Sunday, May 25, 2014

From Dusk till Dawn: The Series – Season 1 - review

Director: Various

First Aired: 2014

Contains Spoilers

Written by and starring Quinten Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez, the 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn is absolutely iconic and, whilst not universally loved, I think it a classic of the vampire genre.

It was with some trepidation, and yet optimism, that I awaited the release of this TV series based on it. Optimism because Rodriguez was behind the project (indeed he is behind the network it was made for) but the idea that the series would follow the film’s story line (for season 1) left a nagging doubt.

You - be cool
As I sat down to watch episode 1 (cleverly the series was available on several countries’ Netflix immediately after US premier - other TV series makers take note) my doubts were displaced. The first episode is the prologue of the film extended to 45 minutes and there were changes. Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz, Vampires Suck) is not just psychologically unhinged but is clearly getting telepathic communications from Santánico Pandemonium (Eiza González). Her role in the series is vastly expanded (and yes the dance does happen) and Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Don Johnson, Nash Bridges: Superstition) still dies, at the end of the first episode, but has a partner called Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) who will hunt the Geckos across Texas and over the border.

Don Johnson was magnificent
However let me stop here and say just how frigging good Don Johnson was in this. He outshone everyone on screen and this was perhaps a little unfortunate as we were to get to know the Geckos in this episode but their lights were dimmed compared to his. D.J. Cotrona had his work cut out as Seth Gecko because comparisons to George Clooney’s stunning portrayal were inevitable, but whilst not as good he did a very good job. Making Richie look so clean cut and boyish was a genius move that made him stand out against Tarantino’s sinister performance.

The Geckos
Despite the differences in story the basic story remains the same. Having broken Seth out of prison, Richie and Seth rob a bank and run for Mexico, leaving a wake of bodies behind them. Meanwhile a paster, Jacob Fuller (Robert Patrick, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money) has recently lost his wife (Joanna Going, Dark Shadows: the Revival) and has taken his daughter Kate (Madison Davenport) and adopted son Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo) on a trip to Texas (en route to Mexico). The details of the death and family pressures are expanded on (and Scott gets a more substantial story). Their paths cross and the Geckos use the family to get across the border.

sex machine
One change early on is that Seth’s contact, Carlos (Wilmer Valderrama), is part of the vampires and setting the brothers up. It is through him that we discover some of the lore early on. Later on a Professor of Mesoamerican legends, Professor Aiden Tanner (Jake Busey, Frost: Portrait of a Vampire), tells us much more. Tanner is also, in this, original character Sex Machine – replete with crotch gun. The vampires are not called vampires by Tanner but, for all intents and purposes, they are a snake vampire.

snake vampire
They eat someone’s life energy (or soul, Carlos claims) through the conduit of blood and can turn a victim into one of their own by injecting venom into them (with a notable exception). This eating of the soul allows them to take the form of their victims – this also causes them to look to be wearing the clothes of the victim too. Their fangs flip down like a snake’s and they have various stages of snake form. A stake to the heart (as it is the blood organ) will kill them. They are not deterred by religious iconography (or at least not in the Titty Twister as it is their temple) and so the story of Jacob’s rocked faith isn’t as important. Despite the snake aspect they can grow giant bat wings (perhaps referencing winged serpents).

The sunlight aspect is odd. We see Carlos out in the day and also see his fingers begin to burn in direct sunlight but at another point we see him walking across a highway on the Mexico border with no shade and no noticeable detriment. Santánico tells a new vampire that he can’t face sunlight yet – indicating that he will be able to eventually. The vampires are themselves the slaves of the 9 Lords – these are (not-so-)mythical God’s of the underworld and the vampires are meant to provide the lord's representatives with sustenance and them with sacrifice (this is under explored for me).

Eiza González as Santanico
So, the story diverges but holds its own. The fact that a film has been stretched to a 10 episode series wasn’t problematic. I think they made a dubious choice around language though as it was severely toned down and lost part of the atmosphere of the film in doing so. Certain iconic moments fell flat – “Richie, would you do me a favour and eat my pussy for me… please” as he hallucinates over Kate became a tame request for Bikini removal and clumsy as a result. Generally the series felt a little wussy when it came to the language, therefore. Given some of the violence and later nudity (the topless dancers are still there) it was an odd choice.

bat wings
Not too much of a score detractor though. The fact was I looked forward to each episode release and whilst I don’t think it was as good as the original it was fun. Many of the story changes were good and I did start wondering how they were going to pull the divergent (between film and series) story strands together. This was good TV overall and it deserves the second season it has got. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


LoBo said...

I will buy season 1. I hope i will like it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I hope you enjoy it too :)

Xantosh82 said...

Although i haven't finished this series yet, i was super reluctant to watch it due to other super bad remakes of other movies/shows, the only thing i disliked about this, because i freaking love mythology, is that so far S1E7 the only thing they have similar with vamps is the blood sucking but they more closely resemble Lamia, scaled skin, fangs, etc (Lamia have had different forms over the years but in recent novels i feel Laurel K Hamiliton's Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series best portrayed the Lamia [ability to take on human form and a half sanke/human form], and no i don't just read Anita Blake for the massive amounts of sex in it!)

other than that, so far the series is awesome AF!!!!!!!!!!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Alucard82 - of course many people draw the Lamia into the vampire umbrella. However, to be fair, they are not just sucking the blood... it becomes clear that they are eating the soul. They are also susceptible to being staked, can turn others into Calebra and burn in sunlight ;)

glad you think it awesome... :D