RETRO REVIEW – ‘From Dusk till Dawn’

Review by J.T. Johnson

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: January 19, 1996
DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Guillermo Navarro
WRITER: Quentin Tarantino
MUSIC: Graeme Revell

In 1996, filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino released the film that could be considered a prototype for their later collaboration, “Grindhouse”. The movie is “From Dusk Till Dawn” and it contains Tarantino’s signature dialogue, Rodriguez’s over-the-top action and actor George Clooney in a role that people may not be accustomed to seeing him in when compared to his roles in other films.

Clooney and Tarantino play Seth and Richie Gecko, two bank robbers who are on the run in Texas and trying to make it to Mexico for a rendezvous with backers from their last job. On the way there, the Gecko brothers hijack an RV and take the Fuller family hostage. The family includes the patriarch Jacob (Harvey Keitel), who also happens to be a preacher going through a crisis of faith, and his daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) and his adopted son Scott (Ernest Liu).

Playing out like the aftermath of a dramatic heist, the story takes a turn for the worst when the group gets to the meeting place called the Titty Twister. When things get heated with the local patrons and employees, it turns out that the place is full of vampires. Now, along with other survivors, the Fullers and the Gecko brothers must fight in order to reach the next sunrise.

The film’s tone is a collision of two masters of the independent film. At first, the characters are talking about everyday things like in Tarantino’s other films including “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”. Then, the bullets begin to fly and things go completely nuts like Rodriguez’s own film, “Desperado”. This is one of those rare moments where two different directors combine their talents. It feels so natural that unless the audience looks closer, they would not be able to tell that two directors were behind the camera.

The only problem comes about when the film switches from a crime thriller to a crazy vampire movie. It’s a bit of a jolt and Rodriguez tries to set up that something is about to happen, but the right turn into crazyville does not feel quite natural. However, once the craziness ensues, the audience quickly forgets that the rollercoaster has officially gone off the rails.

Another highlight of the film comes from the performances of a diverse cast of characters. The biggest highlight actually comes from Clooney, who gives a crazy performance and plays a pretty despicable character. Still, he manages to win over the audience with his signature leading man charm.

Tarantino plays Richie in one of his rare leading roles and does a decent job despite not being quite as memorable as Clooney. His character is even more despicable and it’s a little harder for the audience to really feel for a character who does some extremely horrible things and sort of deserves whatever comeuppance might come his way.

One more memorable moment comes in the form of a brief performance from Salma Hayek. At this time, she was known more for her role in “Desperado” and here, she gives an erotic dance that has gone on to take its small place in film history. If anyone searches for this movie on YouTube, her dance is one of the first things to show up beyond the trailer.

Finally, there are the vampire effects. This is a true independent film that contains some special-effects that definitely belong to the drive-thru era of films. While they are quite enduring, they may turn away some viewers along with some of the crazy violence.

There are definitely problems with the film, but “From Dusk Till Dawn” proved to be a good collaboration from two independent film masters.

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