Two criminals and their hostages unknowingly seek temporary refuge in an establishment populated by vampires, with chaotic results.
The second part of my Robert Rodriguez Halloween double header is a film I’d been hoping to watch for some time, but I’d never got round to it. Whilst Rodriguez’s stock has undoubtedly tumbled in recent years amidst a series of diminishing returns through the ‘Spy Kids’ series and lacklustre sequels to ‘Sin City’ and ‘Machete’, his films can be a lot of fun and ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ is no exception. Written from a script by Quentin Tarantino, whose influence is apparent, the film is a genre mashup that can be broadly split into two halves, with the pulpy crime thriller of the opening half giving way to the horror comedy of the second half. The joy in the film is how effortless the transition feels and both elements are extremely enjoyable.
The first half of the film is pure Tarantino and this is where his influence is most evident, from his script and dialogue that drives the action to the visceral shooting style that Rodriguez adopts. We begin in a convenience store as two bank robbing brothers, Seth (George Clooney) and Richie Gecko (Tarantino), stop to pick up a map when the arrival of a Texas Ranger throws Richie off and a gunfight ensues. The TV screen in a motel room makes it clear that the brothers are being chased by every division of US law enforcement and this leads the men to kidnap a family and their campervan to try and safely escape to Mexico where a safe-house awaits. Tarantino’s script draws out the differences between Seth, who seems almost genial and sees himself as a professional criminal, and Richie, who is brutally sadistic and perhaps mentally impaired. As an actor, Tarantino is often a drain on proceedings but he’s well cast here and his performance is well suited to his character. As Seth, Clooney’s natural charisma is well placed and the contrast between the brothers leads to some of the film’s most entertaining moments.
The kidnapped family contains a father (Harvey Keitel) and his two children (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) and the sequences with them are initially incredibly tense, not least because we know what Richie can be capable off. Richie’s delusions when it comes to Lewis’s character tread a very fine line between hilarious and downright creepy, but it’s very effective. The second half of the film takes place in a roadside strip club, where the Gecko’s are to wait out the night for their handler to arrive to take them to the safe-house. So far so good, with the tension continuing through the combination of alcohol, some angry truckers as customers and even angrier looking staff. Then the film just goes absolutely crazy. If you’ve not seen the film by now, I’ll say no more, but suffice to say the film just flips into a different genre entirely and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Alongside the core cast, there’s Danny Trejo, Fred Williamson and Tom Savini acting up for the cameras, with Savini’s character particularly good value. There’s a man with a gun in his crotch, a plethora of unusual weapons and a bizarre narrative that seems to make more sense the crazier things get.
I’d heard a lot about ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ and I’m glad it lived up to my expectations – great fun and an example of the terrific entertainment Rodriguez and Tarantino were capable of producing in the 90s.
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Tom Savini, Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson, Ernest Liu, John Hawkes, Michael Parks and Salma Hayek