SEVERED LIMBS, EXPLODING heads, blood-splattered walls--they're
not for everyone. If you happen to have a low tolerance for gore,
I suggest you avoid From Dusk Till Dawn, a vampire/gangster/nudie
hybrid from director Robert Rodriguez (who made El Mariachi
and Desperado) and writer Quentin Tarantino. But if your
aesthetic sensibility is a little more aggressive, or if you've
been toughened by regular exposure to chainsaw flicks and Roadrunner
and Coyote cartoons, you'll probably find much of the carnage
in From Dusk Till Dawn is a playful, slightly off-kilter
parody of film violence. This is goofy, fun entertainment, at
least as long as it doesn't make you sick.
Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney (of ER fame) play
bad-guy brothers on the run from the Law. One brother has busted
the other out of jail and they're the target of an intensive manhunt.
Tarantino isn't much of an actor--his voice is untrained and you
can see him leaving the moment to plan ahead--but, mercifully,
his role is small and he plays a psychotic, so it's easy to hate
him. George Clooney is better, but he still gives off the groomed,
controlled air of a Hollywood actor going through his paces. (For
contrast, you can watch Sean Penn totally embody a criminal in
Dead Man Walking.) The strange thing is, this level of
artificiality actually works for the movie. The plot is so over-the-top,
so blatantly made-up, that the medium acting, so-so special effects
and fake-looking set-design all converge to make a film that borders,
but never wholly veers, into camp.
What happens is this: The two brothers hijack a minister (Harvey
Keitel) and his family (including his budding daughter, played
by Juliette Lewis) and force them on a detour to Mexico. There,
the criminals are supposed to meet up with their protectors at
a remote bar called the Tittie Twister. So far, the movie is the
regular tough-guy gangster type, but at the bar, all the patrons
abruptly turn into vampires. This is just so ridiculous it's thrilling.
Movies almost always pick a genre and stick to it; the fact that
one dares to hop around between types is freeing, in a silly,
playful way. When the vampires emerge and start sucking, the fakeness
of the movies is suddenly exposed. Let's face it, in real life
there really is crime, but only in movies can we find the undead.
Once From Dusk Till Dawn starts in with the vampires,
it begins to flirt heavily with satire and camp. At times, like
when Fred Williamson gives a stirring speech about the horrors
of 'Nam, it veers all the way into parody. (It's a little like
stuffing bits of Dracula: Dead And Loving It into a "serious"
thriller, like Natural Born Killers.) For his screenplay,
Tarantino borrows an irreverent array of standard plot and character
devices from seventies' horror and action flicks--especially the
kind of dialogue that aims to give a flimsy moral covering to
violent action. While fighting vampires, one brother asks the
minister, "What do you want to be: a faithless preacher,
or a mean motherfuckin' servant for God?" The minister, who's
been doubting his faith, chooses to be a mean motherfucker for
God, and the killing begins.
At its best, From Dusk Till Dawn has the feel of a show
being put on by a gang of smart, mischievous kids. The most enjoyable
moments come when the 10-year-old-kid, free-form theory of storytelling
kicks into action: and then, they get in a fight...and then,
everyone turns into vampires! At other times though, From
Dusk Till Dawn slips un-selfconsciously back into the unsatisfying
conventions of bloody movies. Though Tarantino is known for writing
unexpected dialogue, there's no surplus of witty banter to keep
things moving here. From Dusk Till Dawn is exhilarating
at the moments it crosses the boundary from one genre to another,
but once entrenched in the gangster or vampire conventions, it
tends to fall flat.
This movie really isn't for everyone. Probably the more TV you've
soaked up in your lifetime, the more likely it is you'll enjoy
the barrage of blood and media references. When you get right
down to it, this movie isn't really about gangsters and vampires
at all--it's about other movies.