From Dusk Till Dawn Special

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Starring George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis

    Hot- foot on the run from the law, the Gecko brothers Seth (Clooney) and Richard (Quentin Tarantino) take washed-up preacher Jacob Fuller (Keitel) and his children hostage and head for Mexico. Narrowly evading the law, and narrowly surviving Richard's psychotic nature, the five of them wind up in the Titty Twister, a seedy desert strip-club where Seth has arranged to meet his Mexican contact.
    Which is where the film takes off, and suddenly ceases to be a Quentin Tarantino 'bad men in black suits crack wise and do terrible things to people' film, and becomes a Robert Rodriguez crazy-ass Mexican vampire flick, as the staff of the Titty Twister - including barman Razor Charlie ( Danny Trejo) - reveal their darker nature, and start chowing down on the truckers, bikers, fleeing criminals and kidnapped preachers families who form their clientele.
    With Richard dead, Seth must join forces with Jacob and his children to survive the second wave of vampires and live to see the sunrise.

What's wrong with it?

    It's interesting that in a criminal road movie that turns into a vampire bloodbath, all the nastiest bits of the film are in the first half. It's like a Quentin Tarantino movie with no restraint, and the vile Richard Gecko is like a whole new dimension in unpleasantness, to the point it can get difficult to watch. Seth is also no poodle, and it is a little jarring seeing him become the hero, but then that may be the point.
    The vampires themselves are a little silly in places, and as the first half of the film suffers from unbridled Tarantino, the second suffers from Rodriguez Unbound, becoming a bloodbath of such total abandon that it becomes a little hard to keep track.

What's right with it?

    All that being said, the main reason to include this film is for the sake of completeness, and as a benchmark for the ones that followed. While not exactly Casablanca, and not to everyone's taste, the film is professionally produced and does what it sets out to do with a minimum of ham and a modicum of dignity. Jacob and his daughter, Kate (Lewis) provide an emotional hook for the audience which offsets the darkness of the Gecko brothers, and allow you to feel some interest and investment in the proceedings.

How bad is it really?

    The film is pretty much unbridled fun, if - and it's a pretty big if - you don't mind your movie fun spattered with viscera and peppered with deeply unpleasant characters being unpleasant. The first half is a particular offender in the latter category, the second half in the former.

Best bit.

    Seth takes charge of the survivors, and realises that if Jacob retains his faith, he can bless the tap water to make a weapon for them. Keitel's attempt to get into the spirit of Seth's leadership style provides a high point of the movie, particularly since it includes the absurd notion of Harvey Keitel being unwilling to swear.

Seth: So what are you, Jacob? A faithless preacher? Or a mean motherfuckin' servant of God?
Jacob: I'm a mean m... m... servant of God.

What's up with...?


Production values - Fair to good. Some of the vampire effects are a little silly, but in general the film is well shot and you can hear the dialogue pretty well too. 8

Dialogue and performances - Pretty much to par for a Tarantino co-script, namely there's a swear word every three seconds, a lot of inconsequential ramblings of the meaning of life, and some holier than thou criminal code stuff from Seth. Of course, the person he's being holier than is Richard, so that's fair. The acting is solid, with Clooney managing to go most of the film without either grinning or twitching his head all over the place. Tarantino is rubbish, but then he always is. 10

Plot and execution - Simple, but effective. The genre switch is handled pretty well, and the two halves each has a distinct mood. The latter half is far better than the first, probably because it's more Rodriguez' thing, and because of the absence of Tarantino. 7

Randomness - Aside from the sudden attack of the undead - oh, and the codpiece cannon - the film plays it straight. 'It' is horde of vampires in a strip-club/brothel set atop an ancient Mexican ziggurat, but they play that straight. 5

Waste of Potential - Probably the best crime-road-movie-turns-into-a-vampire-flick you're ever going to see. Certainly better than those crappy non-period Hammer efforts. 5

Overall 35%


From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999)

Directed by Scott Spiegel
Starring Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins

    The movie opens with a couple of lawyers being savaged by bats in an elevator. But wait! It's just a film within a film, and now Buck (Patrick) is being hounded by Sheriff Lawson (Hopkins) over the whereabouts of his former partner, Luther. Said partner then gets in touch, and has Buck assemble a team for a heist in Mexico.
    The team assembles, but Luther runs afoul of the vampires at the Titty Twister - including barman Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) - and one by one the gang get turned into vampires, and their blood-thirsty antics lead to a showdown of Butch Cassidy proportions at the bank where the job is going down. Buck escapes with his life, and teams up with Lawson to face down the vampires.

What's wrong with it?

    For starters, the bats. The bats in the film within a film are really cheap, but that's okay. However, whenever you have a film within a film, it is important that the production values in said are notably lower than in the film itself. In this picture, they are not.
    The acting is pretty poor, with Robert Patrick - a man barely able to out-act Arnold Schwarzenegger - providing the high-point.

What's right with it?

