Sunday, December 17, 2006

From Dusk Till Dawn – review


Director: Robert Rodriguez

Release Date: 1996

Contains spoilers

This review is one I’ve held back from for too long. Let’s face it when you have a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, direction by Robert Rodriguez and Salma Hayek in the film you can’t go too far wrong. Now I should admit at this point I like Rodriguez’ movies, generally, and I think Tarantino is one of the most talented people involved in modern movies. I should also admit that I have somewhat of a crush on Salma Hayek (and have done ever since I watched this movie at the cinema when it was first released) and therefore you are going to find that this review is going to be peppered with gratuitous Salma screenshots – I make no apologies for that!

Gratuitous Salma screenshotThe film is, to a degree, a film of two parts. Now for many people that is an issue but I think that it is less a film of two parts than many, perhaps, make out and it is certainly not an issue to me. I’ll discuss that in depth later.

The film begins with a car pulling up at Benny’s World of Liquor and Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) parking and entering the building. Now a nice bit of cross-over is the fact that Parks reprises the character role in Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003) by Tarantino. He speaks to liquor store clerk Pete (John Hawkes) for a while, mentioning fugitives on and anotherthe run who have killed Texas Rangers, and then goes to use the bathroom. Suddenly the customers in the store are at the front desk and a gun is a Pete’s head. The two girls are being held by said fugitives, the brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richard, or Ritchie, Gecko (Quentin Tarantino), and they had told Pete to get rid of the Ranger. Ritchie accuses Pete of signalling McGraw, which he denies. The toilet flushes and the two drag the girls back into the produce racks.

The GeckosMcGraw is saying his goodbyes when Ritchie shoots the Ranger and then says that Pete whispered “Help us,” something the clerk denies. He is shot for his trouble. As the two brothers argue, Pete opens a safe and gets a gun, shooting at the brothers and blowing a hole through Ritchie’s hand. A gunfight ensues which ends up with Pete being set alight. As the brothers leave the store they continue to argue whilst the store blows up. The credits role as they drive away, during which we see that they have bank teller Gloria (Brenda Hillhouse) trussed up in the boot of the car.

and anotherIt is a fantastic opening and is very Tarantino, violent, action packed and reliant on excellently written and delivered dialogue. Indeed the performances in the movie are incredibly strong.

They get to a motel and hole up. They have a plan, it is simply to get across the border to Mexico where they will meet Carlos (Cheet Marin) and, for thirty percent of their loot, they will be given sanctuary at El Ray. Seth leaves Gloria with Ritchie whilst he goes to ring Carlos and scope out the area.

and anotherIn a nearby restaurant, Jacob Fuller (Harvey Kietel) is telling his kids, Scott (Ernest Liu) and Kate (Juliette Lewis), that he intends to get a motel for the night before they go to Mexico, for their vacation. As the film progresses we discover that Jacob was a Minister but he has lost his faith due to the automobile accident that killed his wife. They have a motor home but he wants a night on a real bed.

and anotherIn a TV interview we discover that Ritchie broke Seth out when he was taken to court, they have robbed a bank and killed several people. The police, the Texas Rangers and the FBI are looking for them. We also discover that Ritchie is a sex offender. When Seth gets back to the motel room we discover that Gloria is dead, violently killed and presumably raped by Ritchie. The way this is shot is genius as we get the feel from what happened in bloody, but not too gratuitous, almost subliminal flashes and from Seth’s reaction. However, when the Fuller’s reach the same motel Seth comes up with a plan which involves kidnapping the family and using their motor home to get across the border.

and anotherI don’t really want to go too much into the first half of the film. Suffice it to say that it is dialogue heavy and brilliantly draws the characters. Neither Ritchie nor Seth should be likable but the dialogue charms us and makes us root for them in the second half of the film. In Seth Gecko we have a real anti-hero.

Once across the border they go to a bar for the night, where Carlos is going to rendezvous with them come the dawn. The stipulation on the family is that they must stay with them for the night and then they will be released. The bar is called the Titty Twister.

