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February 25, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #112 - From Dusk Till Dawn

The majority of discussions about From Dusk Till Dawn probably start with what can only be described as "the shift".  The shift occurs about half way through the film, and is primarily attributed to the fact that both director Robert Rodriguez and director Quentin Tarantino had their hands all over the production.  Each of the dudes only had two films under their belt at the time, but their trademarks (like Rodriguez' use of Mexicans and Tarantino's foot worship) are evident throughout the film - both before and after the shift.
The shift I keep referring to is that moment when the movie goes from what it is to what it wants to be.  A lot of people have speculated that Tarantino oversaw the first half of the film - which resembles his previous two "guys in suits commit crimes" films of the early '90s - and Rodriguez took over for the blood-soaked, up-tempo second half of the film, in which (I suppose I should say "spoiler alert", but 16 years have passed, dudes) the whole movie becomes a vampire infested siege pictures.  (And you all know The Mike LOVES siege movies.  Seriously, there's nothing better than a good "hanker down and take on waves of bad muddafuggahs" flick.)  I'm not sure how much I believe that the shift was orchestrated in that manner - my money's on the two dudes working together throughout the picture - but it's an interesting way to look at what some could argue is actually an anthology film.
The bigger thing to consider about the shift is how it actually works.  A vocal section of those who talk about the shift just hate the heck out of the split.  They say the movie was so good for the first half and not as interesting in the second.  Or, they say that the second half was so cool and gory and fun, and the first half took to long to get there.  There are people who don't like the film for other reasons - maybe some hate Juliette Lewis as much as I do, maybe some are mad the vampires don't sparkle, maybe there are even some who can't get over how creepy the vampire version of Quentin Tarantino looks - but I choose to ignore them.  Because my theory is that everything boils down to the shift.
Did I mention that the post-shift segment of the film occurs here?
I gotta admit that, even though the second half has water pistols filled with holy water and crossbows and George Clooney making a stakehammer (it's like a jackhammer with a stake on it, which is AWESOME), I'm slightly partial to the pre-shift segment of the film.  A lot of that is due to the awesome opening sequence, which establishes the criminal side of Clooney and Tarantino's characters while pitting them against a Texas Ranger and a liquor store clerk who is played fantastically by a young John Hawkes, who's awesome in a lot of things.  (Random tangent: The ranger, played by Michael Parks, dies in this scene - but goes on to appear in two more Tarantino/Rodriguez films. The Tarantino 'verse is one crazy, scary, interconnected logjam of dead people.)  It's one of the better opening scenes on film in my book, and it always has me ready for From Dusk Till Dawn's wild ride as soon as the first curse word is uttered and the first drops of blood are splattered.
BTW, remember that time when Clooney was just "That guy from ER"?  Yeah, me too.  Doesn't that seem weird in retrospect?  The thing is, I have some pretty vivid memories of it being weird when I saw Clooney - who I'd known as a dude on some snooty drama I'd never watch - in From Dusk Till Dawn in 1996.  From that opening scene through the final shots, Clooney is the alpha male of the movie, complete with gigantic full-arm tribal tattoo and suit jacket with undershirt and greasy hair.  I do recall this being one of those moments when I thought there might be something more to this actor, and I think it's safe to say he's proved himself a few times since.  The rest of the lead cast has mixed results - Harvey Keitel doesn't get enough good material, but plays the calm character well, Tarantino's better off on the other side of the camera, and Juliette Lewis is still the most annoying thing EVER - but the supporting cast provides a lot of help, with fun turns by genre favorites like Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Tom Savini and "The Hammer" Fred Williamson (who gives my favorite performance in the film).  Oh yeah, and Salma Hayak's here too (by my count, at least 6 members of the cast have been nominated for Oscars!), but I won't explain why. I'll let a picture do the talking.  You're welcome.
(BTW, despite her picture on the back of Mill Creeks' budget blu-ray of the film, Monica Bellucci is NOT in this film.  Mill Creek fail.)
I think that a lot of people expect more than they get from From Dusk Till Dawn, but I've always dug the film as a whole, the shift and all.  It's clear that Tarantino and Rodriguez are having fun, and there's a visible balance between their styles.  The film isn't allowed to turn into a 150 minute epic with Rodriguez at the helm, and the dialogue has a fantastic punch due to Tarantino's own skills.  The script also throws in a few fun twists on vampire lore, and the comments on vampire cinema is a small gift to horror fans in lieu of many scares.  Gore is also used as a substitute for chills, but there's a playful nature to it - particularly when The Hammer gets to use his mitts on some vampire strippers and an oversized Mexican bloodsucker.
I think it could have been a great crime movie or a decent vampire movie.  Some people think it could have been a action-packed vampire movie but was a boring crime movie.  Some people think other things too.  Dramatic shifts in tone do that to people.  But, for me, it all boils down to From Dusk Till Dawn being a blast to watch.  I can deal with the shift when everything else in the film is so much fun.  Thanks to all the talented folks involved (not to mention a fantastic soundtrack), From Dusk Till Dawn and I always get along - even if it is a little bipolar.


Scott (gotankgo) said...

dig it - well written + great movie

Hey! Look Behind You! said...

I never understood the thrill chicks got from George Clooney till this movie.

R.D. Penning said...

I can watch it over and over... love this flick.

: said...

FUN with a capital "F-U". I've always thought FROM DUSK TILL DAWN was incredibly underrated. It's not perfect, and it's no classic by any means, but you can tell it's exactly the movie Rodriguez and Tarantino set out to meet. And they succeeded most admirably.

I've kept an eye out for Michael Parks ever since seeing FROM DUSK TILL DAWN for the first time. That guy he needs to get more work. He's so damn good.