::Literate Blather::
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Fantastically Bad Cinema: From Dusk Till Dawn

“Did they look like psychos? Is that what they looked like? They were vampires. Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don't give a fuck how crazy they are!”

-- Seth Grecko (George Clooney)

It’s not a good sign when your vampire movie begins to suck donkey balls when the vampires show up.

But that’s the unfortunate circumstance in “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996).

Make no mistake: “From Dusk Till Dawn” is B-movie camp all the way. Director Robert Rodriguez and Screenwriter Quentin Tarantino embrace cheesy cinema in much the same way that John McCain is now gushing about government regulations: a bit over the top.

B-movies can be artful. Look no further than Rodriguez and Tarantino’s recent collaboration on “Grindhouse” (2007).

But 11 years ago, they didn’t quite have the recipe down yet. The result is that “From Dusk Till Dawn” is an uneven effort that tumbles down the rat hole of fantastically bad cinema right about the time the strippers turn into blood suckers.

The first half of the film is downright good: a gritty, hard-boiled crime caper featuring odd-ball personalities and crisp, crackling dialogue. It starts out with bank robbers Seth (George Clooney) and Richard (Tarantino) Gecko on the run in southern Texas. Richard, a sociopathic killer, has rescued his older brother from a courthouse – leaving behind a blood bath.

The two outlaws – dressed like they were part of the “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) crew – have kidnapped a bank teller and speed off into the desert. They end up at Benny’s Liquor Mart for the best scene of the movie.

The liquor store clerk, Pete Bottoms, is chatting with Texas Ranger Earl McGraw who has come in for a beer. They babble on a bit before the Ranger mentions that the Geckos are coming through and if he sees them – “pay back.” He goes to use the toilet and we find out the Geckos are already in the liquor store – holding two female customers hostage.

Of course, it turns into a blood bath – but not before we get some patented snappy dialogue from Tarantino. The Geckos end up at a sleazy motel with the kidnapped cashier. The second best part of the movie is when Seth leaves the poor woman alone with misbehaving brother, Richie. When Seth gets back – well, only chunks of the woman are left.

If only the movie continued with the story of the Geckos and their run from the law.

Alas, it does not.

Instead we’re introduced to Harvey Keitel as Jacob Fuller, a minister on a trip with his two teenage children (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). Fuller has lost his faith after the death of his wife and he’s decided to ride his Winnebago into the sunset.

The Fuller family has the misfortune of meeting up with the Geckos – and, well, a kidnapping ensues. The Geckos (with Fullers in tow) escape to Mexico and Seth is ready to meet his criminal friends at a stripper, biker bar called “Titty Twister.”

Here’s the catch. At the “Titty Twister” the strippers and staff are vampires that use the bar as a lure to unsuspecting truckers and bikers (we never get any explanation). Here the movie stalls -- badly. It transforms from crime spree flick into a cheap, not-very-frightening horror movie. The special effects are terrible, the campy nature of film slides into the ludicrous, and the one-liners become groan inducing.

The transformation from one movie genre to another is jarring. There’s no segue at all. Suddenly, we’re in a cheesy horror movie. Wham-O!

There are so many stupid things happening in the second half that its enough to make you vote Republican: one of the characters is named Sex Machine (he has a gun at his crotch that fires when erect); the characters actually stop and converse while in the middle of a vampire melee; and then there’s Harvey Keitel eye-rolling monologue trying to convince his kids to kill him when he transforms into a vampire after being bit. It hurts.

Add to this pap the miserable vampire make-up – I’ve seen better Halloween costumes – and the clunky new characters and you’ve got some seriously bad film making.

Do yourself a favor. Watch the first half – then turn it off.

More Fantastically Bad Cinema:


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