Vampire flicks make up their own edgy category in cinema and From Dusk Till Dawn still shines in a pretty unique light 25 years after its release. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, From Dusk Till Dawn stars George Clooney (Ocean’s Eleven), Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers), Ernest Liu (Chimères), Tom Savini (Night Of The Living Dead), Fred Williamson (Black Caesar), and Salma Hayek (Frida) alongside a slew of small parts played by Cheech Marin (Up In Smoke), Danny Trejo (Machete), Michael Parks (Twin Peaks), John Saxon (A Nightmare On Elm Street), Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead), and Kelly Preston (Jerry Maguire).
The film follows two outlaw brothers, Seth and Richard Gecko, in their grand escape from Texas law as they aim to cross the border into Mexico. While the manhunt ensues, the two thieves take the Fuller family hostage and use their RV to make their way to a bar in order to hide out overnight. Just when they think the coast is clear, the Geckos, Fullers, and a few other regulars find themselves trapped by a hive of hungry vampires that culminates into a raunchy, bloody fight for survival. Combining a tense, western-style narrative, outrageous visuals, and tons of fun bits and pieces, From Dusk Till Dawn established a legacy a quarter century ago that lives on as a special kind of vampire epic. What makes it so special? Knock one back and head on back to The Titty Twister.
Benny’s World Of Blood
There’s a lot of cold openings in the horror genre, but it’s rare to get a hot one. Literally. Instead of starting at a more common check point, viewers are introduced to the Gecko Brothers on the run with an in-your-face introduction you hardly see coming unless you’ve seen the film before. Easily one of its best sequences, the opening of From Dusk Till Dawn begins with a casual drawl establishing the escape backstory, but carefully builds with hidden intensity before running into a chaotic shootout.
Resulting in an explosive homage to Desperado and a wink to the film’s actual ending, it’s clear the Geckos mean business. Threatening from the jump, the film’s initial few minutes does a great job in capturing viewer attention and laying out the wild, dangerous tone that runs throughout the cool narrative.
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A Couple Of Real Mean Motor Scooters
It’s not everyday that you’re rooting for the bad guys, and the Gecko Brothers are some really bad guys. Rather than playing on romantic notes, as vampire films tend to do, From Dusk Till Dawn puts two villains in the driver’s seat long before adding more redeemable players. Richard Gecko is a delusional, impulsive sex offender while Seth Gecko is an aggravated thief who plays by his own code of ethics and is tasked with caring for his younger brother, despite being scared of what he is capable of doing. A complicated brotherly dynamic replaces a central relationship focus and is supplemented by a broken, non-nuclear family that then shares protagonist roles making it everyone’s journey.
“Combining a tense, western-style narrative, outrageous visuals, and tons of fun bits and pieces, From Dusk Till Dawn established a legacy a quarter century ago that lives on as a special kind of vampire epic.“
Mainly driven by the brothers, were given a pair of hardened criminals who are ruthless and self-serving mixed with a preacher and his children caught up in a battle of morality and faith. It’s an original and interesting mix given the strange monsters they’re up against when night falls, redefining a story about good versus evil.
Okay Ramblers, Let’s Get Rambling
It’s obvious when Quentin Tarantino pens a screenplay. The dialogue alone in From Dusk Till Dawn scream Tarantino. Now, a lot of it hasn’t exactly aged well and is far from being politically correct or appropriate, but the characters spitting the lines aren’t exactly savory people. Aside from the excessive profanity and ignorant language, so much of the dialogue sets the stage and builds personality within the film. Tarantino’s signature writing style serves as an odd contrast given the grim circumstances and only work because of the cavalier deliveries. Vulgar and graphic one minute, to colorful and humorous the next, each intentional line is calculated to provide both narrative and amusement as the scenes play out. The film’s one-liners are some of its most memorable content combining biting quips, clever deadpans, witty jokes, and a lot of wordplay and puns.
While I’m very aware of how bad of a person Seth Gecko is, there’s something about him that is repulsively appealing. As a wicked anti-hero who swings a hard mood and is easily agitated, he remains confident and smooth all while running the show even when things go completely haywire. Oozing peculiar charisma and maintaining some semblance of morale despite his reprehensible behavior, Seth Gecko is a pretty divisive character choice to lead the way through the murder and mayhem of From Dusk Till Dawn. Due in large part to George Clooney’s handsome good looks (mostly) and the ability to shed his typical sweetheart demeanor, his role as Seth Gecko stands as a fan favorite despite technically being the bad guy. He gains points in the end in offering an apology and doing the right thing by Kate, even if it’s too little too late. The neck tattoo gets a bonus point.
