The kind of film that starts as one thing and then halfway through morphs into something different – the kind of movie plot I’ve been lovingly calling a “Something Happened on the Way to El Rey” storyline for years now – is not, for whatever reason, a common kind of film to encounter. Most naturally find them confusing and plenty don’t like them at all, but I happen to love them. I also happen to be a huge fan of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, so its no wonder that I would love their amazing collaborative action/horror adventure From Dusk Till Dawn, so much so that I named my personal label for a plot that turns on a dime after it. The script was penned by writer-costar Tarantino back in 1990, so it features many of his stylistic hallmarks even though you can tell that when he wrote it he hadn’t fully hit the full stride of his cinematic identity. Nevertheless the action/horror/comedy sparkles with a lot of those witty moments that make all of his (and, for that matter, director Robert Rodriguez’s) work the quintessential mix of bad taste and high IQ. In fact, the film stayed in production limbo long enough for Tarantino to take a lot of the best material and add it to his seminal Oscar-winning film Pulp Fiction (perhaps giving it that extra something special that tipped the balance and got it that statue?).
From Dusk Till Dawn stars the then kind-of-famous-but-not-yet-A-list-famous handsome “E.R.” doctor playing George Clooney as dark, non-nonsense thief Seth Gecko who has just broken out of prison and robbed a bank with the help of his creeper younger brother Richie (Tarantino). On their way to the Mexican safe haven El Rey, Seth and Richie decide to procure some hostages to use as a buffer to make their border crossing more discreet, so they hold former minister Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) and his children Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott and the five head on down to Mexico. At the rendezvous point where the Geckos are supposed to meet their El Rey contact, a suspicious looking strip bar called The Titty Twister, the Geckos and the Fullers make friendly and have a drink. But too soon do they realize that the foul denizens of the bar are vampires looking for some humans to feed on, and the night has only just begun. Tarantino and Rodriguez show their fanboy colors with this movie, the kind of cinephiles who prefer their horror movie characters crafted after the trope that sinful people pay for their sins by being baptized in the bloody fire of gruesome monster brawl and slaughter.
The aesthetics of Tarantino and Rodriguez, though obviously complimentary, have their own separate and wicked eccentricities that make them wonderfully unique, like chocolate and peanut butter. But their one true Reese’s moment, the place they seamlessly gel together, is with their take on the action. The gore is ridiculous but not stupid; the deaths are emotional but not heartbreaking; the weaponry is creative but nor farfetched (not counting Tom Savini’s Sex Machine and his cod-piece wiener gun, just because it’s awesome). If you’re not the squeamish type – make no mistake, a strong stomach is needed for the “horror” parts of this movie – than this is a more than exceptional action movie. Its fast and rowdy and just trashy enough, like only the best died-in-the-wool action movies are. From Dusk Till Dawn is a midnight gem in every way. With the two subplots Franksteined together, mixing Tarantino’s Devil-may-care irreverent smart-mouth and Rodriguez’s disgusting albeit hilarious cartoon-like sensibility, they created something totally unique to their Hollywood demographic, bested only by their Grindhouse collaboration eleven years later. It really is some bloody good fun.