Director: Robert Rodriguez
Dry, hot, dusty Texas. We meet the Gecko brothers, who pulled a daring bank heist which got them enough money to live la vida loca in El Ray, Mexico for many years to come. Except that Seth (George Clooney) was caught and imprisoned, but his bro Richie (Quentin Tarantino) audaciously broke him out right during his trial, leaving dead Texas Rangers, cops and civilians on their path. And now they’re heading for the border, which is predictably packed with cops…
Seth thinks he’s found the way to get by when he strolls past the motorhome of former minister Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel), his Chinese son Scott (Ernest Liu) and daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis). The brothers take them hostage, and what do you know, they achieve to cross the border unsuspected! All they have left to do is get to the rendezvous point, a sleazy biker bar called the Titty Twister, and have a few drinks while they wait for dawn to meet with Carlos, who will set them up in El Ray. There’s just one little problem… After some time in the Titty Twister, all hell breaks loose, literally, when the staff and strippers turn into bloodthirsty vampires and the place turn into carnage. The thugs and their hostages will have to unite force if they want to have a small chance to survive this madness…
“From Dusk Till Dawn” is an amazingly cool flick which was written by Quentin Tarantino, hot off “Pulp Fiction”, and directed by his pal Roberto Rodriguez, best known for his Mexican shoot-’em-up “El Mariachi” and “Desperado”. By now, we all know how good Tarantino is at taking the things he loves in movies, and then taking them to the next level, making it all refreshing and exhilarating. Here, he crafts a blend of madcap gore fests like the “Evil Dead” flicks, puts them in a Western setting, adds an element of thriller, with tension building up between the criminals and their hostages. And of course there’s the Tarantinoisms, like the sizzling, textured, very quotable dialogue, the sudden bursts of violence often played for laughs and the way every time you think where a scene is going, it’s twisted the other way around.
Tarantino is also a very gifted director, but for this highly action-fueled movie, he had the good sense of letting a specialist of the genre direct. I mean, who better than Rodriguez to match visually the strenght of the screenplay? His visual style is as inventive and unpredictable as ever, and the film bursts with energy. The cinematography looks great, and I love the use of blues, country and Mexican rock. Mostly, you got to admire how Rodriguez balances elements of action, comedy, horror, thriller, road movie and Western in the same film!
Rodriguez and Tarantino also managed to gather one heck of a wonderful cast, led by George Clooney in his first major big screen role. To me, the film totally belongs to him. Clooney’s Seth Gecko is one of these cooler than thou characters that I’m utterly fascinated with. He’s such a complex, flawed man, deeply masculine, confident and charismatic, but threatening at the same time. Yet… he’s a thief and a killer, but you sense that he’s not that bad a guy. Seth’s a bastard, but he’s not a fucking bastard. He’s gonna kill whoever gets in his way, but he’s not into gratuitous violence. What I like with Clooney in the film is how strongly he dominates every scene he’s in. He’s got the presence of a John Wayne or a Charlton Heston, with a touch of ’90s cynicism and playfulness. What I like the most might be how he doesn’t take shit from anybody, like when the fatass guy in the strip joint puts his hand on his shoulder and Seth can’t wait to kick the ass out of this sumbitch.
The other actors help to make him even more interesting. Harvey Keitel particularly, is great as always at acting restrained and subtly but without shedding any of his intensity. I like the way his character and Clooney’s start out diametrically opposed, and then a certain respect grows, as Keitel sees that Clooney is a man of honor, and Clooney helps the broken Keitel regain some of his lost faith.
Keitel also has good scenes with his kids, two cool, bright teenagers. Newcomer Ernest Liu is interesting as Scott who, like any teenage boy, can’t help but be intrigued by the Gecko bros, these badasses who take him and his family to a Mexican titty bar. Juliette Lewis’ good too as this apple pie girl who loses some of her innocence through the hell they all go through. Lewis has this kind of mix of sweetness and sexuality that is very compelling. Like, she’s a nice girl, but there’s something in her eyes… At least that’s what Richie Gecko thinks. Unlike Seth, he’s really as a nut, a violent psycho and a rapist. As an actor, Tarantino ain’t great, but he’s okay. He’s funny and by moments, he looks really crazy.
The film also features Cheech Marin in three hilarious cameos. His best one is Chest Pussy, the foul-mouthed doorman of the Titty Twister. And what about the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Salma Hayek, as a vampire queen who gives her victim a real treat of a sexy dance before turning the place into a slaughter. There’s also a bunch of lesser known Mexican actors who are all very fun, especially the tattooed bartender played by Danny Trejo.
Even cooler are Sex Machine and especially Frost. When we meet them in the Titty Twister, they literally steal the show. Cult hero Tom Savini plays Sex Machine, a badass biker. He’s one hell of a fighter, armed with his whip and his crotch – gun. But the coolest surprise is Blaxploitation star Fred Williamson as Frost, a mean trucker. Frost is the archetypal blaxploitation hero, almost painfully full attitude. Every line he says and everything he does is exciting. Frost is soooo cool, munching his cigar, tearing out the heart of a vampire, telling about the time he single-handily massacred a whole platoon of Vietcongs in Nam…
The “Dimension Collector’s Series” edition is truly first rate. It’s a great transfer, with crisp images and a tight, tight sound mix. Then it’s packed full of extras, from music videos to outtakes, TV spots, deleted scenes and alternate takes (mostly gorier action), features on the special effects… There’s even a second disc with the full-length feature “Full-Tilt Boogie”, a documentary on the making of the film, which is an enjoyable if indulgent look at life on the set. We see things like Clooney being silly, Juliette Lewis singing Karaoke in a bar, Tarantino who always seems to be performing some funny bit, Rodriguez operating the cameras himself and playing guitar between takes…
But what really sold me is what has to be one of the best running commentaries ever recorded. I mean, often commentaries get tedious. A director will just speak in a monotone voice, saying little interesting, even taking long pauses. Not the case here ! If you’ve ever seen an interview with Quentin Tarantino, you know he’s an unstoppable motor-mouth and a great storyteller with an endless supply of anecdotes, obscure movie references and impersonations. He doesn’t disappoint, overwhelming you with fun stories and interesting trivia about the film. His manic blabbing could get to be too much, but he’s smartly paired with buddy Robert Rodriguez, with whom he goes back and forth discussing while the movie rolls. Rodriguez is more laid back, more cool, but you can feel that he’s as passionate as Tarantino about cinema.
From the above review, you can tell I just adore the film. It might just be the best B-movie ever made. As Tarantino and Rodriguez often point out, this is pure exploitation filmmaking, yet they cast all these great actors, they have a big budget, and I’d add that these two have a lot of talent! And, as mentioned, they clearly love what they do, and hearing and watching them go on about what they’ve done in the commentary and in the documentary, I got to have even bigger respect and appreciation for them and the movie. A must buy for genre fans.