From Dusk til Dawn is turning 25 and I feel 800 years old. The more we cover these film anniversaries, the older I begin to feel. Such is the nature of life and enjoying film. What we accept as our part in the greater tapestry of film history, means understanding how something ends and begins before us. Still, whether if I’m a High School kid or an adult working on a piece late at night…something remains true. Did they really have to split focus?
It’s weird how certain films can take you back to a place in time. I remember actively awaiting the release of From Dusk til Dawn with my Latin class buddies. There was a group of us that became Tarantino obsessives after Pulp Fiction. Now, he was going to be doing horror? Growing up as a horror nerd, I was losing my shit.
Robert Rodriguez was a director I knew from Desperado. It had came out the previous summer shortly before Labor Day. It was a decent action movie and it had a Tarantino cameo. That manic director was like Baby Yoda to teenage film nerds in the 90s. Hell, I even watched that episode he did of the Margaret Cho sitcom on ABC.
The Mexican influence on the film was probably my first serious look at Latin influenced horror. My appreciation of Paul Naschy would come much later in life. This was a period where I was still playing the SNES Star Wars Trilogy games with great abandon. My tastes weren’t perfectly formed and I was watching movies for just the killer visuals.
What still sticks in my memory with From Dusk til Dawn is Tarantino’s character in the opening section. From the hostage to his hallucinations, I felt like there was a better movie at play there. Sure, John Hawkes was great in the opening robbery, but that scene doesn’t quite play anymore. In fact, it feels like most of the Tarantino knock-off sequences created Post 1994. It might have been our cinematic introduction to Earl McGraw, but the Texan was used better in later films.
Harvey Keitel was also quite enjoyable. Tarantino has a desire to make him the knowledgeable badass. But, I like him as an older dad trying to make sense of the crazy hell befalling his family sabbatical. Yet again, it feels like we’re watching another movie trying to happen in the middle of From Dusk til Dawn. It would be one thing if Keitel has a full redemptive arc, but most of the weight is thrown on Juliette Lewis. Lewis’s character never really has a crisis of faith.
The only one that has trouble believing in God ultimately becomes a vampire and loses half of his kids. But, let’s take a step back and examine From Dusk til Dawn. What many people might not know is Makeup FX kingpin Robert Kurtzman hired Quentin Tarantino to write the script years prior. In fact, Universal considered buying the script to make as a follow-up to Demon Knight. When that didn’t happen, they chose to make Bordello of Blood.
But, From Dusk til Dawn from the jump was always meant to be a horror script. It was just written super early in his career by Tarantino and then made to capitalize on the guy’s success. I really wish this digital release got paired with the killer documentary Full Tilt Boogie.
Full Tilt Boogie goes into detail about the movie’s production and how it was shot non-union. That is typically a hallmark of Rodriguez films during this time, which ended up getting the production into a little trouble. While not the greatest documentary ever made, Full Tilt Boogie shows you how a production like this has to roll out fast and nail its shots.
Some might be asking why don’t you bring up the film’s Aztec mythology? Well, I find the El Rey TV series did a better job of diving into that than the original From Dusk til Dawn film. But, that later revisionism is part of what hurt the movie for me. Basically, how are we supposed to view From Dusk til Dawn?
Was it just a feature length FX demo written by Tarantino for KNB? Did the film merely exist as an early Tarantino script that never got punched up? Out of all the movies that Tarantino could’ve made in Pulp Fiction’s wake, then why a crime drama about vampires? From a historical standpoint, it’s all pretty crazy.
Looking back on From Dusk til Dawn 25 years later, I still enjoy everything about the movie from the credits to the hotel hostage scene. Tarantino with the bank teller hostage, Clooney admonishing him, the hallucination scene with Juliette Lewis and I’ll go ahead and throw in Cheech as the emcee. There is plenty of great throughout the movie and that’s not even counting the John Saxon cameo.
The rest of the movie was just as badass. You had Fred Williamson becoming a pig like vampire thing. Tom Savini had a cock gun and then turned into a rat monster. Then, there was Cheech Marin working the door as the greatest Emcee in modern film history. I could take or leave Salma Hayek as a serpentine exotic dancer vampire.
KNB had never nailed down visuals like this before and I was out of my damn mind. What was going to happen next? If you said a typical finale capped off with a cool visual, then you got it.
Paramount recently acquired Miramax through some legalese and other means that I don’t have the time to explain. While I love that the Mountain has Miramax, I don’t have the utmost faith in their ability to get these movies released in a timely manner. What’s the compromise? Well, it’s digital release straight out of the library.
From Dusk til Dawn might not be the top tier Dimension or Miramax film that you want to see it, but it’s a start. People forget that Dimension had been a label for years before they became big in the 90s. Hell, Miramax has one of the richest film libraries in America. Why not do what you can to rip that vault open?
While watching From Dusk til Dawn, that thought kept tap dancing around my brain. Film fans are at a point in history where content out numbers everything we do on every single front. So many have claimed to watched all of Netflix during the Pandemic as a point of pride. Well, that’s horseshit and it’s only one streaming platform.
You have legions of titles that aren’t streaming and you have exclusives scattered across the six dozen streaming platforms out int he world. It’s pretty nuts, but that’s where we are in our shared creative fictions. This is the point where I feel a tap on my shoulder asking to talk about things like The Hangman’s Daughter.
The less said about the sequels that spun off From Dusk til Dawn…the better. While the El Rey TV series was much stronger, it too ran its course. Now that we’re looking at Rodriguez doing time with Zorro and Boba Fett, I’m not sure if the maestro will ever return to this material. Quentin Tarantino only has one more film left on him, so I hope he sits out a revisit.
Final thoughts on From Dusk til Dawn
From Dusk til Dawn works better than Natural Born Killers, but just barely. When looking back on the film, it was indicative of that year after Pulp Fiction where everyone wanted a piece of the bigger Tarantino pie. If you were too young to remember the time, just imagine literally every knock-off artist that could get a production deal trying to put their stamp on the QT style.
Thankfully, we would get a true Tarantino film with the Christmas 1997 release of Jackie Brown. But, that 1995/1996 period was laden with Tarantino taking his victory lap around TV, Film and points between making his name known to an intrigued American audience. I feel like I’m 80 explaining how things existed back when AOL was brand new.
From Dusk til Dawn is a pleasant look at heavy makeup horror’s last stand in the face of CGI. While some of the transformations didn’t make perfect sense to a teenage Anderson, I would kill for that vision to be at play in modern horror. Now, everything is about how bad we can haunt Australian chicks until they cry.
The long life of a horror fan is a fascinating thing. Having started during the launch of New Line into horror and working all the way to this point, I’ve seen a lot of horror changes in my life. What’s strange is how much the Weinstein Brothers influenced it for the better and worse. That’s right, you can’t escape talking about From Dusk til Dawn without addressing the Weinsteins.
American Independent Film was defined by the Weinsteins in the 1990s. However, their Miramax offsets such as Dimension Films were in charge of moving the kind of horror that wouldn’t play at New Line, Paramount or points in-between. But, do you want to know what makes From Dusk til Dawn stand up tall after all of this time?
From Dusk til Dawn is an imperfect film made with a fan’s love. While it would take another generation for this craziness to find a fanbase to appease, it was quite worth the effort. Paramount has been killing it on these Digital Anniversaries and we still have yet to make the Artists and Models piece public. Stay tuned.