“Now, is my shit together or is my shit together?”
Watching Robert Rodriguez’s 1996 flick From Dusk Till Dawn is no less than the journey the Gecko brothers undertook across the border. While critics have called the film “interesting” and “genre-bending”, the only words I can think of are “strange”, “quirky” and “am I slowly going out of my mind?”. What starts off as a simple heist film with two brothers-in-arms (literally) on the run, soon turns into a funny gorefest with B-grade visuals and bizarre climax scenes. Written by Quentin Tarantino, this film provided him with the money he needed for his directorial debut Reservoir Dogs (which was released prior to this film) and bore witness to tropes included by the celebrated auteur in his later films.
The film features two brothers – Seth Gecko and Richard “Richie” Gecko- played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino respectively – as robbers on the run. They have looted a bank, killed police officers and Texas Rangers, civilians and have taken a middle-aged bank teller hostage. While being on the most wanted list, they saunter through the unmanned and deserted areas of the highway, holding a family hostage in a motel and later compelling the father, a faithless pastor named Jacob Fuller, to drive them across the border to Mexico, while pointing a gun at his children, Kate and Scott’s forehead. With what can be seen as early signs of Stockholm Syndrome, the Fuller family slowly starts to trust the elder Gecko brother who is nothing but nice to them.
They stop at a club named ‘Titty Twister’ where the real fun begins. Tarantino, who already relishes the uninhibited view of Kate’s foot while in the RV van, gets to suck on Salma Hayek’s foot, who plays a seductive dancer-turned-vampire. Crazy? You bet. As the group try to blend in with the truckers and bikers who frequent the private club while waiting for Seth’s dealer Carlos to arrive, Hayek, as Santanico Pandemonium, a dancer clad in scanty clothes with a snake slithering across her body, titillates the men, especially Tarantino’s character Gecko, with her moves. She walks over to him and, as whiskey cascades down her legs, Gecko sucks away her foot to glory. This is right before the same woman engulfs his throat dry of blood after turning into a hilariously created special effects vampire. The bar employees are revealed to be vampires who embark on a bloodfest killing nearly everyone except the Fullers, Sex Machine, Seth and Frost. The snake scene was the most difficult for Hayek to shoot given her ophidiophobia, but Tarantino, who is known for his convincing nature, finally convinced her to do it after hours of practice and putting her in a trance during the scene, which added perfection equivalent to chef’s kisses.
Of course, it is bizarre to see a vampire band strumming away a dead human body with strings across its torso but nothing seems too outlandish for this film. It is even funnier to notice some of the stake-through-the heart scenes, for example, when Sex Machine simply pencils through the beating heart of a humongous vampire killing him instantly. The group is ripped apart when most of them are bit and eventually killed, but Jacob regains his faith momentarily. Seth and Kate emerge unharmed, and Kate begins to show signs of inclination towards Seth but is rebuffed. As she drives off into the unknown with money and the RV while Seth follows Carlos into El Ray, the audience is left wondering and hoping for more.
If the description did not scare and repulse you already, then good. You are on my team, that is, you are an equally freakish weirdo who enjoys outlandish films that revel in gore and violence. I will echo other critics when I talk about how it looks like two films being pieced together – a heist film and a vampire slasher film. The frenzied and unpolished writing of Tarantino is clearly visible here. Tarantino is trying to find his voice and finds an ostentatious yet crude one in this film. As is later noticed in the Tarintinian-verse, the plot is gruesome, grisly, violent, filled with unique monologues, casual sexism, a garnish of racist comments, bombastic violence, uncalled for opening scenes and main characters who are loathsome yet lovable.
George Clooney, who plays Seth Gecko, won accolades for his role; however, to me, he is overshadowed by the sleaze played by Tarantino. Given the number of times I mention the director’s name, it is pretty evident that I am irrevocably in love with his oeuvre. Who would not be, given the quick and peculiar transition from the world of the mercenary rampage to that of the supernatural? It is so odd that it almost seems natural to casually walk into a bar filled with green and gooey-blooded, blood-thirsty vampires in the middle of a desert. While Clooney could have brought more meatiness to the role, he is the quintessential bad guy with a lion heart who is trying to keep his beloved brother and sex offender Richie in check. Richie violates the woman in the motel and eyes Kate sordidly. He is exceptionally neurotic, which often causes the brothers to fall into trouble. In an almost hilarious scene, this sleazy goofball eyes his older brother through the hole in his hand; this hand gets mutilated on several occasions, yet he miraculously survives.
From Dusk Till Dawn is a great and nostalgic watch for fans who love good crossover films. A cult classic, it is celebrated for its strange atmospheric horror which is accentuated by the beautiful women-turned-scaly bodied vampires who want to feast on their blood. The Geckos are the worst, but somehow the audience finds themselves sympathising with the brothers and, in the end, almost rooting for them, nearly moved to tears when Seth holds his lifeless brother’s body in his hands. That is definitely before a vampire Tarantino, crazier than the real one emerges to life. Heavyweights like Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis appear in supporting roles and add to the hilarity of the film. Richie is a plot device which moves the story forward; Juliette Lewis as Kate tries to save him despite the disgusting advances made on her by the younger Gecko.
The film follows the tropes of a classic vampire film where a cross, stake through the heart, garlic and sunlight is sure to scare these ghastly beats away. Rodriguez’s opus film, it blends the thin line between the real and the imaginary, often making the unrealistic seem more possible and attainable. You laugh your hearts out as the Geckos talk about keeping a low profile while a by-road shop burst into flames or when Richi pries for his elder brother’s appreciation and affection. Is Mexico all about vampire-filled bars and sexy dancers who later feed on you to simply loot you? One can only wonder as they groove to the wonderful soundtracks of the film, especially ‘Dark Night’ and watch the characters slowly fade into the distance. 25 years later, the film is equally ridiculous and eccentric as before and reeks of the idiosyncrasies of the geniuses of Rodriguez and Tarantino combined, which gifted the world of cinema a never-before-seen cult classic.
-“You, plant yourself in the seat.”
-“What are you gonna do with me?”
-“I said ‘plant yourself’. Plants don’t talk.”