From Dusk Till Dawn (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It's great fun, but certainly not great art. From Dusk Till Dawn, a special effects blood-and-gore extravaganza from director Robert Rodriguez, follows in the footsteps of such cult classics as Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series, thumbing its nose at conventional film expectations and gleefully embracing the campiness of the B-movie genre. With its palette of hideous monstrosities, decapitations, dismemberments, eviscerations, topless dancers, profane dialogue, and bare foot licking, this motion picture pushes the R-rating to the edge.

Yet the reason From Dusk Till Dawn entertains is because it never takes itself seriously. The film is steeped in wit, parody, and offbeat humor. There aren't any characters here -- only caricatures. The movie has been designed as a burst of high energy, and that's exactly what it turns out to be. From Dusk Till Dawn will appeal to only a small portion of the cinema-visiting population, but for those who enjoy this kind of tongue-and-cheek horror story, the film has a lot to offer.

From Dusk Till Dawn marks the most recent phase in the creative collaboration between Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. (Tarantino appeared in Rodriguez's Desperado and the two were both involved in Four Rooms.) For this film, not only is Tarantino credited with the screenplay, but he has a significant on-screen role. Although a terrible performer, he doesn't actually damage the movie, however, because acting ability has little merit here.

In From Dusk Till Dawn, the setup is as long as the main story. The film opens by introducing us to two bank robbers on the run -- Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his nutcase brother Richie (Tarantino). They're on their way to Mexico, but they need a cover to get across the border. So, to that end, they hijack the mobile home of ex-preacher Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) and his two kids (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Lieu), and force them, at gunpoint, to help. Once in Mexico, the five stop at an all-night bar for a little R&R. Only one problem: the place is run by vampires, and, after a little topless dancing, it's feeding time.

For the most part, Tarantino's dialogue here pales in comparison to what he wrote for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. That said, however, there's still a snappy rhythm to the way the men, women, and undead of From Dusk Till Dawn speak. The script is peppered with deadpan humor, from allusions to Peter Cushing's Hammer Horror battles against Dracula to Harvey Keitel's Bible quotations as he sets about taking out his demonic opponents. There are also numerous references, visual and otherwise, to previous work by Tarantino and Rodriguez. Depending on your opinion of the two men, this can be seen as either clever or self-indulgent. The only one who really attempts any sort of real acting is Keitel. Everyone else is just out there kicking butt, taking their lumps, and occasionally getting bitten in the neck. TV veteran George Clooney, making his feature debut, generates a palpable screen presence. His deadpan delivery of lines like "psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them" is priceless.

At present, there is a Tarantino backlash in progress, but it's unlikely that the growing public dislike of "Mr. Overexposure" is going to damage From Dusk Till Dawn's box-office prospects, since the target audience won't care about the prevailing opinion of the screenwriter/co-star. What they want, this film offers: a stylish, ultra-hip twist to one of humanity's oldest, darkest legends. Vampires will never live this one down.

From Dusk Till Dawn (United States, 1996)

Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 1996-01-19
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity, )
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1