'From Dusk Till Dawn'
I have a hard time believing that 'From Dusk Till Dawn' didn't have any sequences with Quentin Tarantino behind the camera calling the shots. Always have. The Robert Rodriguez flick, based on his outline of the story, was adapted for the screen by the recent Academy Award winner, and features a number of his trademark shots. The film, which starts out as a fugitives on the run story that quickly turns into a supernatural splatterhouse, acts as a meshing of the styles of the two fan favorite helmers, and the result is a memorable, if uneven little actioner that has a great sense of humor, plenty of guts and gore, and some great, memorable characters, featuring the breakthrough performance of Hollywood staple George Clooney.
The story of a pair of brothers (Clooney and Tarantino as Jacob and Richard Gecko) on the wrong side of the law, seeking asylum in El Rey, Mexico, 'From Dusk Till Dawn' may very well be one of the best constructed genre defying flicks ever. We have the story of the men on the lam, who could not be any more different if they were from different parents. We have the police efforts to stop them, and the family (Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu) who accidentally cross paths with the Gecko brothers and prove to be the catalyst they needed to make their way across the border away from the US Agents hunting them down after their murder spree and bank robbery. There's the element of black comedy in the way that all five of the major characters interact, on their micro-road trip to lands below the border.
And then there's vampires, strippers, and a battle between survivalists and the demonic forces seeking to feed on their bodies and steal their cargo. The twist in the story couldn't be more out of the blue if it were a random outbreak of zombies in the works of Shakespeare (though they do fit in 'Pride & Prejudice'), as the film makes a sharp turn and a massive detour. The grass isn't always greener on the other side, I suppose you could say. Especially not in the sandy, dirty Mexican underground.
'From Dusk Till Dawn' was my first exposure to Rodriguez's filmography, and due to the clever uniqueness, it made me seek out the works of the director who, much like Tarantino, made films that obviously appealed to him, critics be damned. A year removed from 'Desperado,' and featuring a few of the same faces (like Cheech Marin, an almost baby faced Danny Trejo, and the gorgeous Salma Hayek), Rodriguez made what may be his most forgotten mainstream non-children's film (yeah, we're not counting those damned 'Spy Kids' flicks), an unforgiving, unrelenting two toned romp that doesn't fall short of entertaining. It's a fascinating, bizarre work, to be sure.
Say what you will about Clooney, he proved here that he could handle the role of the leading man, even if he didn't get top billing, losing out to the grizzled Keitel playing the pastor who lost his faith. Clooney may not have been the first (or sixth) choice to play the part of Seth Gecko, but the thief/killer with a conscience (at least compared to his brother) fit him perfectly, as his dominating voice is perfect for barking orders and taking charge, while Tarantino makes the psychopathic Richard seem like more of a layered character than a one note dick. Keitel could bring a paper bag to life, so it's obvious that he acts the part of the rock in the film, while Lewis (and her career) seemed to peak here, that final interesting hurrah following 'Natural Born Killers,' 'Cape Fear', and 'Kalifornia,' before seemingly slumming it in forgettable or bit roles for the better part of a decade.
'From Dusk Till Dawn' is to B cinema what the 'Grindhouse' films were to their respective film sub-culture, with a few stars (including makeup genius Tom Savini and Fred Williamson) and numerous references making this a fitting, interesting homage. It's full of interesting kills, action and excitement, witty dialogue, believable, fleshed out and realized characters, and, lest we forget, a certain bar south of the border named after a certain maneuver sure to land one in a sexual harassment or assault case, chock full of hard characters, harder monsters, and plenty of eye candy. As the film stops, so that we can see Hayek's prolonged provocative dancing, right before the shit hits the fan, we have a film that ran the gamut, hitting that hot and sweaty sex appeal in a memorable sequence featuring the world's luckiest snake.
