Movie Discussion: Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

  • Monthly Theme: Vampires192935.1020
  • The Film: From Dusk till Dawn
  • Country of origin: U.S.A.
  • Date of U.S. release: January 19, 1996
  • Studio: Dimension Films, Miramax Films, et al.
  • Distributer: Dimension Films
  • Domestic Gross: $25.8 million
  • Budget: $19 million (estimated)
  • Director: Robert Rodriguez
  • Producers: Lawrence Bender, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Kurtzman, et al.
  • Screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro
  • Make-Up/FX: Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, et al.
  • Music: Graeme Revell
  • Part of a series? Yes, there are two direct-to-DVD sequels: 1999’s Texas Blood Money and 2000’s The Hangman’s Daughter. There is also an ongoing TV series on El Rey titled From Dusk till Dawn: The Series, starring Wilmer Valderrama and Robert Patrick.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Horror icon John Saxon (The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Christmas, etc.). Genre FX specialist Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead (1978), Maniac, etc.). Cult actor Danny Trejo (The Hidden, Maniac Cop 2, etc.). Blaxploitation star Fred Williamson (Black Caesar, Bucktown, etc.).
  • Other notables?: Yes. Hollywood stars George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Salma Hayek and Harvey Keitel. Cult icon Cheech Marin. Character actor John Hawks.
  • Awards?: Best Horror Film and Best Actor [Clooney] at the 1996 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. Silver Scream Award at the 1996 Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival. Best Breakthrough Performance [Clooney] at the 1996 MTV Movie Awards.
  • Tagline: “A terrifying evil has been unleashed. And five stranger are our only hope to stop it.”
  • The Lowdown: This is a vampire flick that draws heavily from the zombie and splatter movie traditions. An all-star roster of Hollywood celebrities and exploitation movie luminaries converge on a Mexican strip club that turns out to be a vampire lair. Two desperadoes on the run (Clooney, Tarantino) take a family (Keitel, Lewis) hostage and then must join forces to fight the vampire hordes, led by the seductive vampire queen Santánico Pandemonium (Hayek).

If you haven’t seen From Dusk till Dawn our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: So From Dusk till Dawn

Kristine: Yep. I am actually surprised I had never got around to seeing it.

Sean: Quentin Tarantino wrote the script and Robert Rodriguez directed. You’ve seen Grindhouse right?

Kristine: Yes. I actually did like Grindhouse, but I prefer Death Proof to Planet Terror. But Planet Terror was, like, fine and fun. Was From Dusk till Dawn Rodriguez’s first film?

Sean: Oh god no. His first movie was El Mariachi. (I also like Death Proof better.) Remember he like, sold his kidneys to make it and then “independent cinema” was a thing?

Kristine: Oh, right.

So the neck of this instrument is… which part of the male body again?

Sean: And he’d already made Desperado too, by this time.

Kristine: I can’t discuss Rodriguez without getting something out of the way – do you think he’s hot? And what do you think of him and Rose McGowan? And why is Rose McGowan’s face the way it is?

Sean: Um, I think he’s an attractive enough man but he is not hot to me at all. And I don’t and have never understood Rose McGowan or anything she does. That whole thing is so… I mean director leaves his civilian wife for a starlet. Wah wah. Boring story.

Kristine: I know. But don’t forget her and Marilyn Manson. And don’t forget whatever the fuck is going on with her face.

Sean: What is wrong with her face?

Kristine: Sean…

Sean: She’s just a kewpie doll person.

Kristine: Not anymore.

Sean: Has she had “work”?

Kristine: YES.

Sean: Ugh whatever.

Kristine: But it’s crazy.

Sean: I don’t care about plastic surgery stories.

Quentin Tarantino wrote this script. Quentin Tarantino is a foot fetishist. Quentin Tarantino wrote a scene where Salma Hayek puts her toes INTO HIS CHARACTER’S MOUTH. The end.

Kristine: This actually is relevant to our conversation, since the main thing that struck me about the movie was the power of celebrity.

Sean: What do you mean?

Kristine: I mean that I had a very hard time getting past the celebrity of the actors in the movie, and their career arcs and their real-life off-screen relationships. I think I texted you during the movie that, even though it is not topical at all, this movie is dated just because of all those things.

Sean: Ok, well let’s talk about them one at a time. Juliette Lewis.

Kristine: Juliette. Well, the first thing is:Isn’t her character a lot like the one she played in Cape Fear?

Sean: Weird that you bring that up because I wanted to make the point that this movie features “vulnerable” Juliette, which is a side of her that got so overshadowed by that horrible movie with Woody Harrelson and the world decided she was a deformed psychopath. I actually like how she can project vulnerability and toughness together.

Kristine: I agree.

Sean: It’s one of the things that made her a loveable villain in Whip It. I really think Oliver Stone ruined her career, because I feel like that role typecast her as a freak forever. I know From Dusk till Dawn came out after Natural Born Killers, but still.

Kristine: Wait, she still played vulnerable in Romeo Is Bleeding. Was that after?

Sean: I don’t know, but I just don’t think she ever got the “right” role that could really showcase what she’s capable of.

Kristine: I loved loved loved her in Whip It.

Sean: But I’ve always resented and been annoyed by how she’s often talked about as some kind of mutant freak, which all was kickstarted by Natural Born Killers. Remember, for god’s sake, when she and Brad Pitt were an “it” couple? And they made Kalifornia together?

Kristine: I was going to address the Brad Thing. I know. I like her. You know what kind of role I would love to see Juliette in? Rich, successful, confident, well-dressed gorgeous woman. I want her to play like, Tilda Swinton’s character in I Am Love. Or roles that Cate Blanchett gets. Just once to not be a trashy tragic freak.

Sean: Yeah, that would be great.

