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From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)



Quentin Tarantino makes a horror film - scary concept, no? Actually, he only wrote and co-starred in this movie. He left the direction and editing up to one Robert Rodriguez (Desperado), a man with a brilliant eye for fast-cut shots and unconventional direction, which mixes nicely with Tarantino's unconventional script.

Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino) Gecko are two fugitives from the law. They've just knocked over a bank, killing a couple of cops in the process. Now, they're making a run for the Mexican border, with their hostages, an ex-preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his kids (Ernest Liu and Juliette Lewis). When they stop at a dive called the Titty Twister, all hell breaks loose in a very literal sense. Yes, of all the bars this cadre of misfits could've gotten drunk at, they picked the one infested with vampires.

The synopsis doesn't quite do justice to the way Tarantino structures his script. The first half of the film is a criminals-on-the-loose movie, with nary a reference to horror anywhere along the way. It's well done, and if Tarantino had chosen to just go with this plotline, he would've had a hit on his hands anyway. However, he spins things into chaos by introducing the bloodsucking undead, significantly changing the dynamic of the whole film. At the same time, however, there are many similarities between the two halves in terms of the level of violence, making one wonder if Tarantino was making some sort of point about attitudes toward horror films.

KNB EFX Group, long associated with Tarantino, bring their own brand of gorrific verve to From Dusk Till Dawn. These vampires are grotesque, demonic badasses who look like they would rip the throat off their own mother if given half a chance. They're pure evil, especially Satanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek), who in her human form is quite lovely, but as a vampire, well, she's still quite lovely, despite the makeup.

The cast is excellent, led by such fine actors as Clooney, Keitel, and Lewis. Cheech Marin appears in three separate roles, and Tom Savini pops up as Sex Machine, a biker well equipped for the task (whatever it is). Tarantino, at least early in the picture, gives a perfect picture of criminal neuroses. Liu is a bit amateurish, but given his age, it's forgivable.

Director Rodriguez knows his trade well, and does some interesting things with it. Check the brief flashes of images when Richie is explaining to Seth why he had to kill somebody. However, the real genius is in the action sequences. The battles move fluidly, with not a moment of boredom or awkward editing. Also, there's this great one-take shot of the Geckos walking out of an exploding building as Seth is talking about subtlety to his brother.

In a lot of ways, From Dusk Till Dawn hints at the over-the-top antics that would come in Tarantino's Kill Bill. It's relentless, gory, and a hell of a lot of fun to watch. However, the feel of the film is all Rodriguez, and if you know his other work, you know you're in the hands of a master of the cinematic action-adventure joyride.