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From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

by on 2011/01/20

From Dusk Till Dawn is two movies in one – stitched together with tar-black thread to make a wonderful monster of a film. Sort of like when Bart Simpson’s evil, formerly conjoined twin makes a pigeon-rat in the Treehouse of Horror VII.

But this pigeon-rat can sing, dance and blow things up.

Starring George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Salma Hayek and Quentin Tarantino, From Dusk Till Dawn is the gore-spattered love child of Robert Rodriguez’ direction and Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay.

For me, there’s two distinct, great parts of this film – before the Gecko brothers (Clooney and Tarantino) get to the Titty Twister strip club in Mexico and in the Titty Twister itself.

We meet the Gecko brothers after a bank heist, during incredibly layered and entertaining few minutes in the World of Liquor convenience store. The amazing Michael Parks makes a brief but memorable appearance as a foul-mouthed lawman in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Seth Gecko (Clooney), a smooth criminal and veteran thief, has been busted out of prison by his twitchy, twisted younger brother Richie (Tarantino). Neck tattoo, quick with a death threat, Seth is elegantly vicious.

This was George Clooney before he was George Clooney. This was after Facts of Life, Roseanne, and before Batman and Robin (1997). This was the moment, according to Quentin Tarantino in interviews about the film, George Clooney became a movie star. You know, you could really see it happening right there on the screen.

We learn early and often that all is not well between the Brothers Gecko. The bank heist over, they’ve stuffed their trunk with middle-aged bank teller, and are heading to Mexican border. On this long stretch of Texas desert highway, they’ve killed a cop, lit a convenience store clerk on fire and blew up the World of Liquor.

Richie (Tarantino) is a clearly insane person. Wounded during the World of Liquor melee, he demonstrates the full extent of his er, issues on the wall, phone and bed of the motel flophouse he, Seth and the bank teller hole up in to hide from the cops. Let’s just say the middle-age bank teller doesn’t make it to the Titty Twister.

At the motel, the brothers happen upon a father and his two children taking an RV vacation across Texas. Jacob (Harvey Keitel) is the straightest of the straight men, a pastor with horn-rim glasses. The Bad Lieutenant plays against type. Keitel is effective as the world-weary, polite family man taking a vacation from life.

His children Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu) have joined their dad in this RV adventure but are a little worried. Jacob has resigned his post as a pastor, saying “my faith is gone …I do believe in Jesus and God… but do I love them? No.” The reason for his crisis of faith? His kids’ mother died slowly and painfully in an auto wreck.

Unfortunately for Jacob and the kids, their lives are about to get worse. So very much worse. With guns to the children’s heads, the Gecko brothers commandeer their RV to cross the Mexican border. Once they make it across the border, Seth promises Richie nothing but “sweet rosemary, 100% proof liquor, and rice and beans.”

Despite Richie’s continued devolution and Tarantino-esque ranting, the brothers manage to make it across the border by hiding in the RV’s cramped commode behind Kate (with her panties around her ankles). Cheech Marin is the clueless customs officer, the first of three (count em …three) characters Marin plays in this film.

Now for the second half of the film. I don’t think you ever forget the first time you see the Titty Twister. Volcanic eruptions at the doorway, biker fist-fights in the parking lot, and an incredibly detailed neon sign of a …lady’s décolletage and beyond.

You also do not forget Cheech Marin’s strip club barker speech. Ever. Um, it is about …cats.

The interior of Titty Twister lives up to the volcanic, hellfire exterior. Beautiful, naked, writhing women are everywhere. Danny Trejo is the fierce bartender, Razor Charlie.

The most jaw-dropping woman of them all, Satánico Pandemónium (Hayek) takes the stage with a giant, albino python and things really start to happen at the Titty Twister.

Given what I’ve read about Tarantino’s foot fetish, he had to be having a very good time when  Satánico Pandemónium feeds him whiskey from the dripping tips of her toes. Tarantino also gets to over-power Danny Trejo when the true face of the Titty Twister reveals itself. Who wouldn’t want that moment of being tougher than Trejo on film?

Soon it is the Gecko brothers, Jacob, his kids, and two B-movie greats “Sex Machine” (Tom Savini) and Frost (Fred Williamson) against the vampires. These vampires are quivering sacks of gelatin, quickly dispatched by throwing them on a table leg, pool cue …a spork. Ok, I made the spork part up.

Decapitating the vampires doesn’t help. They can re-capitate ….and turn into slick, slimy giant rats. The gross-out special effects abound but there are still moments of geniune suspense, humour and poignancy in this strip club spatterfest.

A great, ecstatic blur of blood and other viscous substances, From Dusk Till Dawn is damned entertaining. In fact, the entire series –  From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (2000) – is an owner. I’ve got them all and you should too.

* * * *

Rate R for slimy violence, Quentin Tarantino, Cheech Marin’s Titty Twister speech

108 minutes

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