There is no shortage of vampire films in existence, and indeed, even Netflix offers a wide variety of bloodsucker options on their instant streaming service. This would seem the perfect time of year to revisit our favorites, but one film that I avoided for many years within the vampire subset was 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn. Something about it seemed like it wouldn’t appeal to me—but as soon as it hit Netflix Instant, I gave it a spin and am thrilled that I did. It turns out I love From Dusk Till Dawn and I highly encourage you consider adding it to your queue.
Who Made It: From Dusk Till Dawn was directed by Robert Rodriguez. It was his first feature film after Desperado. From Dusk Till Dawn is often erroneously credited as a Quentin Tarantino film, but while Tarantino did in fact write the script, he was not in the director’s chair for this one. This would not be the last collaboration between these two as they each contributed one half of 2007’s Grindhouse.
Who’s In It: From Dusk Till Dawn has one hell of a cast, and you can feel Tarantino’s influence in the appearances of cult movie icons. In addition to B-movie mainstays like Fred Williamson, John Saxon, and even effects wizards Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero, the film also stars headliners like Harvey Keitel, Salma Hayek, and George Clooney. The surprise performance in the film, believe it or not, is Quentin Tarantino. He is so reserved in his lunacy and yet we see, and squirm at the sight of, the end result of his emotional disturbance. He’s like a coiled snake throughout the entire film.
What It’s About: The two most violent bank robbers in American history, Seth (Clooney) and Richard (Tarantino) Gecko, are fleeing to Mexico leaving a trail of destruction and death in their wake. While staying at a fleabag motel, they highjack a former preacher (Keitel) and his two children and force them to take the brothers to a strip club on the border; the rendezvous point for their nefarious contacts.
Unfortunately, this club also happens to be the nest of a horde of particularly vicious vampires. Now, for the first time in their lives, Seth and Richard are not the most dangerous things in the room.
Why You Should Watch It: It’s one thing to get to watch a kickass genre film. But when you get two very different kickass genre films housed within one movie, that’s miraculous.
From Dusk Till Dawn begins as a guns-blazing crime story, a film noir with Quentin Tarantino’s flair for manically cool dialogue and Robert Rodriguez’s beautifully framed, incredibly wild violence. Then suddenly, it becomes a grisly horror film wherein all the formerly established conflicts erode and the former adversaries must band together to contend with the more dire threat. If nothing else, it’s an interesting experiment in tonal shifts and changing character dynamics. It’s also two badass flavors that go awesomely together.
As an old school horror fan, I love the deluge of practical effects in From Dusk Till Dawn. That’s not to say of course that none of the effects in the film are CGI, but there is an appropriate balance of the two…with the scales tipped nicely in favor of practical. Legendary effects house KNB (comprised of Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger) provided much of the stellar makeup. The makeup and gore effects reach a certain point where the line between artistry and exploitation blurs. I think my favorite single piece of makeup in the entire film is the vamped out version of Tom Savini.
Those two overarching reasons for seeing the film are augmented by a host of complimenting attributes. The soundtrack for From Dusk Till Dawn is spectacular; the crown jewel in my opinion being the song “Dark Night” by The Blasters that plays over the opening credits. The film also features connections to other Tarantino scripts that seem to support the idea that they all exist within the same universe. Seth returns with food from Big Kahuna Burger, a Pulp Fiction reference, while Michael Parks plays lawman Earl McGraw, a role he would revise for Kill Bill. I would also mention that it features a half-naked Salma Hayek gyrating on stage, but I’m not nearly that crass.