    The film follows the pattern from the original, opening as a heist movie before becoming a vampire flick, and does so reasonably well. The gang are an amusing pack of reprobates, especially Jesus, the psychotic dog trainer who has his fighting hound, Jaws II, on steroids. There are some nice moments, like the Sheriff warding of evil by closing an ambulance door to display the cross, and the gang sitting in their motel room having a Tarantino homage about porno movies.

How bad is it really?

    Pretty lame, but it rattles along at a good enough pace you can mostly ignore the crapness. This is certainly the low point of the 'trilogy'.

Best bit?

    Probably the porno conversation, where the gang members complain about the absence of a decent story in the fuck movie.

What's up with...?


Production values - Cheap, and not done well enough to hide it. You can get a lot of mileage out of the rabid rubber bat shot if you cut it right, but if the camera stays on the bat, it quickly becomes clear that it's made of rubber. 15

Dialogue and performances - Not great. Pretty much no-one is actually bad, they're al just deeply mediocre. The dialogue is a bit of a pick me up, with some decent one-liners and exchanges, a few of which are even delivered with some competence. 14

Plot and execution - Slim plot, but fairly well used. The genre switch is a little less deft than in the original though. 16

Randomness - Again, the slightly off-the-wall idea is played fairly straight. 5

Waste of potential - Since both the original and the next sequel were better, clearly something went wrong here, possibly the use of a fairly similar opening genre. Maybe the film would have been better if it started as a high school movie or a romantic comedy? 12

Overall 62%


From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (2000)

Directed by P.J. Pesce
Starring Marco Leonardi, Michael Parks and Temuera 'Jango Fett' Morrison

    1914, and Bandito Johnny Madrid (Leonardi) is saved from execution, and flees from the menacing Hangman (Morrison), taking the Hangman's beautiful daughter Esmerelda (Ara Celi) with him. With the Hangman in pursuit, Madrid lets his saviour - wannabe outlaw, Reese (Jordana Spiro) - lead him to a supposed treasure on a coach occupied by a pair of newlywed God-botherers, and inebriate atheist war hero Ambrose Bierce (Parks).

    What with one thing and another, this motley crew turn up at the La Tetilla del Diablo, a seedy whorehouse in the desert. Night falls and the vampires - including barman Razor Charlie ( Danny Trejo) - come out to play. Esmerelda is revealed to be the daughter of a vampire, and their prophesied messiah: Santanico Pandemonium. With all hell breaking loose, it is up to the Bierce to pull the disparate survivors together, in the by-now-familiar struggle to last until dawn.

What's wrong with it?

    The effects in this third foray are as cheap and cheerful as those in the second film. The genre-switch device is by now a little worn, and once the set-up has been made, the hunt through the lower levels of La Tetilla del Diablo is fairly by the numbers. The appearance of real person Ambrose Bierce (best known as the writer of The Devil's Dictionary) is also pretty weird.

What's right with it?

    This film recognises its budget limitations, and makes the best of its cheap effects, largely by not showing too much of the plastic bats. The genre switch may be old hat, but it's handled better than in the first one, and the western section is possibly the strongest opener of the three films. The players are mostly competent and very definitely along for the ride, with a welcome return for the world's largest living Mexican (Trejo). There are a number of genuinely funny moments, and even a spirited attempt to inject a plot twist into the wacky vampire high jinks.

How bad is it really?

    Much better than Texas Blood Money, and almost as good as the real thing. Like the original From Dusk Till Dawn, The Hangman's Daughter (named after Bierce's 'The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter') is good clean fun for all the family; or at least all of them who are over eighteen, and/or not of a nervous disposition, and who don't mind their movies being very bloody indeed.

Best bit?

    The film has some good scenes and one liners, like the blind guard shooting by ear, and Ambrose Bierce baiting the Christians ('No madam; when Gabriel blows his trumpet, I shall be playing the tuba'). The best is a toss up between the fired-up missionary asking Razor Charlie if he can start a fight, and Charlie handing him a cudgel, or the revelation of Reese's murderous past.

Hangman: You killed your parents?
Reese: They were poor; starving. I sent them to a better place.
Hangman: What about your aunt, uncle and cousins?
Reese: Oh. I never liked them.

    There's also a nice visual queue to the original, where the camera pulls back on the full scale of the Ziggurat, with coaches and wagons instead of trucks and coaches dumped around the base.

What's up with...?


Production values - Low budget, but well used. This film shows it's immediate predecessor what you can do on a limited budget. 10

Dialogue and performances - Such a vast improvement on Texas Blood Money that - having watched them pretty much on consecutive nights - they seem almost Oscar-worthy. The dialogue is also peppier, with plenty of nice one liners and routines. Not Shakespeare, but not See You Next Wednesday either. 10

Plot and execution - The western plot is actually fairly involved, and carries through somewhat into the second half. The twist is not completely twisty, but is gamely done, and nicely reacted. 8

Randomness - Once more, with the exception of the big Ambrose Bierce weirdness, the film sticks firmly to its rather bizarre guns. 9

Waste of potential - For a second sequel to a better-than-average schlock vampire flick, this was Hamlet. On ice! 4

Overall 41%