Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are good buddies and have always sort of played on each other’s side of the fence in terms of creativity, collaborating here and there over the years on cool stuff, but my favourite tandem venture they ever did has to be From Dusk Till Dawn, a crime horror action schlock hybrid that has aged beautifully over the years, doesn’t fuck around in terms of packing a punch in all of the specific genres it works in and is a glowing testament to the powers of practical/prosthetic effects over CGI.
The first half of this thing is a classic Tarantino slow burn: George Clooney and Quentin himself are the Gecko brothers, a pair of murderous bank robbers in swanky suits, on the run from southern law following a bank robbery bloodbath (never actually seen a lá Reservoir Dogs) and causing violent trouble all over the rest of the state. After narrowly escaping Michael Parks’s immortal Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, they kidnap a retired preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two kids (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) and make a beeline for the Mexican border and the sanctuary of an impossibly rowdy strip joint and trucker bar called… wait for it… The Titty Twister.
Once at the bar Rodriguez takes over the reins and in a split second we segue into horror most gory as our unconventional protagonists realize that this bar is actually a nest of Mexican vampires, and they’re ready to spring the trap. This includes an unbearably sexy dance from Salma Hayek’s vamp queen Santanico Pandemonium, a biker named Sex Machine (Tom Savini) with guns where his guns are, a literal army of hairy undead beasts, a giant rat, a human spinal column used as a saxophone, crossbows, more gallons of blood and various gore than I’ve ever seen amassed for one film and just too much else to mention.
For most folks, the first half of this film is the pay-dirt; Tarantino’s laconic, dangerous approach to the Gecko brothers’s rampage is no doubt one of the coolest things he’s written, particularly the sequence with Michael Parks and any dialogue between Keitel and Clooney, who gives probably the most fun and uninhibited performance of his career. Tarantino chomps at the bit and is downright terrifying as the worst kind of unstable psychopath, it’s the best acting work he’s ever done. I myself prefer the latter half with all the horror though.. the sheer amount of gooey lunacy, latex drenched creativity in design is something you don’t see anymore, unless it’s a deliberate throwback. The bar is populated by what seems like hundreds of varied and equally disgusting bloodsuckers until after a while and dozens of kills you get the sense that every character needs a good shower. Keitel brings a grizzled nobility to the priest, while Lewis tones down her usual bubbly mania for something decidedly more down to earth. Danny Trejo plays a grumpy vamp bartender, blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson shows up as a badass Nam vet and watch for cameos from John Hawkes, Greg Nicorato, Kelly Preston and 70’s icon John Saxon. Cheech Marin also shows up of course, in three obviously different roles because why the fuck not and has a monologue that would burn the ears off of any conservative viewer. Some will say this film is too much, and hey I’m not one to argue with them, but for me if it’s too much of anything, it’s a good thing. The horror is old school schlock-schploitation and the hard boiled crime yarn that comes before is equally stylistic and fun. It’s Quentin and Robert attuned to different wavelengths but somehow on the same frequency, and the result is a bloody, chaotic horror crime western classic.