Open Dusk Till Dawn
The setting of a film’s main content is key to the climax. With a name like The Titty Twister, the bar that the Gecko Brothers use as a rendezvous point is shocking in more ways than one. Aside from its suggestive alliteration, the establishment is an odd joint in the middle of nowhere filled with patrons that are just as dangerous as Seth and Richie. Reserved to truckers and bikers only, it’s a menacing place for the gang to wait out the night and that’s even before the fangs come out. Risky and risqué, the Titty Twister hosts beautiful dancers, booze, and a great Chicano rock band that keeps the party going. Modeled after Kurtz’s compound in Apocalypse Now, the bar seems like a safe haven for innocent debauchery with Cheech Marin boasting a variety of… sex workers, but it quickly turns into an isolated space of attack. The Titty Twister is a notable establishment in horror locations filled with surprises, especially when the final shot of From Dusk Till Dawn exposes its long running business.
The Mistress Of The Macabre
There’s no doubt about it that Santanico Pandemonium steals the show when she puts on one of her own in the middle of the bar. Salma Hayek plays a very scary wolf in very sexy sheep’s clothing as she casts a spell on the patrons. Working the curves of her body and beauty giving Tarantino a waterfall foot drink that must have nearly killed him, the deadly woman commands everyone’s attention before unveiling herself to be more than just eye candy. She brings that seductive vampiric eroticism to the table before From Dusk Till Dawn is able to reveal itself to be a vampire film, taking everyone off guard before the feast ensues. Santanico Pandemonium’s iconic dance is a pivotal moment that turns up the heat while also slowing down the mayhem just before raising hell. It’s only a shame that we never get to see her turn Seth into her foot stool.
Peter Cushing Does That All The Time
One of From Dusk Till Dawn’s more underrated qualities is the arsenal of creative weaponry the characters use to defend themselves. Once they establish the film’s vampire lore, collecting pieces of knowledge they know about the fanged creatures and observing their super strength and mushy bodies, the bar turns into a gory ring of defense. Taking wooden stakes and silver crucifixes up a notch, the captive gang makes use of their resources ranging from table legs and pool sticks to a literal cross rifle and engine powered chainsaw stake. In another nod to Desperado, the Codpiece Revolver, better known as the “penis pistol”, makes an entertaining appearance putting Seth Gecko’s Mr. 45 to shame.
Tom Savini’s Sex Machine brandishes a whip, Fred Williamson’s Frost uses his bare hands to rip out a vamp heart (complete with a final pencil stab!), and Ernest Liu’s Scott lights up his attackers with a super soaker and balloons filled with holy water. When they find themselves in dire straits, the real weapon becomes Jacob Fuller being a mean you-know-what servant of god and when all hope is really lost, the sun comes up and the disco ball blitzes the monsters into pieces. It turns out there’s more than one way to kill a vampire and From Dusk Till Dawn takes that to an extreme.
Dinner Is Served
Complementing its fresh slew of weapons, From Dusk Till Dawn revels in blood, blood, and more blood provided by KNB’s amazing practical effects. Tarantino actually wrote the script as a way to highlight the company’s talents and they leave no corpse unturned. Relying on a majority of practical effects, stunt work, makeup applications, and animatronics, the film showcases some realistically brutal gore. From an unfortunate gunshot wound to gallons of ratings-safe green blood to instruments made from body parts to a grotesque vamp with a mouth on her stomach, From Dusk Till Dawn makes a meal of its slaughter sequences. Though vampires have taken on many different looks since Nosferatu crept onto the screen in 1922, the vampires of The Titty Twister take on bat-like appearances altering their eyes and snouts. Their transformations stand unique and grossly scary, turning the monster away from glamorized immortals to more ancient, primal beings.
“Santanico Pandemonium’s iconic dance is a pivotal moment that turns up the heat while also slowing down the mayhem just before raising hell.“
As From Dusk Till Dawn hits its 25th anniversary, there’s a bunch of different ways to get your fill aside from a revisit to The Titty Twister. The film spawned two prequels: From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter as well as the From Dusk Till Dawn television series that debuted on Robert Rodriguez’s El Ray Network (the series can now be streamed on Netflix). If you’re hungry for more of the Gecko Brothers, I recommend seeking out Full Tilt Boogie which is a documentary about the making of From Dusk Till Dawn with a ton of behind-the-scenes commentary. If you’re thirsty for even more than that, check out ZZ Top’s video for “She’s Just Killing Me” (Salma Hayek and George Clooney both cameo as their characters) because they just don’t make movie-respective music videos like they used to.
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