Monday 3 January 2011

Movie Review: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

An exercise in stylishly meaningless blood-letting, From Dusk Till Dawn just wants to have fun.  Director Robert Rodriguez delivers an enjoyably gory package, while stars George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino are captivating as they play their over-the-top roles appropriately straight.

Brutal criminal Seth Gecko (Clooney) and his psychotic sex-offender brother Richie (Tarantino) have just violently robbed a Texas bank and are holding hostages as they make a run to Mexico. At a grocery store near the border, Richie kills a local lawman, and in the ensuing shootout, the brothers also shoot and kill the store clerk, but not before Richie is wounded with a bullet through his palm. In the chaos, all their hostages flee except for an elderly bank clerk; Richie kills her anyway when the brothers take refuge in a seedy motel.

Seth kidnaps a vacationing family consisting of pastor Jacob (Harvey Keitel) and his two teenage children, Scott and Kate (Juliette Lewis). The group crosses into Mexico, where Seth has arranged a dawn rendezvous with local crimelord Carlos (Cheech Marin). Seth and Richie force their hostages to settle in for a night of drinking at the Titty Twister strip joint, a rough, isolated biker and trucker hangout. But when the sun goes down, most of the staff, dancers and regulars at the Titty Twister transform into ugly, vicious vampires, intent on devouring the human customers. Seth and Richie need the help of their hostages as well as other colourful customers, including Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and Vietnam War veteran Frost (Fred Williamson), to fight back and survive the night.

Once the vampires take over From Dusk Till Dawn, the movie does not pretend to be anything more than a hyperkinetic blood-soaked comedy of catroon-level violence. Tarantino's screenplay delivers the laughs as Clooney and company fend-off endless hordes of blood-suckers, finding a never ending stream of tools to try and prevent the vampires from having their dinner.

Despite the orgy of violence, Tarantino finds time in the script to give Seth some humanity: Seth blames himself for Richie turning into a sick psychopath. And if there is a message among the bloodied and mangled bodyparts, it is that even individuals as messed up as Seth and Richie will encounter more horrible creatures at some point in their life.

Supporting Clooney and Tarantino is an entertaining cast that adds to the merriment. It's a treat to find Williamson, a veteran of 1970s cheapo exploitation movies, as an unexpected ally in the long battle at the cantina. Cheech Marin plays three manic roles, as a border guard, a greeter at the Titty Twister, and as Carlos. Salma Hayek shows up briefly but memorably as the awesome Satanico Pandemonium, the club's star performer. And Harvey Keitel brings a comically false solemness to the proceedings as a pastor questioning his calling after the death of his wife.

Thanks to the talent on both sides of the camera, From Dusk Till Dawn is much more entertaining than an ultimately pointless movie has any right to be.

All Ace Black Movie Reviews are here.

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