“FROM DUSK TILL DAWN”: FILM REVIEW

Posted by: on Nov 30, 2011 | No Comments

Review of From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996.

Written by Jim Haake

Having recently seen the political drama The Ides of March, directed by and starring George Clooney, I was hit by what I think is one of the most important questions of the modern age: could the Cloon-ster possibly be the coolest man ever to walk the earth? (Whether he hits the top spot is debatable, but he is definitely on the shortlist.) In seeking to answer this question, I went back to his first feature film role after the success he found in US medi-drama ER. That film is From Dusk Till Dawn, a half gangster flick, half vampire action film, from the creative team of freaks that is Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

The basic premise is that Seth Gecko (Clooney) and his brother Richie, played by Tarantino himself, are two criminals on the run from the law, and in attempting to cross the border to Mexico they hijack a campervan. Its occupants are Jacob, a retired preacher, played by Harvey Keitel, and his kids, played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu. So far, so Pulp Fiction. After crossing the border, they end up at a bar called, wait for it, the ‘Titty Twister’. It’s here that the film changes tone, pace, and arguably genre. A table-dance by Salma Hayek is the cue for an hour of vampiric carnage, featuring, among other things, a character called Sex Machine with a penis-shaped gun hidden in his crotch.

So this really is a film of two halves, the first half being a somewhat sinister story about gangsters, the second being a ridiculous action-film gore-fest. That is the main problem with this movie; it really does feel like two different films simply stitched together. I know the horror bit is really supposed to start in the second half, but personally I found the first act much creepier. The idea of a family being taken at gunpoint is scarier, in a much more real way, than hordes of freaky vampires devouring the patrons of a Mexican strip club.

George Clooney is brilliant, as always, as the psychopathically charming Seth, whilst Tarantino is almost too convincing as the creepy Richie. You get the feeling he doesn’t actually have to try too hard to pull off the whole ‘perverted criminal who imagines teenage girls talking dirty to him’. Harvey Keitel is solid as always, though compared to her last outing with Tarantino in Natural Born Killers, Juliette Lewis is almost invisible. Several Rodriguez regulars make an appearance, with Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, and Cheech Marin all in small parts. Honorable mention must also go to horror make-up legend Tom Savini, who plays the aforementioned ‘Sex Machine’.

Overall this film is a mixed bag. It’s great fun if you’re in the right mood, or are a teenage boy. If you feel like something serious or thought provoking, then you’ve probably got the wrong film. Although, it is nice to see vampires as they should be: horrific creatures of the night that prey on humans, not pathetic vegetarians who sparkle and get whiny teenagers pregnant.
As for the George Clooney question, this film definitely gets him closer to the top spot. Anyone who kills vampires is cool.

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