Tarantino and Rodriguez's collaboration may start to lose steam once the vampire onslaught begins, and becomes dependent on some silly contrivances, but there's no denying the fun to be had here. 'From Dusk Till Dawn' is a film that wants to get you as invested as possible in the story prior to the moment the bar appears, and tries its best to keep its hooks in you when it does the Kansas City Shuffle. It's sure to lose some, including those who weren't fully into the characters, but if you go into this film expecting some savage, nasty undead slaughtering, you'll be fine and dandy.
'From Dusk Till Dawn: Texas Blood Money'
Crappy sequel, oh crappy sequel, it was hard to not see you coming. The opening of 'From Dusk Till Dawn: Texas Blood Money' is all sorts of awful...yet it's still the peak of the film's effectiveness. Imagine a false opening, if you would, a parody of sorts, starring Bruce Campbell and Tiffani Amber Thiessen, as lawyers or lawyer and assistant, talking about defending a serial killer. Sure the dialogue is blah blah blah, etc, etc, etc, but it's done by Bruce fucking Campbell. He could call me and say he stole my checkbook and I'd still say he's the best. Of course, the scene is a horrible parody, where bats can bite through steel elevator wire, but that's beside the point. The real movie soon starts, and it just plain stinks.
'From Dusk Till Dawn' was neat because it pulled a complete 180 in the middle of the film, going from a nihilistic escape thriller chronicling a pair of murderous brothers to a supernatural splatter house. Its sequel doesn't understand the idea of pulling a rug out from under someone, as we're introduced to the idea of vampires much, much too early, as Luther (Duane Whitaker) enters the Titty Twister (which looks totally different) and tells the wrong dude (Danny Trejo) that he ran over and shot the wrong bat. Of course he gets his ass turned, and starts a horrible chain reaction. Now none of his bank robber buddies are safe from his bloodlust, and the job hasn't even started yet. Buck (Robert Patrick) is in for the fight of his life as he has police waiting on the outside to nail his ass, and vampires inside with him waiting to eat it.
Everything about 'Texas Blood Money' is awful. Everything. Acting is haphazard, effects are ridiculous and cheesy, the film gives us too many moments of "bat vision," which pulls you right out of the film, and the plot...I've seen more intelligent things written on bathroom stalls. This film drags along, completely oblivious to its failings, as we get scene after ill constructed scene that don't tie together, making a jarring, impossible to follow or care about hour and a half that couldn't end soon enough. Vampire death sequences, well, they're just the icing on the crap cake, as I can do a more convincing shrivel and die effect whenever I'm stuck eating Carls Jr. "food."
Writer/director Scott Spiegel gets nothing right with his cheap and dirty DTV followup to Tarantino and Rodriguez. There isn't a single memorable shot, character, line, performance, twist, scene, or kill. The dialogue is horrific, characters are less than one dimensional and are thoroughly unlikeable. The entire experience is unlikeable, so why is that any surprise? Plot twists are excessively convenient and ridiculous, including a friggin' eclipse, the moment the sun rises, which makes no sense, at all, and seems to last forever. What is that?! Man, those vampires sure are lucky! Worst of all, there's no explanation, whatsoever, on why a vampire needs to rob a bank or get money. None. You're a vampire, dude, you can just break in anywhere, anytime, when the night is much younger. Why risk shit on your first night? How is that logical?
How is it Luther knows so much on how to be a vampire on his first night, anyways? Why are there Texas police and/or parole officers in Mexico? Does Danny Trejo's appearance mean this is a prequel, since he dies in the original? Why do both films have to star bank robbers going to Mexico? Why are the girls at the Titty Twister so second tier this time around? Why did the robbers need to drill into the bank vault when they never look in the hole to the mechanism to see when they hit the combination, and it never makes any sound on their one and only attempt at the combination, which is of course correct? Where did the vampires expect to hole up for the entire long day when there was still cops outside who would obviously follow them? Like how many licks it gets to the center of a Tootsie Pop...no one knows. Except that owl. He's a real dick.
'From Dusk Till Dawn' Film Score: 3.5/5
'From Dusk Till Dawn: Texas Blood Money' Film Score: 1/5