Horror fans have long lamented the genre wasteland that was the 1990s, and so this week I turn my attention to a film which, for me, is one of the bright lights of the entire decade. Robert Rodriguez' From Dusk Till Dawn may, in fact, be my favorite horror film of the entire decade. Or at least one of a handful of gems. For my money, it's just about the only fright flick from that era that captured the feel and attitude of the much grittier and more brutal horror fare of the 1970s and '80s.
Interestingly, it's actually two different movies in one, with the first half being your typical Rodriguez/Tarantino grindhouse action/crime flick. Then, in the midst of Salma Hayek's alluring striptease as the unforgettable Santanico Pandemonium, it totally shifts gears and turns into a balls-out, horrific gorefest. It's quite amazing, and in a way is a precursor to Rodriguez and Tarantino's Grindhouse of a decade later--an actual two-part flick consisting of both genres in two different films, Death Proof and Planet Terror. Only in my opinion, From Dusk Till Dawn did it so much better.
Back in 1996, the idea of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez directing a vampire flick was pretty incredible. And boy did this duo deliver, giving us a horror movie with more style, attitude and sheer enthusiasm than most of the tame stuff that passed for horror around this time.
Actually, From Dusk Till Dawn resembles a Romero zombie movie more than it does a vampire movie, which is no surprise given Tarantino's professed love for Dawn of the Dead (before making it big, he even used to claim falsely to have been an extra in DOTD, to help him get acting roles). This especially shows itself in the concept of former friends and family members turning against each other without remorse, and the need to coldly do away with them once they do.
Particularly, the scene in which Harvey Keitel's character bites his own teenage son has always stayed with me, and is especially rough, especially for a movie that at other points takes such a comedic, almost light-hearted approach to the material. This is what makes this movie so much fun to watch, the way that Tarantino's script moves so deftly from one tone to the other, with Rodriguez' masterful touch keeping up with it every step of the way.
Only these two guys could've gotten Keitel to be in a movie like this, and it is a great thing that they did, because he is just terrific as a fallen priest trying desperately to hang on to his faith enough to be an effective vampire killer. On the cusp of a big-time Hollywood career, former TV star George Clooney is also on-point as the reluctant leader of the ragtag crew of vamp stakers.
And given this is a film made by lovers of the grindhouse aesthetic, we are treated to a plethora of cult actor appearances, including Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo and John Saxon.
The violence and gore is at a level that wasn't seen all that much anymore in mainstream American horror at the time. For the most part, the '90s was kind of a reaction to the excessive stuff depicted in the '70s and '80s. But this movie bucks the trend big time, giving us graphic bloodletting and vampire feasting galore.
There's so much to recommend here. Juliette Lewis in another of her memorable performances. Some great chemistry between Clooney and Tarantino as the Gecko brothers during the film's early, more Pulp Fiction-esque sequences. Cheech's classic monologue outside the saloon. And did I mention Salma Hayek's striptease?
In closing, for anyone newer fans who have been disappointed in what the '90s had to offer in the way of horror, check out this movie. If you're a long-time fan of the genre who bemoaned the lack of quality films at that time and somehow missed this one, correct the omission immediately. In the past 15 years, only Let the Right One In (a very different film) could be considered a superior vampire movie.
Forget Grindhouse--this is Tarantino/Rodriguez horror at its best.
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