From Dusk Till Dawn is Robert Rodriguez's 1996 horror / black-comedy movie starring handsome-man George Clooney and decidedly-less-handsome-man Quentin Tarantino. The movie follows Clooney and Tarantino on the run from the law after robbing some number of banks. As they cross the border into Mexico, they end up at a strip-club masquerading as a brothel where vampires happen. The movie has developed a cult following, but does it deserve it? Yeah. It does. Check out the trailer below and then read on for our review.
Jake: We are back! And we’re talking about what is objectively the greatest movie of all time this week. In celebration of From Dusk Till Dawn’s 20th anniversary (it came out January 19th, 1996), we sat down this January 19th to give it a whirl and celebrate this fantastic piece of cinema.
Jack: Wait, we were gone? This post is going up Thursday same as all the others, it’s not like we were on hiatus. Although if you say “We’re Back!” instead of we are back, then I can go along with you so I can reference what is inarguably John Goodman’s finest work amongst an equally inarguably great catalog.
Jake: Jesus, I am mad at you already, and I was really itching to get this one out of the gate. For the one or so followers that we have, you could probably see this movie is listed as my favorite horror movie on our About page. While that may not be totally true, it is certainly right up there with my favorites, and it is the one I will claim as my favorite when people ask me dumb ass things like “what’s your favorite movie?” Which is exactly what Jack did at the inception of this project . . . So anyway, I’ll do my best to give this a fair shake in the review and not just sing its praises.
Jack: Hold on a damn second, you lied to me? And worse than that, you lied to our follower, Steve. We’re sorry Steve, don’t stop reading, we’ll make it up to you. Unlike our review of Poltergeist, I didn’t love this movie as much as Jake, so we should be able to maintain our trademark levels of objectivity and cool-headedness.
Jake: The movie starts with something I love. A good, long cold-open. We’re not talking a minute or two, either. I hadn’t really thought of it until watching for the purposes of a review, but god dammit Rodriguez fits a ton of style and just enough substance into the 9:19 of that opening sequence. Yeah, I counted it. By the time the first notes of Dark Night by The Blasters belt out, you know you are in for one hell of a ride.
Jack: The cold-open is terrific. Plus it features Rodriguez / Tarantino regular Michael Parks doing what sounded to me like a pretty great imitation of Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive. Plus, it established both Clooney’s and Tarantino’s characters in a way that felt refreshingly absent of exposition.
Jake: This is Clooney’s first starring role in a feature film, by the way. Take that bit of fried gold and use it in your next trivia session. I bet none of your bullshit friends believe you and then you can bet them a beer that it is and then you will be beer-rich. You’re welcome. Don’t say you never got anything from these reviews.
Jack: You’ll never convince me that 1993’s “Without Warning: Terror in the Towers” isn’t a feature film. And as such I will never buy you that beer. Readers take note: don’t let your friends bully you. We are notoriously anti-bully on this website. Much like our colleagues who work on Broad City.
Jake: Are you even vaguely aware of what a “colleague” is? I’m pretty sure it involves at least a modicum of mutual awareness, and while those women are devoted readers of ours, I’ve never seen their show. Despite how much they ask me to. To get to the story, the Gecko brothers, Played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino, are high-tailing it to Mexico after pulling off a bank robbery and leaving behind a small body count, including a few Texas state troopers. They have a hostage with them. If not for the stylized violence in the opening sequence, the movie actually starts out as a pretty dark, gritty crime drama.
Jack: Rangers. Texas Rangers. Not troopers. God damn. I disagree with you there, it’s more than just the stylized violence that robs this movie of being a gritty crime drama. There’s also that sequence in the liquor store where Clooney bangs on the shelf Fonzie-style, and the exact thing he needs tumbles off smoothly into his hand without him looking. It played more like Austin Powers after he got his mojo back than it did like a gritty drama.
Jake: If we’re being specific, asshole, I guess it’s a body count including Rangers and a Highway Patrolman... Anyway, Clooney is fucking unbelievable in this movie. That’s not to take anything away from Tarantino, because I think he does an excellent job as well. Clooney just steals the show with his charm and the bottomless well of quotable material he provides. Seriously, this shit corners the market in terms of my all time favorite horror quotes. I’m not sure there has ever been a more likeable anti-hero in a movie. You are pretty much pulling for him from the jump, despite the fact that he’s a crook and has multiple casualties to his name. Again, props are deserved by Tarantino who wrote the screenplay for this thing.It was actually his first paid writing bit, so there’s another knowledge bomb you can drop. You sons of bitches. Anyway, check Clooney in this movie out:
Jack: Uhh Jake? He’s handsome man George Clooney! He’s charming as all fuck.
Jake: Back to the plot, the Gecko’s make it close to the border but have to lay low in a hotel while they figure out a way to sneak across with the entire state of Texas looking for them. Tarantino’s character, Richie, is developed more thoroughly in this part of the movie, as he kills the hostage after presumably trying to rape her while Seth is out scouting the situation. When Clooney returns to discover what happened, the audience only sees the aftermath in the form of quick, one to two frame shots that jolt in and out as if you are in Clooney’s head, trying to shake off what you’re seeing. It’s visceral.
