlockfest, but you do. I wish some characters could have stuck around a little more, we could have gotten some other monster designs, and seen the sweet weapons in the final confrontation used more, but I don’t have a lot to complain about.
From Dusk Til Dawn can be sleazy, jarring, scary, funny, full of cursing, blood, and action-packed vampire killing, but that’s also why I love it so much. It knew how to execute everything, and it makes for one of the craziest rides of 1996. I know this film got a sequel, a prequel, and a retelling of the entire mythos in the form of a TV series, but really, all you need or really want to see is the first movie. It’s widely available, and if you are into fun movies with a unique flavor to them, then by all means, pick up this awesome gem. As far as I can tell, From Dusk Til Dawn might be one of my all-time favorite movies, and is easily one where I will be saying, “Play it Again, Cam!”