Cheech Marin as Chet PussyAs they get there a character called Chet Pussy (Cheech Marin) is giving a running advertisement for the bar. Rude it may be, but it is brilliantly written, fantastically delivered and intensely funny. As the brothers and their hostages enter the bar Chet tries to stop them but Seth breaks his fingers and then his nose. Ritchie gives him a good kicking when he’s down.

It is here that the tone of the film begins to shift. The bar is wild, a mariachi band plays, topless girls table dance and fights are breaking out. Seth comments that it is his sort of place and then orders a whiskey at the bar. The bartender, Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) pours a whiskey and drinks it himself and then tells Seth they can’t come in – the bar is for truckers and bikers only. One of the patrons, Big Emilio (Ernest M Garcia), clamps his hand on Seth’s shoulder menacingly. The situation is calmed down by Jacob who holds a trucker’s license and they are allowed to stay.

and anotherSeth is still stewing over being touched but, again, Jacob calms him and then Razor Charlie announces the entertainment – Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek). Now this has to be, for me, one of the sexiest moments in a vampire movie as Santanico dances with a snake and then ends up dancing on the Gecko’s table. Salma Hayek looks absolutely wonderful and the audience is entranced by her performance. Too soon, however, the dance is over and she is still on the table when Big Emilo, Razor Charlie and Chet Pussy come marching over to the table, to tackle the Gecko’s over Chet’s beating. Santanico vampire formsThere is some gunfire and Ritchie is stabbed through his injured hand. As the three Mexicans lie ‘dead’ on the floor we see Santanico react to the blood dripping from Ritchie’s wound. Suddenly she changes into a snake like vampire and leaps on Ritchie, biting and killing him. The three dead men suddenly sit up. A heavy bar is pushed across the door, preventing escape, and it is announced that dinner is served. All hell breaks loose…

The heroesThe bar is run by vampires who have been feeding on bikers and truckers for years. After the fight the only survivors are the Fullers, Seth and two of the patrons, biker Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and Vietnam Vet Frost (Fred Williamson). Outside bats buffet the walls and inside those killed are quickly rising as vampires.

The vampires in this follow some of the standard genre conventions. and anotherWe discover that they fear the cross, holy water injures them, sunlight kills them – as does fire and a stake through the heart works as one would expect. There are some changes however. Big Emilio has his still beating heart ripped out and still goes until it is staked. One vampire losses his head and the eyes still move, his body grows another head and he turns into a huge rat monster. The vampires bleed a green blood, whilst this seems odd it was done in order to get the movie past the censors. Given the amount of gore in the film one wonders wherever this was necessary.

Those bitten, whether killed or not, quickly turn. As Seth battles Santanico she tells him that she is not going to drain him fully, he will be her slave. I believe this indicates that the vampire that turns you will have control unless you are fully drained.Danny Trejo as Razor Charlie In response, Seth tells her he already has a wife. Silver is mentioned but never really examined as none of the characters carry silver. The vampires also come in many shapes, from grotesque bat monsters, to demon or snake faced creatures. Some have standard fangs, some have lower fangs. We are told that, despite having superhuman strength, their bodies seem soft, mushy even, hence it is easy to ram a stake through their chests and it is mentioned that a good strong punch might take a head clean off.

pump action crossScott comments at one point that they have plenty of crosses, in the form of sticks that can be crossed (Sex Machine mentions that Peter Cushing does that all the time!), and this leads to an ingenious form of vampire killing/protection when Jacob puts a baseball bat through the pump action mechanism of a shotgun and makes the first pump action cross to ward of the vampires and shoot them if they get too close.

pneumatic stakeOther interesting vampire weapons are condoms filled with holy water, crosses cut into bullet cases and, most impressive, Seth’s pneumatically powered stake.

