February 10, 2020

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Grade: 70/100

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Stars: George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Harvey Keitel

What it's about. This early Quentin Tarantino effort has Robert Rodriguez taking the reins as director, as he would again for Tarantino in films such as Four Rooms, Sin City, and Grindhouse. But Tarantino is the screenwriter, and also has an acting role as George Clooney's psycho killer brother. Clooney is an escaped prisoner, freed by his brother, and the duo rob and murder their way through Texas toward the Mexico border.

Border guards are looking for them, so they carjack Harvey Keitel, a retired minister whose camper was parked at the wrong motel at the wrong time. Keitel's two teenage children, Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu, are held at gunpoint within the camper at the border crossing until all five make it into Mexico.

Clooney is to meet a money launderer outside a biker roadhouse, the Titty Twister, the next morning. The five go inside the rowdy bar, but it turns out that employees Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, and even Salma Hayek are vampires, along with many others. The five try to fight off the demons, along with human tough guys Fred Williamson and Tom Savini.

How others will see it. The comedy-crime-horror genre isn't taken seriously by critics, so it is unsurprising that the film's greatest success on the festival circuit came at the Saturn Awards, where it was nominated for eight trophies and took home two.

Although Pulp Fiction was a box office surprise, not so with From Dusk Till Dawn, which had American theatrical revenues of only 25M. Certainly it did better in video sales, which explains why its two sequels were direct to video, and bypassed theaters altogether.

But the film's eventual commercial success is confirmed by its high 273K user votes. The user ratings are surprisingly consistent across demographics, between 7.1 and 7.3 out of 10. The user reviews mostly express satisfaction, but there is a general consensus that the film's first half, featuring the brothers on a murderous crime spree, is better than the second half, where the two team up with a preacher's family to fight off demonic vampires at a Mexican biker bar. But the biker bar does feature minimally clothed Selma Hayek, whose scenes are (for some viewers, at least) the high point of the movie.

How I felt about it. It is arguable whether Reservoir Dogs is a comedy. There's no doubt concerning the status of From Dusk Till Dawn. None of it is to be taken seriously, and we should feel no remorse for any of the many, many humans and inhumans who snuff it within the running time. Not even Brenda Hillhouse, a completely innocent hostage, or Ernest Liu, who was just on a road trip with his father and sister. After all, they are only movie characters, and thus completely expendable.

The cynical-sarcastic feel of the film's first half is consistent with its second half, even though the plot has transformed from killer brothers on the run, to humans versus vampires at the biker bar. Indeed, the first half is better, because silly gore can only get you so far, and not so far as the terror invoked by having a gun held to your head by two unstable and desperate men.

The greatest attribute of any Tarantino film is its script. He undeniably has a talent for trash-talking dialogue. While the second half has its share of lines, they become secondary to the gore and special effects. It reminds of a comment someone made about Wild Things: "Anybody could have ended up on that boat." Clooney and Lewis survive, because the former is a movie star, and the latter is a babe. These are the wrong reasons.