From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

From Dusk Till Dawn came from the brains of Robert Kurtzman — the K in KNB — who wrote the original story, co-produced the film and helped create the special effects. It brings together Quentin Tarantino — who wrote the script and acts in the film — with Robert Rodriguez, the director of films such as Desperado, Sin City and, of course, the Planet Terror part of Grindhouse.

Bank robbers Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and Tarantino) hold up a small liquor store and end up killing the clerk (John Hawkes, Kenny Powers’ brother on Eastbound and Down) and Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks, who despite this character dying, he came back to play the same role in Kill Bill Volume 1, a deleted scene in Machete and both Grindhouse movies).

As they hide out in a motel, Richie can’t help himself to killing and assaulting a bank clerk. As the cops get closer, the brothers take the Fuller family — Jacob, a former pastor and his children Scott and Kate (Harvey Keitel, Ernest Liu and Juliette Lewis) — hostage. Using their RV, the brothers make it across the Mexico border where they contact will meet them and escort them to El Ray, a place where fugitives can find safety (this concept comes from Jim Thompson’s novel, The Getaway, which also inspired two films — the 1972 Steve McQueen/Ali MacGraw classic and the 1994 Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger not-so-classic).

While hiding out at a biker bar called the Titty Twister, everyone in the place reveals themselves to be vampires — everyone from the announcer (Cheech Marin in one of the three roles he plays here) to the band (Tito & Tarantula), the bartender Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) and the main attraction, Santantico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek, playing a role named after the 1975 Mexican nunspoitation film where Satan selects Sister Maria to drag her fellow sisters into his domain).

The Geckos and the Fuller family only have two other people who can help — a biker named Sex Machine (Tom Savini!) and Army vet Frost (Fred Williamson!). Of course, all hell breaks loose and barely anyone survives, but what did you expect? By the end of the film, the Titty Twister reveals what it was all along — an Aztec temple. That would be explored more in the two sequels and TV series that followed.

Only in the world of Tarantino and Rodriguez can Tom Savini and Fred Williamson have just as much celebrity as George Clooney, who at times could truthfully lay claim to being the biggest movie star in the world. That said, they mean way more in my world. And throw in appearances by Marc Lawrence (Dream No EvilCataclysm) and John Saxon (probably my favorite actor of all time) and you have a movie that feels like it was made for my own personal enjoyment. Hell, before Clooney came on, Joe Pilato — Captain Rhodes from Day of the Dead — played Seth and footage exists of him in the role.

While not as serious as the other Tarantino films we’re writing about this week, From Dusk Till Dawn is a quick and fun bit of entertainment. And check out that Frazetta poster that was never used!

 

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