The reason people say this is a film of two halves is the second part of the film becomes a comic book, high gore slaughter-fest (with good effects) and yet it is forgotten, I feel, that the dialogue still appears and remains superb, in fact the whole film is peppered with really very black humour. The genius of this film is that the first part of the movie draws us in and makes us know the characters. Because we know the characters we care about them. The violence in the first half of the film is high level, it just isn’t shlock as it is in the second half. The bottom-line, to me, is that the film might be of two parts but those two parts complement each other perfectly and together make the film much stronger than it might have otherwise been.

and anotherThat said, when I saw the film at the cinema I was with my better half and a friend. My better half knew, through me, what sort of film it was and through the first half of the movie whispered a couple of times to me, “Where are the vampires?” When the film changed my friend, sat on the other side of me and not knowing anything about the movie before hand, leant over and asked me, “What the Hell just happened?”

and anotherI said before that the acting was brilliant but the three who, for me, steal the show are Harvey Kietel, Juliette Lewis and, more than anyone, George Clooney. Clooney looks superb as Seth, with his large black-work tribal tattoo. At the time the film was made Clooney was also in ER, which my partner is a big fan of, I couldn’t watch him in ER again because I just couldn’t see him as anyone other than Seth Gecko. Juliette Lewis gives us a very strong female lead, which is nice to see.

and anotherThe music in the film is superb throughout, the soundtrack is well worth owning and – you might be able to tell – I love this movie. It is witty, intelligent and yet schlocky and gory all rolled into one. 9 out of 10. The film spawned two sequels, neither of which were as good as this film, both of which I will review in the not too distant future. It also spawned a PC game, in which you play Seth, but the game was fairly poor unfortunately.

The imdb page is here.

Oh, what the Hell, let’s have one more Salma screenshot:a final one!


Mark said...

I didn't see this at the theater when it was first released. However, after I happened to catch a clip of Salma Hayek's snake dance, I knew I had to own a copy.

I was pleased to find the rest of the movie was entertaining as well.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mark, I'm glad Salma's dance tempted another... lol

Anonymous said...

The snake dance was certainly a nice centrepiece.

It's also probably not surprising that screenwriter Tarantino, is apparently a bit of a foot fetishist...

But I digress.

This is certainly one of the best vampire movies. I like it so much I own its comic adaptation, the soundtrack and the original screenplay in book form (London: Faber and Faber, 1996).

There was also a documentary made on the production of the film, called Full Tilt Boogie (1997). Its main worth is probably as a curio.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Anthony, I'll have to keep an eye out for the comic adaptation. I have full tilt boogie - as you say, more so a curio.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I have seen only opening of this film. Two sleazy sadists torture and murder people in ha-ha-it´s-cool fashion. Typical Tarantino, I have heard, but it was so trashy and disturbing and unfunny "comedy" that I stopped - long before I got to any vampire parts!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Christine, as you can probably tell from the review I like this one - but it isn't everyone's cup of tea (I know Chick over at Trash Aesthetics isn't a fan).

The T said...

I'm not a fan of this movie. I don't like the locations, don't like the lack of script, don't like pretty much everything. Except Salma Hayek of course lol.

I think Tarantino's a genius. I think Rodriguez's is nowhere as talented and good mostly for shooting set pieces and violent/humourous scenes.

Good review nevertheless, especially since you put a lot of focus on the best part of the film, Hayek.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

The T, from the reactions I've had re the film it is a 'love it or hate it' film... though hate might be strong.

However most straight guys I know appreaciate that one special scene, even if they dislike the rest of the movie.

JaredMithrandir said...

I found it interesting how everyone naturally figured out what these creatures were and what to do without the need of a a Van Helsing character to provide exposition. Discussion of the lore comes latter were they only discus what they've already demonstrated.

I think it's also note worthy that Kate is the first one to kill one of the Vampires.

Salma's dance scene didn't do much for me, I prefer to my Vampire seductions to be more subtle and intimate.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Fair enough, its each to their own ;) I just have a thing about Salma altogether.

Its an interesting point you make about them knowing what to do, which given pop-culture would be the case, of course.