From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Genre: Crime Drama and Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: January 19th, 1996 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Robert Rodriguez Actors: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson

 


 

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topping off at Benny’s World of Liquor along Route 66, Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) chats with clerk Pete (John Hawkes), complaining about Nadine and her mongoloid employee down at the diner. They also happen to mention some rambunctious bank robbers and murderers high-tailing it through Abilene, Texas, who might cross paths with the vengeful lawman. As it turns out, those killers, Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and younger brother Richie (Quentin Tarantino), are already in the convenience store, stifling the cries of two hostages.

Written by Tarantino, the dialogue is immediately in overdrive, mixing rapid-fire arguments with casual conversations and trivial musings – and sudden bursts of violence. There’s a certain degree of unrealistic hyper-intensity to the premise, even before the otherworldly elements get underway. Interestingly, Tarantino plays the more psychotic, impetuous of the Gecko gang, prone to hostile outbursts and awkward spells of calm. Neither one, however, is much of a character worth rooting for; they’re not antiheroes as much as monstrous, unfeeling, unsympathetic rogues.

Meanwhile, former minister Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) and his two children Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu) dine in a nearby town, opting to stay the night in the exact same motel in which the Gecko brothers hole up. This spells trouble for the Fuller family, who are the next to be taken hostage for a journey to freedom toward Mexico. Outrageously, the meat of the conflict (spiraling into notes of the supernatural) isn’t even evident until more than an hour into the film.

The script is all over the place, with the story regularly deviating in unpredictable ways (shifting genres at the most unlikely moments). At its heart, however, it appears (flimsily) to be about a man of God whose faith is tested by pure evil – of both the human and inhuman kind – as well as the themes of destiny and control and the agony of losing the ability to govern them. In many ways, it’s a literal descent into a fiery underworld, designed like a bar-cum-dungeon, complete with loud music, booze, and temptations of the flesh. With the contrast of the pastor and his virginal clan, there’s an extra layer of this ordeal becoming some sort of religious crucible.

Despite the kookiness of the characters and plot (it feels as if a “Tales from the Crypt” episode), everyone takes their roles seriously; there’s never a sense that they’re hamming up the acting to amuse themselves. And the supporting cast is impressive, including cult regulars like Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, and Danny Trejo, as well as recognizable bit parts by Cheech Marin, John Saxon, and Kelly Preston. Even when star stripper Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) dances onstage with a massive yellow python, a certain seriousness remains. This extends to the over-the-top bloodbath soon to come, which is comical in brief spots but also incredibly graphic – thanks to limited CG and comprehensive makeup and gore effects.

What started as an anarchic crime thriller transitions into volatile horror, awash with severed limbs and buckets of viscera, before finally becoming a rather goofy, action-packed monster movie. Problematically, since the protagonists are mainly amoral villains, their success or failure is virtually meaningless. What an inexplicably bizarre, frequently ugly, intermittently nonsensical, confused experiment of a movie.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10