Jack: It is pretty visceral, and it solidifies Seth (Clooney) as the good guy of the piece because he won’t kill unless absolutely necessary and other batman cliches. Then a family, the Fullers (patriarch Jacob, daughter Katherine, and son Scott), arrives at the same motel fresh off a really out of place scene introducing the dad and his two kids at a diner. It feels like raw unadulterated exposition of the sort that is much more cleverly or adeptly handled otherwise throughout the movie.
Jake: The Gecko’s next move is to kidnap the Fullers for their Winnebago, and force them to drive them into Mexico. Once they arrive at the border, the Geckos hide in the bathroom with Katherine while Jacob and Scott are in charge of keeping cool and getting through border patrol. This is the first time we are treated to Cheech Marin in this film. He does what you’d hope by adding a little humor to the flick, but he’ll be back and better than ever later on.
Jack: I said, I said, I said, hold up a minute boy. You gone and done just skipped over one of the most prominent things about this here movie.
Jake: Why in the fuck are you talking like Foghorn Leghorn?
Jack: Fine, I give up. But I do want talk about a scene that Jake glossed over. On the way to Mexico, Richie (Tarantino) has a daydream about the underage female Fuller (played by Juliette Lewis). During this daydream, Tarantino’s foot fetish is on full display. I knew about Tarantino’s foot fetish, but this movie might be peak Tarantino fetish. It is front and center. It’s jarring.
Jake: Yeah, I was trying to avoid it… After the close call at the border, Seth directs Jacob to get them to a bar called the Titty Twister, where they will be meeting their contact the next morning. He will then take them to someplace called El Rey, where they will be provided sanctuary and the Fullers will presumably be released. This is where the movie starts to take a turn, simply because the Titty Twister is a pretty absurd place. We’re greeted by a shitload of bikers and fire machines, a big neon sign, and Cheech, this time as Chet Pussy, who acts as the bar’s hype man or something. He just stands around shouting about the veritable smorgasbord of hoo-hoo waiting inside. Naturally, Seth beats the living shit out of Pussy (nice) before heading inside.
Jack: The movie’s misogynist overtones aside, I question the veracity of Chet Pussy’s boasting. The Titty-Twister appears to be solely a strip club. I would wager that Mr. Pussy could not deliver on a single one of his promises of the various kinds of pussy he’s offering. That takes it outside the realm of mere puffery and into false advertising. Man, you guys are learning so much from this review.
Jake: Despite the change in scenery, we are still in what is decidedly a crime drama at this point in the film. We’re now an hour in and well over half-way through this thing, mind you. Salma Hayek then makes an appearance because this is a Robert Rodriguez film. I don’t think anyone was complaining though. And then comes the turn…
Jack: And it’s a hard turn. Abrupt and completely paradigm-shifting. I do have one complaint regarding Salma Hayek’s entrance. Tarantino’s goddamned foot fetish. Again. What in the actual fuck? It is so prominently displayed for the second time in this movie. My wife couldn’t take her eyes off Salma Hayek, but there I was, not being able to pay attention because I was so distracted by Tarantino’s foot thing.
Jake: It’s worth noting at this point in the review that this movie is a pretty classic example of the bait and switch. In the film’s trailers, the crime drama aspect to the movie was pretty much all you got. Sure you could have looked hard and seen some foreshadowing, but before seeing the movie it’s pretty unlikely you would have expected much. It makes sense due to Tarantino and Rodriguez’s track record, but anyone who went for that reason would have been blindsided by what happens in that bar. This move makes perfect sense in hindsight, as the movie really feels like two separate films fit together in the spirit of exploitation horror and grindhouse films. It’s really no surprise that these two went on to make the movie Grindhouse later on that went with the true double-feature format.
Jack: I guess that’s why both James Lipton and Roger Ebert have called this ‘just goddamned Audition, but American.”
Jack: Turns out, the whole damn bar is run by vampires. Once Hayek turns she grabs Richie and kills him. The rest of the staff take the cue and also turn into vampires, and all hell breaks loose. Most of the patrons are killed, but our cast and a few others quickly form a vampire slaying alliance as they get their bearings and band together for some quality survival horror action.
Jake: The movie does an outstanding job of being self-aware and pokes fun at several tropes of the genre as the characters realize they are up against vampires. It’s in the dialogue and in many of the practical effects that were flat out fuckin’ awesome and dominated the second half of the movie. You’ve got exploding heads, melting bodies, hearts being ripped out and stabbed with pencils, vampires being thrown onto overturned tables, pool sticks being rammed through hearts, and it just keeps going and going. I could probably talk about the over-the-top effects and fun of this part of the movie for days. Add onto that the casting of Tom Savini to play a character named Sex Machine who has a dick shaped gun on a codpiece, and you have a movie that just doesn’t give a fuck about anything other than having fun. Tarantino and Rodriguez basically just threw everything right out the window in the spirit of the exploitation B Movies that so clearly inspired them. It doesn’t make sense because it really shouldn’t make sense. Vampires turn into bats, oversized rats and pretty much anything else they cared to showcase.
