81. From Dusk till Dawn

FromDusk1Once upon a time in Mexico, two hoodlums held a family hostage and stopped over at a titty bar on their way to ‘El Rey.’ Sounds like a high-concept thriller, but in the hands of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino during the late 90s? It’s a perfectly okay movie interrupted by the greatest vampire gore-fest of all time.

These two filmmakers were at the nexus of the cult, independent scene, before Rodriguez embarked on stories to tell his children (Spy Kids, Sharkboy and Lavagirl), and Tarantino never told a story again (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained), and so From Dusk till Dawn is a veritable who’s-who of industry legends brought forth to the mainstream: Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, and even Tarantino himself.

A kid wears a “Precinct 13” T-shirt, and all things are in order. This is a movie made by people who specialize in a narrow slice of the movie world, but they do so with admirable vigor. As vampires are impaled and explode and the set pieces compete to top each other, that slice has never been better accomplished, even with the later and very good Planet Terror segment of Grindhouse.

Why is it that Tom Savini has what he calls a “crotch rocket?” It is so random, but has some backstory: apparently Rodriguez had written Planet Terror around the time he was shooting The Faculty, when he told Josh Hartnett and the other stars that he’d be doing a zombie movie and they should all be in it, and this would be before Resident Evil and 28 Days Later ushered in the trend we’re still suffering from today.

Things fell through but for the next ten years, Rodriguez would go on to cannibalize elements of that script for other movies, so that when the time came to return to Planet Terror, he had almost nothing left and had to start from scratch.

I believe one of these elements was the crotch rocket (which is less rocket and more machine-gun), which also makes an appearance in Desperado. It isn’t used there, but would have been a better fit in that crazy John Woo/out-there weapons action movie. Here? With the vampires? It’s in violation of the David Hayter Principle.

But only in retrospect. In the moment, it makes total sense. His name is Sex Machine, and this is the heat he’s packing.

One thing I’ve never totally understood about From Dusk Till Dawn is if God is proven to exist, why even bother surviving and risking vampire-infection? For the priest, no matter how much you believed, having that evidence of God would be revelatory, and you could just get the Gecko brothers to shoot everyone (sucks for them, but they’re going to Hell anyway).

Nobody likes a loser though, and so George Clooney (in his feature film debut — a movie where his ‘brother’ sucks on the toes of a snake-dancer) comes out swinging with all manner of wonderfully improvised weapon.

The only reason they’re vampires is because they have a certain mythology to them, and here, that mythology is interfaced with handmade weapons reverse engineered from their weaknesses. It may not be a clever movie in the broad sense, but in the moment, it’s the clear product of very creative people.

And it also has the best piece of Tarantino dialogue, a man who trades in one-liners and ‘cool’ but never straight-up comedy. When asked by Cheech Marin if the things in the bar were psychos, George Clooney responds — “Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them. I don’t care how crazy they are.”

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