Thursday, August 25, 2011

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

A series of wrong places at the wrong times

The first peak I had of "From Dusk Till Dawn" was when attempting to sneak into the theater back in '96 and seeing the words "Titty Twister" on a sleazy bar front but then being kicked out right after. Soon enough a kind--or demented--neighbor leant the tape without alluding to the plot or genre. Being just excited that it was a "movie," not to mention with two guys and guns on the cover, I put it on without even reading the back and was surprised to find that not only was the beginning a cursing and violence filled crime adventure but then the latter half switches locales and turns into a kind of action/horror with monsters running amuck. My ignorance doubled when special make-up effects wizard Tom Savini--only known to myself before reading horror mags and dialing up to Internet access as that actor with the crotch gun--came to town to the local hobby shop and signed "my snot rag" (napkin) I had in my pocket--all for free! Good times.

Two men who live by their own rules make a mark on small town middle America by breaking every law in the book when they end up at a rinky-dink gas station in Texas. Fingers get itchy on their triggers and before you know it everyone's dead and a massive explosion ensues. "Low profile. Do you understand the meaning of the words "low profile"? Seth says to his brother Richie who ended up with a bullet hole through his hand. Richie (Quentin Tarantino) is the violence prone, perverted brother who constantly needs an eye looked after him. Actor George Clooney, as Seth, would get somewhat typecast after this as not the criminal, but the confident leader type that he does so well with a dead-set stare and words that command. This builds up to a kind of twisted redemption from a low life that is only out for himself--bank robber, cop killer, escaped felon--to unlikely antihero to protect his fellow man when something greater comes into the picture that jeorpardizes everybody's life.

From hotel rooms with one hostage to an RV with three more--including a former minister named Jacob (Keitel) and his two children Kate and Scott--they make it across the Mexico border and the Gecko brothers await a rendezvous with another criminal to make a score. That place is the Titty Twister: a Mexican bar that houses some of the rowdiest scumbags with neon lights and every vice offered to lure them in. Cheech Marin doubles as the boarder patrol agent and over-the-top host at the door selling prostitutes to bikers and truck drivers that layover in that seedy part of town. He puts a hand up to the Geckos and they return the favor with a beating. The brothers bring their captives inside and find strippers, loud rock 'n' roll, fist fights and hard liquor--their kind of place. Soon enough the incident outside and Richie's hand injury comes full circle to bite him where it counts when the host comes back in and the main table top dancer Satanico Pandemonium (Selma Hayek) can't help herself when it comes to the bloody wound. Within a split second all of the employees turn into something else and the patrons inside either run or fight for their lives by quickly using methods learned from other horror films. Yep, sometimes these things can be survival guides.

What's different about this picture compared to a straight horror film is that there isn't any foreshadowing. Though it's more action than horror by causing the characters to leap into making decisions on the fly, instead of slowly creeping up. Replay value is a blast, since you essentially have two differently toned movies in one with the same cast handling both sides. This is going for the full cinematic experience and escapism rather than truly making the environment authentic. Some of the mechanics are sacrificed for entertainment value over being thoroughly sound, so some things happen at opportune times, such as certain infected people turning faster than others or one monster having one ability and another doesn't. What makes that work is there is a decent amount of purposeful tongue-in-cheek humor, along with room left over for timed out suspense.

The beginning half of the film isn't all flash and fancy talk as they don't always hold back in what's said or done, whether it be racist comments to raping an innocent woman. Savini as "Sex Machine" and Williamson as "Frost" aren't the best actors but they still possess an onscreen tough look. This has some cool special makeup effects by KNB EFX Group that would later go on to do other big pictures; despite when CGI started to rear its head just after 2000 as the norm rather than utilizing it in a few areas. For instance, this uses some CG for transformations from normal to monstrous but the rest is prosthetics, giving it that unmistakable physical presence. There are facial masks, as well as full body casts. Not to mention some grisly gore, with anything from the straightforward brutal to the downright inventive. Most of the music feels more hip and flavorful than scary, apart from some choirs. Time just flies with this movie, from one captivating scene and piece of catchy dialogue to the next, it's hard to take your senses off what the next thing they have in store. It's one of those rare films that you'll wish didn't have to end.

Rating: 9/10

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Stars: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini
Link: IMDB

Writer's note:

This is the first time I've seen the casual walking away from an explosion in the background. Since, it's been done from here to the moon.

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