Jack: I’m not sure. It is certainly awesome, but the effects are not a part of what makes it awesome to me. The effects are by far the weakest part of the second half of the movie.
Jake: Our surviving cast is whittled down over the remainder of the movie as they try to hold out until dawn. In a last stand, barricaded in a storeroom and with time running out, there is an epic montage as Clooney & co. craft their vampire slaying weapons. Seriously watch this and tell me you don’t like it more than Kirk Cousins likes winning.
Jack: One thing that really bothered me about this part is Walter White’s sudden shift back toward God. Now I may be godless heathen, but I’m pretty sure that if I was questioning my belief in God for taking my wife away from me, one thing that would not help is Him or Her throwing motherfucking vampires my way. Fuck.
Jake: But it’s all worth it for his crucifix-shotgun. My personal favorite weapon? The holy water infused super soaker, complete with condom grenades. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Condoms aren’t supposed to break, how could this even work? I’d just like to remind you that were are in Mexico, ok? Oh and also the rest of the movie might have required you roll with what it was vibing on a bit.
Jack: So all condoms in shady Mexican strip club/brothels are no good all of a sudden? You racist. Or . . . shit, I’ve gotta make some phone calls . . .
Jake: By the end of things and down to their last bullets, Seth and Kate are the only survivors and are greeted in the nick of time by Seth’s protection, Carlos. Cheech is back for his third role, and his bodyguards shoot down the doors to send light-lazers bouncing all over the bar courtesy a disco ball. The remaining vampires are blown to kingdom come, and Seth follows Carlos to sanctuary in El Rey, leaving Kate with her family’s Winnebago, completely alone. It’s a bit sad for a second... Until the Blasters fire up again to take us on into the credits and you are immediately reminded that you just witnessed the holy grail of cinema.
Jack: One weird thing about the end was how the guys who show up have “domestic” beers in their cooler. They’re in Mexico. Are they still calling like bud-lights “domestic” or do they have a cooler just chock-full of fucking Negra Modelos?
Jake: You worry too much man, let’s rate this thing.
Jack: Sure. You’ve rambled on far too long for my segment this week anyway. RATINGS:
For 1, think of how Foghorn Leghorn would rate being clunked on the noggin with a rolling pin:
For 10, think of how coach Kent Murphy would rate dingers:
Jack: 6 - Guys on the run, go down to Mexico, vampires, stuff. An original story, certainly, and the two different movies paradigm is pretty great.
Jake: 8 - This movie deserves credit for the gigantic cajones it had in pulling the ol’ end around on movie-goers with it’s grindhouse format. The two distinct parts to this movie fit together remarkably well given the sheer absurdity of its latter stage, which is testament to the writing and direction of the film. It also paved the way for Tarantino and Rodriguez to work on future projects like Grindhouse.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 3 - That’s what you get when you have an absurdist movie that breaks the fourth wall. Never really sucks you in.
Jake: 9 - There are very few movies that capture my attention and hold it like this one. The second half in particular is so entertaining and frenetic that I can’t take my eyes off the screen. If there were ever an emergency that required my attention while this was on, everyone involved would be right up shit creek.
Jack: 4 - I like the jackhammer-stake weapon. I like the weapons. But the fact that the vampires all look like they were made with different effects takes a lot away. The CGI definitely doesn’t hold up. It just doesn’t really stand the test of time.
Jake: 9 - A big reason why I find this movie so immersive is because of the insane amount of practical effects going on as everything goes awry in the bar. It’s so over the top and fun that you can’t help but smile. Some of the CGI definitely reeks of 90’s but the fact that this film was done as a B movie and exploitation flick almost make the less than stellar parts feel at home.
Jack: 0 - There isn’t a part of this movie that even starts to scare you. Not a jump scare, not an unsettling feeling, nothing. Which isn’t to say that they were trying to be scary and failed, this just wasn’t a movie where they were trying to scare you.
Jake: 2 – Some of the implied violence in the first half is unsettling and shot well. Just enough to add a bit of nerviness as the movie gets going. Overall though, this is a fun movie that was never meant to be scary. This category shouldn’t really even apply.
Jack: 5 - It’s an enjoyable movie, and I may have liked it more than a 5 would indicate, but for its scariness level and its immersion pull it down. Still solid.
Jake: 8.666 - I’m going to stick to my math ratings on this review with the caveat that I am pulling out the “Scare Factor” category because it just should not apply to this one and would unfairly fuck the score. It’s my go-to answer for favorite horror flick. At the end of the day, I think the reason this movie has the stature it does in my opinion of horror is because of all the instances that make me say, “Oh, that’s one of my favorite characters” or “I love that line” or “look at how insane and awesome that was”. I think it's hard to not at least subconsciously compare it to other movies, and while it’s not necessarily fair, it happens. Within the context of this movie, all of those little bits have so much to live up to and build so much on each other that it all adds up to one hell of a ride. See it. See it with your friends and have some beers. You’ll have a great time.