Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Essentials- From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

The Essentials-#21

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Does a movie have to be terribly important to film history in order to be considered essential?

In my book, I would say no. Movies matter to us for many different reasons. They speak to us, they are about us, they challenge our beliefs, and other times, they purely entertain. So far in this column, I would say that "From Dusk Till Dawn" is the least important film I have written about so far. Yet, it is definitely one of the most wholly entertaining films I have written about on this blog so far. I think its a slick play on genres that isn't as well remembered as it should be. Back during a time when George Clooney was young on the scene, can anybody imagine Clooney today starring in a crime movie which evolves into a vampire survival movie? I have a troubled time imagining that.

Another surprise about "From Dusk Till Dawn" is that Quentin Tarantino wrote it. Yes, you read correctly, Quentin Tarantino wrote a crime caper about vampires. After all the "Pulp Fiction" and "Inglorious Basterds" and "Django Unchained" that Tarantino has stamped his unique signature upon, it seems odd that he had a vampire crime movie on his mind. If you watch this movie though, you'll instantly tell that the dialogue is Tarantinian. Its extremely juicy and you will want to quote all of it. Quentin Tarantino even stars in the movie too.

The film begins Texas as Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) strolls into a local gas station. You know Earl McGraw whether you realize it or not. The same actor has played the same character in this movie, "Kill Bill: Volume I," "Death Proof," and Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror." What draws Tarantino and Rodriguez to continually return to the character doesn't make a lick of sense to me, but Parks tears it up as the character every time. Ranger McGraw goes to the bathroom and then it is revealed that Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and Richie Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) are sticking the station up. They make sure the clerk stays cool until the Ranger leaves. Eventually the Ranger finds out and a shootout ensues, in which the Gecko brothers are victiorious. They leave as the gas station blows up and at this time, as "Dark Night" by The Blasters begins to play, you'll already be having fun.

The Gecko brothers are trying to get to Mexico in order to turn in loot to a Mexican contact for cash. This cross country move brings the Geckos to the Fuller family. The father Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) is on vacation with his daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) and son Scott (Ernest Liu). The Gecko brothers take the family hostage and force the family to drive them to Mexico, this way the Gecko's won't be seen by authorities. There is a long stretch of film as these two parties get to know one another, and Tarantino creates memorable moments out of a quite stretch of the film. There are a couple tense moments when the Gecko's might get caught, they are very well-staged.

Once the group gets to Mexico, at a bar called the "Titty Twister," boy how things change.

The entire group become survivalists as the bar is run completely by vampires. Along with a rag-tag group of bar goers who try to survive the onslaught. Its quite the left turn, but the movie is so much fun that none of it matters. Clooney, Tarantino, Keitel, and Lewis are clearly having lots of fun, as they make the most of their roles. So does Salma Hayek playing a particularly sexy vampire, so is Danny Trejo as the fanged bartender, so is Tom Savini as Sex Machine; a guy that has weapons hidden in the most disturbing of places, and so is Fred Williamson who teaches the group how to protect itself. As expected in a Tarantino script, each character is given time to shine and I like that.

For horror fans, there is plenty of gory mayhem, crazy make-up, and oddly disturbing scenes to go around. I feel like the scene that involves the bar band playing instruments made out of body parts is surreal, horror beauty at its finest. I think sometimes, movies that feature big transitions do not always work, simply because one big story arc may not add up compared to another. But I feel Tarantino is a gifted enough screenwriter that the crime drama that makes up the first half of the movie compliments the vampire, horror, action film during the second half of the movie. It's an interesting change, not sure it will work for everyone, but it certainly worked for me.

This is definitely the least important movie Tarantino has ever been involved in, but its one of his more entertaining ones.

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