Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez met early in their careers in the early 1990s at the Toronto Film Festival. Tarantino had RESERVOIR DOGS and Rodriguez had EL MARIACHI at the time. They fast became friends and their careers developed on a similar pace. Tarantino followed up with PULP FICTION at around the same time Rodriguez came up with DESPARADO (an American, higher budget remake of EL MARIACHI). Both filmmakers, especially that of Tarantino’s, gained huge success and they became part of a new wave of indie movies that attracted the attention of mainstream audiences. When it was announced that Tarantino and Rodriguez would collaborate to make FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, film nerds shit themselves all over. With Tarantino writing the screenplay and Rodriguez directing, it was inconceivable that anything short of an instant classic would be made.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is about two brothers, Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino), who are bank robbers on the run. They are attempting to flee to Mexico, where they plan to retire on their stolen fortune. Along the way, they kidnap a preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two children (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). Driving the family’s RV across the border into Mexico, the motley crew seek out a biker bar called The Titty Twister, where the Gecko Brothers have arranged to meet up with their contact. However, The Titty Twister ends up being far more than a titty bar – it’s a hellish haven of blood-thirsty vampires!

This film made it pretty obvious that although they may be good friends, Rodriguez and Tarantino’s styles do not compliment one another. The first half of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN works beautifully and you’re completely taken in by the characters, the dialogue, and the situations. This first half is everything that occurs before the characters enter the Titty Twister and it has Tarantino’s work all over it. The dialogue scenes are long and satisfying, with exchanges that crackle with a constant energy. The Gecko Brothers are obvious Tarantino creations. Dressed in their signature black suits (just like Jules and Vincent in PULP FICTION), the brothers have a certain coolness about them and Tarantino has injected smart and quirky attributes into them (Richie wears a retainer because he grinds his teeth and he apparently likes to watch cartoons). The locations in the first half are also classic Tarantino – old shitty motels and diners and stores and products with interesting 1950’s sounding names like Benny’s World of Liquor and Big Kahuna Burgers (also featured in PULP FICTION). Finally, we have actors from Tarantino’s usual stable of actors such as Harvey Keitel (RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION), Juliette Lewis (NATURAL BORN KILLERS), and the use of Blaxploitation stars such as Fred Williamson.

In short, the first half of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is character-driven and we’re fully immersed in a world created by Quentin Tarantino. So its quite a jolt when the film takes a complete tonal shift and turns into a vampire action movie. Its not the fact that the film turns into something completely different that bothers me (Joss Whedon’s CABIN IN THE WOODS does this as well and does it far better). I just didn’t find the second half of the film to be all that entertaining nor did the two halves of the film compliment one another. It wasn’t scary nor funny and it was as if I was watching a very bad straight to DVD horror film. This makes me wonder if Tarantino and Rodriguez recognized how uncomplimentary their styles were and decided that their next collaboration (GRINDHOUSE) would comprise of two entirely separate films. Interestingly enough, Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR was stylistically the same as FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but I think I enjoyed PLANET TERROR far more because I knew what to expect from the beginning. In contrast, I was expecting a melding of the two filmmakers’ styles in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but instead I got one film that could not connect the two halves.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is George Clooney’s first major feature length film. Many cite to OUT OF SIGHT as the film that finally turned Clooney into a movie star. In just about every role he’s played, Clooney more or less performs his characters in the same way so if you like Clooney in one film, then you’ve liked him in every film he’s done. Here he flies off the screen as Seth Gecko, clearly lapping up the opportunity to flex his acting muscles and his roguish take on this dark antihero. Tarantino provides backup as Seth’s younger brother, Richie. Where Seth is instantly likeable despite his short fuse of a temper, Richie is a nauseating sex offender with a taste for rape and murder. Strangely enough, however, Tarantino’s nerdy brilliance in real life channels well into his character.

Harvey Keitel (with an on-again, off-again Texas accent) brings his usual level of excellence to Jacob, the preacher who has lost his faith in God after losing his wife in a car accident. Keitel does a great and believable job as playing a man who has lost his faith, but who at the same time struggles with this decision. His performance is restrained and subtle but without losing any of its intensity. Finally, we have Juliette Lewis, who plays the preacher’s daughter and despite not having many lines, she steals many of the scenes she is in. She sort of reminded me of her character in CAPE FEAR, but here she plays down the sexy nymphet and plays up the innocence of her character (after all, she is a preacher’s daughter).

The horror portion of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is only going to interest you if you’ve never seen a good horror film. If you want to see a horror film along these lines and that has been done much better, check out Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD 2 and Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE. Both of those films have the whole buckets-of-blood thing going but with more style and a sense of comic timing that FROM DUSK TILL DAWN completely lacks. Here, Robert Rodriguez is clearly behind the horror part of the film and at times it seemed like he didn’t quite know what to do with a bigger budget. The Titty Twister is a major location and its set up to almost be a character unto itself. However, we’re barely shown the contours of this bar before the action begins. Consequently, you don’t get a sense of place and mood before all hell breaks loose. Furthermore, we are briefly introduced to characters played by Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Salma Hayek, and Cheech Marin. They are all two-dimensional characters and they seem to be included in the film to simply increase the cast’s name recognition. I felt cheated that none of these characters received better treatment in the screenplay.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN was a film that probably brought much more joy to its filmmakers and actors in making it than for the viewer watching it. If it wasn’t for the influence and prestige of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN would have unlikely been made. Without those names behind it, this story is no better (and actually worse) than any episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT.

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