From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
From Dusk Till Dawn
Some may only be familiar with the TV series of the same name that lasted from 2014-16.
You can gain a full plot summary of the movie (and the series) from IMDB or a dozen other places, so I'm not going to delve into that. It's not really much of a plot really -- a couple of common criminals kidnap a family to get over the border into Mexico and end up in a bar that just happens to be a den for vampires (the movie) or serpent lovers (the series). The movie was intended to be an upgraded "B" level movie, a flick with plenty of violence, gore, profanity, nudity -- and it seemed to pay off.
I don't remember reading a single article about George Clooney bemoaning the fact that he was the star of the film -- as he has with "Batman and Robin." And he shouldn't. The film achieved its intentions very exactly.
Having been released 20 years ago, "From Dusk Till Dawn" holds up well with its initial intention of being a higher-grade horror flick, albeit one with a lot of deliberate tongue-in-cheek humor and over-the-top effects. I'm quite sure that neither Tarantino nor Rodriguez had any idea that this material would still be viable in 2014.
Now, you have to forget entirely that there were two direct-to-video releases between 1996 and 2014. If you saw either, you'd certainly want to purge your mind of them because they were simply terrible in every respect. Even for low-budget films, they were terrible. If you haven't seen these flicks, do yourself a favor and ignore them.
The attempt to make a series out of the original film turned out bad enough, even with Rodriguez as the producer, so the direct-to-video flicks should be culled from anyone's rental queue.
The original film had Clooney, Tarantino in an acting role, Harvey Keitel, Juliet Lewis, and this ensemble went along well with the idea of making a high-end "B" movie. Most importantly, Tarantino wrote some marvelously outrageous script material. This odd combination of talented actors and witty writing made "From Dusk Till Dawn" a kind of cult classic in its own time.
Clooney and Tarantino are the Gecko brothers who are basically just bank robbers. Seth has a code regarding not killing unless necessary, although he seems to have no qualms about taking a hostage if required. His brother, Tarantino (Richie), seems pretty well unhinged from his early depiction at a liquor store in Texas. In the movie, he seems highly paranoid, and this leads the brothers into more killing than Seth sees as necessary. But there is a bond between the brothers, and Seth gives his brother a pretty wide margin.
Their escape plan from law enforcement is to cross into Mexico, give a percentage of their loot to someone named Carlos (one of three roles played by Cheech Marin) in exchange for sanctuary. To make the crossing, they kidnap Harvey Keitel (Jacob) and his family along with their RV.
Carlos has designated that he will meet the brothers at a wild bar called the "Titty Twister" the next morning. It seems like a plan to Seth who is happy to punch aside bikers/truckers who dominate the bar in order to celebrate his having escaped Texas justice and celebrate by drinking tequila liberally and enjoying the surroundings of naked or half-naked dancers. Aside the bar bouncers, he's in jovial spirits.
The main dancing attraction for the night is Santanico Pandemonium (aka Salma Hayek). Where things might have only been gruff until this point, at the conclusion of her performance, all hell breaks loose, and the film transitions from its crime phase into its horror phase. This is unexpected -- not only for the Gecko brothers and their kidnapped family -- but for the entire audience. While one comes to accept that the establishment at the Titty Twister is rough, crude, mean, and their clientele does not consist of English gentlemen, you do not expect the staff to turn into killing vampires. But, it does. Thus, the Gecko brothers and kidnapped family have a fight on their hands that they could never have expected. It's a fight to the finish and not everyone survives.
The Rotten Tomatoes fan average for the film is 77% -- fairly high for a film of this caliber. The critics only give it 63%, which is typical. I suppose this is the type of film one will either love or hate. I found it to be highly entertaining, fun and original. I hadn't seen anything like it before. The story is crazy but that's either part of its charm or drawback -- however you look at the horror film genre, adding in Tarantino's vision.
The TV Series
The TV series draws heavily upon the movie but plays liberally with the major plot line. The main point of divergence is that Richie is not just played as an imbecile psychopath. To stretch out the plot line of the movie, Richie is an integral part of Santanico Pandemonium's survival, and "plays" with his mind. Her survival is layered in from a time pre-dating the arrival of the Conquistadors.
But, the series takes you step by step, adding more back-story to each and every character and even adding a few.
In some cases scenes are taken wholesale from the movie -- even with whole lines lifted. But, to fill out the hours, the series also creates background drama for the minor characters -- some from the movie -- or stretches out scenes that only took a few minutes in the film. Sometimes this works fairly well (for a TV series) and a lot of the time it doesn't.
You get to know everything you ever wanted to know about the origins of the Gecko brothers. And the dichotomy is not the same. In the movie, Seth is definitely the leader, but in the TV series, this is up for debate. In the series, Richie seems to possess a bloodline that also has the capacity to accept the venom of this long-lasting snake-enthralled clan.
The series attempts to add dimension with the death of Earl McGraw, earlier played by Michael Parks, and taken up by Don Johnson (fairly nicely). The series creates a revenge Texas Ranger as played by Jesse Garcia. To add intricacy to the plot, he's no ordinary Ranger but part of a breed that has some immunity to the snake venom of the monsters in this series. This is an example of where the series goes wrong. Adding extra story to a basically thin script would be a challenge for anyone, and the result is not riveting.
I'm not really sure you can take an hour and 48-minute film and stretch it out to a series, no matter how much background material you might try to fill or add characters that never existed in the original film.
Everyone turns in an adequate performance, but there are no standouts, perhaps with the exception of Eiza González who does a decent job of filling in for Selma Hayek's fangs. Her snake dance is almost move-per-move of those created by Selma (absent Tito and the Tarantula band, unfortunately).
The two main actors, D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz as the Gecko brothers are just there. Neither of them really shine in this TV performance. I'd have to say the same for the other key characters and add-ons.
My recommendation is to rent the movie and skip the TV series unless you just can't get enough of the whole weird concept. I always wanted to see a follow-up, a good follow-up, including George Clooney, doing I don't know what but not quite ridding himself of the entire nightmarish experience. That's never going to happen. The TV series made an attempt (absent Clooney and Tarantino's writing) and it pretty much fell flat.
If I had never seen the original film and only viewed the series, I'd be disappointed and even bored. Since there is so much background material, it becomes tedious. Rotten Tomatoes voters see it differently. They give the series an 86% rating -- better than the original movie. So, you'll have to be your own judge. You have to see the original film in order to understand much of anything about the series. If that's enough for you, well, enough is enough. I had so much fun with the original motion picture that I had to plunge into the series -- even though it bored me half to death.