For some horror fans, the 1990’s wasn’t the best decade for the genre. Yes, it gave us Scream and Jacob’s Ladder. But it’s also the decade that produced forgettable genre fare like Man’s Best Friend and Brainscan. This was the decade where grunge, plaid flannel, and Beanie Babies ruled. Maverick indie filmmakers also briefly went mainstream. Directors like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, and John Dahl shrugged off Hollywood sensibilities. In 1996, Rodriguez and Tarantino brought their irreverent styles together to make one of the better vampire movies of all time – From Dusk Till Dawn. Two movies in one – part crime drama, part action horror movie.
From Dusk Till Dawn Subverts Genre Expectations
Don’t go into From Dusk Till Dawn expecting a faithful adaptation of vampire mythology. While the movie’s final scene hints at a potential Aztec mythology, director Robert Rodriguez is more concerned with action and cartoonish gore. There’s not much rhyme or reason to the movie’s vampires, a point which characters riff on in one scene. But Robert Kurtzman’s (Night of the Creeps) vampire makeup effects impress for a more modestly budgeted movie. And Rodriguez’s ‘Looney Tunes’ violence calls back to classics like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Hearts are ripped out of chests, vampires are impaled on the legs of an overturned table, and parts of heads are shot off. All of this violence is served up with a perversely dark sense of humour.
Few directors in the 90’s filmed their actio scenes with the same flair as Rodriguez.
Where From Dusk Till Dawn distinguishes itself from other vampire movies is Rodriguez’s kinetic action style. Few directors in the 90’s filmed their action scenes with the same flair as Rodriguez. From tilted close-ups to rapid editing, Rodriguez brings a bombastic approach to From Dusk Till Dawn. Whether it’s Harvey Keitel using a baseball bat and shotgun as a makeshift crucifix or Clooney and Juliette Lewis shooting holes in the bar wall to let in sunlight, Rodriguez makes his vampire action look stylish. Once the horror elements of the movie kick in Rodriguez rarely lets things slow down. In fact, the movie’s rapid second half loses some of the snappy dialogue in lieu of the violence.
Tarantino Dialogue Instantly Quotable
Kurtzman also wrote the movie’s story, which Tarantino worked into a screenplay. Without a doubt, Tarantino’s fingerprints are all over From Dusk Till Dawn, particularly its first half. Like his other movies, From Dusk Till Dawn is instantly quotable. Clooney’s “six little friends who are all faster than you” or “ramblers, let’s ramble” – Tarantino’s dialogue is in part what has made the movie a cult classic.
For better or worse, Tarantino’s idiosyncratic quirks also define the first half of From Dusk Till Dawn. On the one hand, Tarantino’s fleshing out of the Gecko Brothers results in a fascinating dynamic, particularly considering this is really use a fancy B-movie. Conversely, criticisms of Tarantino’s treatment of women surface several times over the course of the movie. Even his notorious foot fetish turns up in one brief scene. Yet overall, Tarantino’s influence serves to elevate From Dusk Till Dawn, somehow fusing its two distinct narratives in a fun cohesive movie.
George Clooney Breaks Out From Television
Though it’s hard to believe now, George Clooney was not a ‘movie star’ in 1996. No Coen Brothers’ roles, yet. No Nespresso commercials. Prior to From Dusk Till Dawn, Clooney was a TV star on fledgling drama, ER, at a time when ‘TV stars’ and ‘Movie Stars’ were two very different things. Batman & Robin was still a year off in the horizon. In fact, Clooney’s biggest movie roles were probably Return to Horror High and Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Playing Seth Gecko wasn’t just a significant departure from his Dr. Doug Ross character on ER. A Robert Rodriguez-directed and Tarantino-scripted crime drama-vampire hybrid was a risky career movie. Whether the role helped or hurt Clooney is debatable. But Clooney is clearly having fun, infusing Gecko with anti-hero charisma. Tarantino’s sharp dialogues rolls well of Clooney’s tongue.
…From Dusk Till Dawn works best when these actors get to riff with Tarantino’s dialogue.
The rest of the cast is the usual assortment of Rodriguez and Tarantino favourites in roles of various screentime. Arguably, From Dusk Til Dawn works best when these actors get to riff with Tarantino’s dialogue. The always entertaining Cheech Marin is fun in not one, but three roles. Special effects wizard Tom Savini gets to show some comedic shops as ‘Sex Machine’. Serious dramatic actors, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis, anchor the crazy premise, adding some surprising emotional heft. But former football player Fred Williamson nearly steals the movie with a hilarious monologue. Even Salma Hayek turns up in another scene-stealing cameo.
From Dusk Till Dawn is Pure 90’s
From Dusk Till Dawn is a distinctly 1990’s viewing experience. It’s two very different movies, two different filmmakers fusing their styles together to make one unique vampire movie. Certainly, it’s not to everyone’s tastes. An appreciation of all things 90’s may be a prerequisite.