The 1996 film From Dusk Til Dawn starring George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino and Salma Hayek became a cult classic with its mix of crime drama and campy horror comedy. The movie’s story has been taken a step further courtesy of co-creator Robert Rodriguez and the El Rey Network. As we prepare for the premiere of season 3 in the coming days, let us take a look at what makes this show a hidden television gem.
The first season of From Dusk Til Dawn is essentially the movie. Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona) and his brother Richard (Zane Holtz) rob Benny’s liquor store and kill Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Don Johnson). They encounter Jacob Fuller (Robert Patrick) and his children Kate (Madison Davenport) and Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo) in a hotel. Seth tells Jacob to hide himself and Richard in their RV as they cross the Mexican border. The plan works and they wind up at a dive bar called The Titty Twister. Just like in the movie, they meet Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez) and a whole nest of vampires known as culebras. Season two picks after the events of season one as the characters are given brand new stories and even set out on their own as they prepare for, and do anything can to survive, a clash between two worlds–one human, one culebra.
When I saw the film From Dusk Til Dawn, the scenes at the Titty Twister caught me off guard because of how serious the movie was with the shooting and the Geckos on the run. I did enjoy the film but the television series has become my favorite of the two. While the movie could not go into too much detail otherwise it would go on for hours, the show does a great job at developing the main characters and showing us their backstories and how they have changed over the course of two seasons. The biggest changes are seen in Kate and Scott Fuller. While Madison Davenport’s Kate wasn’t as feisty or hardened as Juliette Lewis’s in the film, she did show a loyalty and fighting spirit when it came to Scott and the Geckos. Scott changes in more ways than one but he keeps his smart-mouth, rebellious personality about him. While the Fuller kids and the Geckos essentially kept the same stories and traits from their movie counterparts, other characters were changed completely and new characters were introduced for television.
In the movie, we do not see much of Santanico or Carlos aside from the Titty Twister so we know very little about them. The show does a brilliant job of giving them an in-depth, and even historically-influenced, backstory which runs over the course of both seasons. Salma Hayak was great as Santanico in the film but Eisa Gonzalez took the character to a whole other level. She reminded me of Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty in the Fast and the Furious franchise. Santanico is a woman who is turned into a culebra slave by Malvado (Esai Morales), a brand new character who is the culebra crime syndicate boss. He is the man behind the operation of the Titty Twister. When she is rescued and freed by Richard, she sets out on a mission of revenge against the culebras who forced her into a life of slavery. Carlos, played by Cheech Marin in the movie, is the dealer that the Geckos are to meet with in Mexico to secure a drop and money. In the series, he is played brilliantly by That 70s Show alum Wilmer Valderrama. Carlos is a culebra who started as a Spanish Conquistador who landed in Mexico during the time of the Mayas and Aztecs. As a history major, I enjoyed the incorporation of the historical-fiction aspect. Valderrama played the role so well and was so convincing as the ruthless crime lord. Jake Busey did great work taking over as Sex Machine for Tom Savini (who is cast in Season 3). He is a professor who is undercover studying the ruins and the culebras only to become one himself.
The newest, and one of my favorite characters, in the television adaptation of From Dusk Til Dawn is Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia). He witnesses the shootout at Benny’s and watches Earl die. It becomes his personal mission to apprehend the Geckos no matter what, even if it means going rogue and following them into Mexico. While his main goal is to avenge his partner’s death, he never strays from the core values of a Ranger. He gets down and dirty with the culebras to protect his family, Kate and Scott. After a while, he even joins the Geckos against Carlos and the others. Garcia does a fine job as Ranger Gonzalez and captures that man of honor spirit.
From Dusk Til Dawn is a hidden television gem on the relatively new El Rey Network which is only carried by certain cable/satellite providers. It honors the original film, as it manned by Robert Rodriguez, while expanding it for the purposes of television. There is a sense of realism in the show that was not in the movie. It was presented as if this could happen in real life which is something I enjoyed about the show. The horror and violence are not overly gruesome or gory for the sake of blood, but it’s not campy and there for a laugh and a thrill like it was in the movie. There is no shortage of high-profile guest stars such as Friday Night Lights and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. alum Adrianne Palicki, Predator 2‘s Gary Busey, pop star Demi Lovato and Machete himself, Danny Trejo who plays a culebra hitman. If you have not seen this series yet, I suggest watching the movie first to see where the TV show came from and to see how these characters came to be. If you have already seen the movie or just want to skip straight to the series, it is on Netflix and both seasons run 10 episodes.
Season 3 premieres Tuesday, September 6th at 9pm on El Rey Network. Check your local listings.
(Joe Grodensky – @JoeGrodensky)