Directed by Robert Rodriguez
January 17, 1996
The Gecko Brothers are on the run. After leaving a trail of bodies and crossing the border into Mexico they stop at an out-of-the-way bar to wait for their Mexican contact. Accompanying them is a family that they have kidnapped. But when the sun goes down the vampires come out and they all must fight to survive.
Seth Gecko is one of my favorite George Clooney parts. I am not too big on Clooney so I guess having a favorite part here is easy. My dislike goes all the way back to Facts of Life. I do not hate him, but he has not taken too many parts in films I have enjoyed but here he is great as a hyper violent escaped criminal. I did not think he had it in him. I would not mind seeing him play more villainous type roles rather than the charming and slightly roguish roles he lands. Seth is the more even tempered of the Gecko Brothers and looks to be guided by a code of conduct.
Quentin Tarantino as Seth’s brother Richie is perhaps one of the creepiest characters I have seen on screen. Richie is a violent sex offender with some serious mental health issues. He is as dangerous as the vampires they eventually fight. He is prone to hallucinations that justify in his mind his predation.
We also get cameo appearances by Danny Trejo as a bartender, Fred Williamson as a human patron of the deadly bar, makeup legend Tom Savini as a biker named Sex Machine along with Cheech Marin as a border guard, doorman at the bar, and the Gecko’s Mexican contact Carlos who picked the bar just because.
I do not know if this movie necessarily made Salma Hayek a star, but it certainly cemented her permanently in the public consciousness as a sex symbol because of her role as the female vampire stripper Santanico Pandemonium who gets the most screen time of all the smaller parts. She is very vampire evil. In one of my favorite moments at one point she has Seth pinned to the floor and says “I’m not gonna drain you completely. You’re gonna turn for me. You’ll be my slave. You’ll live for me. You’ll eat bugs because I order it. Why? Because I don’t think you’re worthy of human blood. You’ll feed on the blood of stray dogs. You’ll be my foot stool. And at my command, you’ll lick the dog s**t from my boot heel. Since you’ll be my dog, your new name will be “Spot”. Welcome to slavery.” Such a great line delivered perfectly.
Harvey Keitel is a great actor but while not bad he was the weakest link here in his part as Jacob Fuller. I just did not buy him as a reverend taking his kids Katherine (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu) on a road trip. I just picture him as harder edged than a religious man questioning his faith. Not bad but he would not have been my first choice.
This is a balls out insane vampire movie with a good cast as well. Starting with the body count in the opening minutes of the movie all the way to the events of the bar the number of deaths is insane and the action is just nonstop. The movie is not scary, but it is filled with supernatural themed action that can feel a little bonkers at times.
The bar that everyone becomes trapped in is an over the top and a touch ludicrous. If it were just a bar with no supernatural elements it would be a place you could only find in a movie. As a vampire lair you can almost accept it as something you would come across in the real world. It is like a decadent Roman palace translated into Mexico. The ending reveal concerning the bar is a surprise that should be obvious, but it is not. With everything going on in every scene you do not really pick up on the clues that are right in front of your face. You may even need a second watch to pick up on everything and see exactly what you missed. The activity hides it all.
The characters fought every inch of the way to survive in this movie, but it was still lighter in tone than the material could have been. I am not saying that makes it bad, but you could have gone seriously dark but despite the number of bodies in the number of kills it was not creepy or downbeat. It bordered on a fun adventure.
They maintain a consistent mythology here. The vampires are strong and fast but soft enough that shoving a stake into them is doable by most people. They even acknowledge other vampire films when trying to figure out what to do and rather than use that as a basis for their tactics instead stick with what has worked already for them. Most of that was discovered by accident.
The makeup affects were fantastic here. The vampires looked great. But for me one of the high points was the bar band and their make up along with the instruments made out of corpses that they were playing. Totally set the tone for the movie and fit in perfectly.
The main thing this movie has going for it is its originality. The elements of crime, action, and vampires were relatively unused in horror. The few attempts that had been tried were not quite as good if they were even watchable. With a script written by Quentin Tarrantino, it plays like a supernatural Pulp Fiction which makes it something special.
From Dusk till Dawn is a great and fun vampire gorefest that deserves its cult status. While not scary it is an entertaining hyper violent horror themed film with a good story and good performances. You cannot go wrong here.