Film Score: Graeme Revell Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro
Starring: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis
From Dusk Till Dawn really is a bad film. When looked at as purely entertainment, however, it’s much more enjoyable. After appearing in a small role in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino wanted to do something more substantial in terms of acting, but didn’t really want to direct himself again so he wrote the film and handed it over to his protégé Robert Rodriguez. Ultimately the film is a story of two screenplays. The first half is a traditional Tarantino blood bath with two sociopathic brothers on a killing spree while making a run for the Mexican border. The second is a traditional vampire siege story. The idea is similar to what Tarantino did with his first real screenplay early in his career, though in that case he literally split it into two and sold it to make two separate films, True Romance and Natural Born Killers. The addition of the vampires in this film plays more into Rodriguez’s wheelhouse, though the end results are less than stunning. Still, the over the top nature of the entire story is the whole point of the thing and, if that’s something you enjoy as a viewer, then you’ll certainly enjoy this.
The film opens in a Southern Texas liquor store with lawman Michael Parks talking to clerk John Hawkes about two brothers on the run, figuring they’ll come through his territory on their way to the border. When Parks goes to the restroom, George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino emerge with guns and hostages, two teenage girls who happened to be in the store. The squirrely Tarantino starts shooting when Parks comes back, the girls escape, and the entire store goes up in flames. The two head to a hotel to wait until dark to cross the border, with a hostage from a bank robbery still in their trunk. But when Clooney goes to check things out at the crossing, convicted sex offender Tarantino kills Brenda Hillhouse and the two must look for a new hideout. Clooney has arranged for a safe house in Mexico in exchange for thirty percent of their bank heist money, but first they need to get there. Unfortunately for ex-minister Harvey Keitel and his two kids, Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu, Clooney thinks their motorhome might be just the ticket. Keitel has lost his wife in a traffic accident, and lost his faith in God along with her. Meanwhile Tarantino, who has become obsessed with Lewis, almost gets them caught at the border, but they finally make it to the rendezvous, a strip club out in the middle of the Mexican nowhere. It’s there that exotic dancer Salma Hayek turns into a vampire and all hell breaks loose.
George Clooney does a great job because, well . . . he’s Clooney. The same humorous self-assurance that he braught to all his comedic performances from the last twenty years is evident even then. And Quentin Tarantino, as an actor, acquits himself nicely. It’s probably a better performance than the one in Pulp Fiction. But the story itself is sort of a snoozer. Nothing really intricate happens, with perhaps the exception of Cheech Marin appearing as three separate characters. Everything else is fairly straightforward. And Harvey Keitel’s role could have been played by anybody. The last half of the film, with the whole principal cast trapped by the vampires, is surprisingly dull. There’s just too much gore and too much artifice to really generate anything like suspense, which means at that point the killing of the monsters becomes little more than horror comedy. Even the deaths of the principals are uneventful. Both Rodriguez and Tarantino said they were trying for something like Stephen King, where the identification with the protagonists early on hooks the audience when they battle with the supernatural. But that doesn’t work here because none of them are very likable in the first place. Rodriguez, at least at that point in his career, was no Tarantino. Still, From Dusk Till Dawn is fascinating to watch. Not exactly Ed Wood fascinating, but close enough.