THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
From Dusk Till Dawn (1997)
Directed by Robert Rodriquez
“But then they cross the border…and things get stupid.”
I’d be a Lindsay-Lohan-level-liar if I claimed From Dusk Till Dawn was a bomb. It isn’t. In fact, it has one of my favorite movie openings where our two villains hold a gas station secretly hostage while an unsuspecting cop wants to make small talk.
Actually, there’s a lot of damn fantastic stuff, most of which involve Quentin Tarantino being a creep, which he kinda is (or at least looks the part) anyway. The casting of Harvey Keitel is perfect, playing him against his usual manic character as the heart of the movie in more ways than one. Makes you wonder whether or not he should have sought out a bit more diverse work over the years. Sure, everyone loves him as a psychopath who likes to flash his junk, but a reserved Keitel, a Keitel with faith is a powerful thing. Cheech Martin has perhaps the best advertisement ever for a strip club and pulls a Peter Sellers in multiple roles, though the stripper salesman is the only one worth remembering. And then there’s Clooney in a role that helped define his movie stardom in nearly the same way Bruce Willis re-purposed himself as an action hero. Clooney plays a hellva bad guy, and like Keitel, it makes you wish he'd pull a Denzel and go villain all up in your ass.
So all’s good, yeah? Eh…well, even though there’s plenty to dig, too much shit ruins a good thing as the bad overtakes this movie like a flesh-eating virus; one of those nasty, fast progressing ones that dissolves the skin so quickly that the victim never even realizes it. That’s what happens in From Dusk Till Dawn. Just when everything worked, it kills itself when the tone flips, the genre flips, and the entertainment flips to become something else. It loses focus and purpose, which is a felony in most states.
It’s sort of like what happens in Full Metal Jacket, except that Full Metal Jacket splits its story in two in order to highlight the chaos and the pointlessness of war. It had something to say. From Dusk Till Dawn splits the movie…because it seemed kinda cool. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love a dumb horror movie as much as the next, but the first half plays rich: brutal, unrelenting, and terrifying in the realistic kinda way. The Gecko brothers are the worst kind of criminal; the nightmare of suburban housewives. They're all the villain a movie needs.
But then they cross the border…and things get stupid. Is it funny? Sure. Does it get wacky? Yeah. Does it play stupid? Yes. Things start so strong that the rest seems lazy and dull. It’s as if Tarantino and co-writer Robert Kurtzman split the duties, wrote two different films, and then slapped them together with some discount duct tape. The movie worked as gritty Grindhouse crime, but then Rodriguez, in his usual fashion, wanted to special effect up the thing. And without a budget, it just doesn’t work. His brand of action has always felt generic, cheap, and unrealistic, and his do-it-yourself effects always look just that – done on the cheap. The bloody slapstick derails it just when it got rolling.
With all that said, I don’t have a problem with cheap, blood-soaked exploitation-horror films. What’s not to love? My problem comes from the lost potential. From Dusk Till Dawn could have been an all-time piece of badass crime. But then it had to have vampires that look more like demented Keebler Elves than creatures of the night. Which is a shame. I would have rather seen the brothers cross the border to see where they went next. Since we didn't get that...at least we got nudity. That usually makes up for any fault a movie has.