The Test of Time: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they continue to be must see? So…the point of this here column is how a film stands against the Test of Time, if the thing holds up for a modern horror audience.

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, and Quentin Tarantino

In case readers have missed the bombardment of TV ads and interviews by Quentin Tarantino and company, he has a new film called THE HATEFUL 8. I can’t wait to see it and have zero worry that it’ll be anything but classic QT. Now with New Years and all, 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of perhaps his most famous (lengthy) acting role in a film that he wrote and almost directed.

Instead, that duty went to his good buddy Robert Rodriguez, a fella I’m not the biggest fan of but still respect as the guy does whatever he wants, however he wants. When he does dandy work, it’s easy to dig with films like SIN CITY and DESPERADO. But damn, a lot of his work smells mediocre or worse (looking at you SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL). Regardless, only a dummy would deny his impact on pop culture. And though DESPERADO made his name, it wasn’t until 1996 when he truly broke through. It always helps, of course, when he can bring along actors like Tarantino, George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin, and Harvey Keitel…and vampires.

Under the examination: FROM DUSK TILL DAWN.

Still has that Hollywood smile.

THE STORY: The Gecko Brothers, Seth (Clooney) and Richard (Tarantino), are on the run, after Richard broke Seth out of a Kansas prison. They kill 16 folks along the way to Mexico, including 5 rangers, 8 officers, and 3 civilians (as TV reporter Kelly Preston, I never knew that was her, so kindly tells us). As wanted men, they know crossing the border won’t be easy so they kidnap a former minister Jacob (Keitel) and his two children Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (did this guy never act again?) for their RV. Then things get all kinds of weird in Mexico.


WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: Probably the simplest way to describe FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is to call it a tale of two movies: one-part crime, one-part vampire. Is that obvious to anyone who’s seen the movie? Well sure, but it still needs said as the two parts end up so damn different. Frankly, the first 45 minutes is fan-f*cking-tastic. The opening standoff at the gas station remains so tense with crazy Richard Gecko imagining insane things in insane moments while Rodriguez directs the hell out of the picture. 

For as long as it remains in the crime genre, I wanted more because of two reasons: Clooney and Tarantino. As the Gecko Brothers, they have good, natural chemistry, and I’m surprised they haven’t worked together again. They seem legit and make us give a damn about killer and rapist characters, which…isn’t the easiest task. Tarantino is the loose cannon with some major issues (and it’s great to see his foot fetish shoved literally in his own mouth). Clooney was already a star thanks to ER (it was a massive TV show back in the day, kids), but his performance here showed the man had movie star chops with a tough, likable, ballsy showing.

Nothing to see here. 

At the same time, Harvey Keitel gives one of my favorite performances as the gentle minister, a perfect contrast while Juliette Lewis was still charmingly funny. One thing that no film fan can EVER fault Tarantino or Rodriguez for is their use of cult actors. And FROM DUSK TILL DAWN has ‘em in bunches: Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo (great seeing him young(ish) with short hair), Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Marc Lawrence, John Hawkes, Michael Parks, and John Saxon. That’s a good cast by itself, but they’re all used sparingly well with my favorites being Savini and his Just for Men hair, tough guy Williamson, and Marin. He’s good in dual roles. First as the perverted border patrol agent, and then once we get to the Titty Twister (where things get strange) he delivers one of the best pitch speeches ever (“If we don’t got it, you don’t want it.” That’s the most PG-13 sentence I’ll quote).

Oh, what can I say about Salma Hayek. Uh…nothing. So here’s a picture of her below.

That's her. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: The easiest and perhaps oldest complaint about FROM DUSK TILL DAWN comes from the second half. It’s not that the vampire scenes don’t work, it’s that the plot ends up getting more confusing than it should have and the complete shift in tone. One of the things that I always bitch about in movies comes from inconsistent tones. Decide what kind of film you’re making and stick with it. Things also get a bit too campy with shit like the band playing with bloated bodies.  Now with FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, part of the attraction derives from the wackiness of switching some major gears halfway through, but I dug that more the first time I saw it. After a few viewings, I just want more of part one, less of the sharp teeth and bad CGI in part two.  

Speaking of which, let’s just say 1996 low-budget CGI wasn’t the greatest. Whenever the "switch" occurs, Rodriguez went with his usual cheap looking CGI which still looks bad in his movies today, and looks even worse back then. Once the chaos starts, I kept comparing the vampire bloodbath here to that of BLADE, which still stands as one of the greatest openings to any movie ever. Too bad FROM DUSK TILL DAWN couldn't reach that level of nutty. 

Tom loves jet black hair.

THE VERDICT: Clearly after Tarantino and Rodriguez created their GRINDHOUSE flicks, it seems obvious that’s how we should view FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. And that’s fine as most of the flick has aged well and it remains intense and all around well-acted as Tarantino’s trademark dialogue snaps each time someone open’s their mouth. It remains an enjoyable flick and one of Rodriguez's best. But a true classic? It falls a fang short. 



Smile and smoke.



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