“From Dusk Till Dawn” is an undeniable cult classic from the minds of Robert Kurtzman, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Rodriguez. The ’96 film has gone on to inspire two additional films, a hit television series, and a place at 2014’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal.
From Dusk Till Dawn became a thing for me after I saw a PC video game for it at a local video game shop. It was there for a while, going virtually untouched except for when I’d take it off the shelf to look it over. It was around the time that I bought the video game that I wanted to know more about Seth Gecko, his brother Richard, and the world of criminals and vampires. Naturally, my next move was to buy the film. Not before long and The Gecko Brothers, that seedy Mexican bar, and Salma Hayek’s Santanico Pandemonium were the thing for me. Combining the sensibilities of a Quentin Tarantino crime film and a Stephen King horror story, there was nothing cooler than two bank robber brothers going up against a bar filled with vampires. And Tom Savini kicking ass and being Tom Savini.
From Dusk Till Dawn is not a movie for everyone, but if you enjoy Quentin Tarantino’s films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and the campy sensibilities of 70’s grindhouse horror, then you’ll love From Dusk Till Dawn. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are filmmakers that pull no punches and hold nothing back. Simply put, they make movies they’d enjoy watching. There’s actually, if you ask me, no better time than the summer to enjoy the Robert Rodriguez directed picture and while we’re in the 20th year of this cult classic, there’s actually no better time than now to rewatch it.
So what is From Dusk Till Dawn? It’s an hour and 48 minute story that begins as a crime film and abruptly turns into an over the top, campy, horror around the hour plus mark. The film begins with Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) making their way to the Mexican border. We’re filled in on the fact that they pulled off a bank robbery in Texas and several people were killed. After an explosive start at Benny’s World of Liquor and an intro set over “Dark Night” by The Blasters, the Gecko Brothers soon run into The Fuller Family and take them hostage. Having Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel), along with his daughter played by Juliette Lewis and son played by Ernest Liu drive them past border security in an RV, they make it over the border and take refuge at a Mexican bar called the Titty Twister. It’s here that they encounter the Robert Rodriguez staples such as Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo, and a sexy exotic dancer infamously played by Salma Hayek. It’s around this part of the film that the bartenders, dancers, and band all turn into snake like vampires and all hell breaks loose. All right, vampire killers… let’s kill some f****** vampires!
What makes From Dusk Till Dawn such a fun film for those that like crime and horror is all in the approach. Tarantino and Rodriguez set out to make a fun film that could easily play alongside some of the best Hammer movies and at some late night theater. It’s solid in nearly every aspect as the beginning of the film, a crime movie, is perfectly written by Quentin Tarantino. The characters of Seth and Richard could very well have fit into the likes of True Romance or Jackie Brown. In fact, the character Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) appears in Kill Bill, Planet Terror, and Death Proof. The food chain of Big Kahuna Burgers made famous in Pulp Fiction also plays a small part in the story. The makings of a great Tarantino film are all present within From Dusk Till Dawn and this is exactly why the movie works when it switches to a full-on Robert Rodriguez film an hour into it.
When Robert Rodriguez does camp, he does camp. And From Dusk Till Dawn is filled with it. Be it Tom Savini as Sex Machine and Fred “Frost” Williamson’s comedic performances or the vampire action blood and gore… heck, the movie is ultimately about bank robbers fighting vampire strippers in a strip club; the movie is camp horror no matter which way you slice and dice it. There’s no escaping it, especially in one of my favorite scenes, Tito & Tarantula as the vampiric house band playing actual music using human limbs.
What made the Universal Monsters so popular was not only the high value of the story for each movie, but the make-up, and performances; the films presented us with the benchmark for horror and monster movies. What Robert Kurtzman, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Rodriguez created in From Dusk Till Dawn has gone on to be one of the most enjoyed of horror films and gave us a monster mythology that has lasted for twenty years.
The characters of Seth and Richard Gecko are perfectly played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino. Clooney, coming off of films like Return to Horror High and Return of the Killer Tomatoes, was a horror guy. His turn as Seth Gecko, the more level headed of the brothers, was charming in as much a way as he was basically an a**hole. His delivery was perfect with lines like “Everybody be cool, you be cool.”
As a fan of Quentin Tarantino, I remember thinking it was great that he was playing Richard Gecko and he’s just as zany as you’d think. He plays Richard as a complete “nut” and even *SPOILER ALERT* a vampire too!
The horror and Universal Monsters fan in me loved the fact that this film had Tom Savini and excellent vampire makeup by some of the greats like Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman. The vampires were not unlike anything else and hinted at the more snake like origins of the vampires, along with the Aztec background to the film (which would be explored in greater detail in the television series).
While Madonna was originally considered for the role of Santanico Pandemonium, the role eventually went to Salma Hayek and she owned it. The then 30 year old actress didn’t have a huge part, but she was featured prominently in the trailers and poster. Hayek’s Santanico Pandemonium is the Twister’s main act and her most iconic scene is most assuredly not when she turns into a vampire, but when she dances to Tito & Tarantula’s “After Dark”. Sexy and seductive, Santanico Pandemonium is as important to From Dusk Till Dawn as the vampires are themselves.
From Dusk Till Dawn went on to win the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and it’s not hard to see why. The film was original and twenty years later is still just as much fun to watch as it was back when it released in January of 1996. The film has gone on to inspire a hit El Rey Network/Netflix series with season three beginning Fall 2016.
There’s several fun aspects to talk about concerning From Dusk Till Dawn but I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most about the movie. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already seen the movie. And if not, it’s on Netflix.
“He’s right. Peter Cushing does that all the time.” – Sex Machine (Tom Savini)
(Steven Biscotti – @reggiemantleIII)