Quotable, hyperviolent and absurd are all words that could appropriately describe Robert Rodriguez's horror action film From Dusk Till Dawn, in a similar manner to his later work Death Proof, From Dusk Till Dawn takes one narrative convention and suggests a certain plot only to completely avert genre midway, of course one welcomes this in a Rodriguez movie because he does so with such flare and cinematic zeal. As such, this conversion of genre is what allows for From Dusk Till Dawn to make my horror list, because it is undeniably centered in the genre for its back half, despite initially being, and to some degree remaining, a heist film. For the most part well-acted, with the exception of the ever grating Juliette Lewis, the group of performers manage to make the most unusual of circumstances seem at the very least plausible. Furthermore, From Dusk Till Dawn does a great deal of genre reflection and coalescing, hearkening back to everything from seventies shlock films to a great deal of noir existentialism, even throwing in a bit of family road trip drama for laughs. Rodriguez is of the same breed of filmmaker as Tarantino, who casts in the film, in that he wants to spend as much of the narrative showing how much he likes films, as well as how good he is at directing them. At no point is the story in From Dusk Till Dawn boring one is on the edge of their seat waiting for the next ridiculous moment or intense action scene, even if, as is the case with myself, it a second, third or hundredth viewing. Of course, as is often the case with Tarantino, Rodriguez's films suffer from a certain gendered state of mind that can make a considerable amount of the action quite problematic.
From Dusk Till Dawn begins with two men pulling into a liquor store, only to be followed by the entrance of a cop. The cop after a bit of banter with the clerk heads to the bath room leaving the two men to reveal their motives as runaway thieves, who in a moment of panic shoot the cop, as well as all those present in the store. It is revealed that the two men are the Gecko Brothers, Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino) and that they are on the run from essentially the entire Texas police force. Simultaneously we are introduced to a family on a trip, one that includes a doubting preacher father named Jacob (Harvey Keitel), his daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) and his clearly adopted son Scott (Ernest Liu). As fate would have it, the two groups collide, leading to the Gecko Brothers taking the family hostage and using their RV as a means to travel to Mexico somewhat undetected. After an intense border crossing scene the group makes it to their desired destination the eponymous Titty Twister bar and strip club. Choosing the place because it is open from dusk till dawn, the entire group, Jacob's family included await the arrival of the brother rendezvous. As drinking ensues and strippers perform things suddenly take a turn for the worst when it become clear that the bar is a vampire haven, one that feeds on its nightly attendees. The group, along with the help of a few other survivors begin to fight the vampires, eventually losing members as they turn after being bitten. In the end only a few survive walking away from the incident changed, but unusually unaffected by the inexplicable events.
From Dusk Till Dawn is a fun movie and an extremely watchable horror film, however, like many of Tarantino's films, Rodriguez suffers from a bit of heavy reveling in masculinity. Everything in this film promotes male dominance, whether it be a constant vying for power between Jacob and Seth, or the obvious phallic nature of the wooden spikes used throughout the film. Even the presence of Kate, and later, Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) serves as a means to justify male gaze and desire. The notion of hypermasculine presence even permeates the minor details of the film, such as handshakes as means of contract, the naming of a character as Sex Machine (Tom Savini), right down to Frost (Fred Williamson) suggesting that no horror on earth will match his experiences during Vietnam. It is hard to suggest why exactly this glorification in masculine power exists, but I often recall the work of bell hooks in the situations, particularly her critique of Pulp Fiction as ignoring some serious issues of intersectionality and racial stereotyping in the name of hipness. I would venture to say that From Dusk Till Dawn problematically portrays masculine effects on religion, violence and sexuality only to lose the possibility to critique them beneath insane special effects and cool dialogue. Now with all that acknowledge, I do very much enjoy this film, however, I am careful to view it with quite the critical eye.
Key Scene: The discovery of the unconventional weapons cache is hip absurdism.
This movie is a watch instantly gem both on Hulu and Netflix, but should you be a diehard fan of either Tarantino or Rodriguez, this is a must own work.