This Movie Is Cool Because There Are Guns in It OKAY!!!??? Case File #77: Jittery Juliette Lewis.

Kristine: You know, I feel like she let me down (I know this is so dumb) with her music because I really wanted to love it.

Sean: What movie star has ever made good music? None. Dogstar? Bruce Willis’s Ragtime Jamboree Blues Kegger?

Kristine: But I wanted Juliette to succeed and I feel like her bad band just allows people to dismiss her all the more as a freak.

Sean: I don’t understand what on earth is going on HERE. But I think the band came along to fill the void after her acting career died with The Other Sister which…. sorry but that’s on her that she fucking made that goddamned movie.

Kristine: That movie.

Sean: George Clooney was hot in this movie.

Kristine: He was. But again, I couldn’t fully appreciate the period hotness because his celebrity image is too damn big. For example, there is a shot that is a tight close up of his face and he is screaming. And all I could focus on was that he had his pre-superstar teeth. His bottom teeth were crooked and yellow. And, even though I am not a Clooney superfan, I know his smile very well because, well, he is everywhere. I don’t think of myself as someone who notices stuff like that on celebs, but I could not stop thinking about all the work he had done on his teeth between this movie and now. It was annoying, I wanted to lose myself in the movie and I couldn’t.

Sean: Huh. I did not notice these things. Do you think his neck tattoo was designed to distract from his shard-teeth?

Kristine: No, but I thought it was hot. I don’t think anyone thought or cared about his teeth then.

This Movie Is Cool Because There Are Guns in It OKAY!!!??? Case File #40: Gorgeous George Clooney.

Sean: Weird I thought it was like, an ugly “gangster” straightie tattoo and didn’t like it.

Kristine: Also, I caught myself thinking about the Juliette/Brad thing, and everyone knows Clooney and Brad are BFFs. So I was wondering if Juliette and George talked about Brad, etc.

Sean: Maybe Juliette introduced George and Brad.

Kristine: So, I have to introduce Difference No. 1 in terms of viewing From Dusk till Dawn as opposed to Daybreakers, and that is that I could not stop thinking about the actors in From Dusk till Dawn, their real life relationships with each other, their career paths, their celebrity. And I also thought that being on that set would be the most fun ever. Whereas in Daybreakers, even though there are arguably big stars, none of that stuff remotely crossed my mind, which meant a totally different experience as a viewer.

Sean: Well, to focus on From Dusk till Dawn, I think that is the Tarantino style right? Cast a zillion “names”? Including obscure names from cult projects/backgrounds? Have superstars play against type?

Kristine: Sure…

Sean: Has this “celebrity issue” been a problem in other Tarantino projects for you? Like, Inglourious Basterds or Kill Bill?

Kristine: I mean, no, because they are pop culture artifacts, right? Besides, I don’t think he does that with Clooney. Clooney is always The Man in his movies.

Sean: So then From Dusk till Dawn has to work in a different way than these other “artifacts”? That’s interesting… Is it because it’s a horror movie?

Kristine: I didn’t say it didn’t work. I said it created a different movie experience then Daybreakers.

Sean: Well, I’m not sure I understand why other Tarantino movies didn’t “distract” you with their celebrities, but I want to go on record as saying that I don’t think From Dusk till Dawn works. In fact, I’ve always had a problem liking it. When I first saw it in the theater, I was massively underwhelmed, bordering on disappointed.

Kristine: It’s fun to see Juliette and George and Harvey all on the screen together. It’s a hoot. I don’t think the actors are the problem. I honestly think it’s the monsters, and how the “horror” plays out.

Sean: I’ve liked Tarantino movies and I obviously love horror movies but this, out of all his projects, is the one where I can see all the strings the puppetmasters are pulling.

Wait, isn’t this the guy who was hanging out in front of the Circle K near our house, asking for change?

Kristine: Hmm, interesting.

Sean: The movie is so fucking smug about itself.

Kristine: Do you think?

Sean: Maybe it would be better to say: It’s too aware of itself.

Kristine: You don’t think he just set out to make a super-entertaining, mindless flick? (I’m not saying he succeeded.)

Sean: I am about to make the biggest horror-movie-nerdboy complaint but: They don’t take the horror part of the equation seriously, and so… the comedy stuff doesn’t land, and seems cheesier by a country mile.

Kristine: Well, I agree with that.

Sean: Well let’s establish something. Do you agree that this movie uses vampires in a zombie movie context? And treats vampires like zombies?

Kristine: Yeah, your typical zombie hordes have more motivation and back story then the vampires in this movie do.

Sean: This is an interesting movie to watch after our Evil Dead discussion, because I think From Dusk till Dawn tries to steal some of The Evil Dead’s approach to splatter, but somehow here it is more slapsticky in like, a bad way, and doesn’t quite play for me.

Kristine: I thought once the vamps turned, they became mindless, had no skills, were killed effortlessly which leads into the whole misogyny thing.

Sean: But the thing about the misogyny in this movie is that it’s like, a self-aware winking misogyny. It’s like, “B-movies are so sexist, so we’re gonna be sexist.” And nudge nudge, one character is named Sex Machine. Isn’t that hilarious?

Kristine: Right, of course. And racist, like how “the black guy” is a vet from ‘Nam.

Sean: I mean, I get that it wants to be a Mexploitation splatter flick. The trucker/veteran guy is Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. He was an NFL player who became a minor blaxploitation star in the’ 70s.

Kristine: Well, let me say this. When the mayhem started I got all excited to see the titty dancers kick the asses of all those gross men. And I felt betrayed when they ended up all impaled on table legs. I was thinking this would be the scene that strippers in real life would like, watch on their phones before getting out on stage in some stank club, and get fierce and empowered. So I was let down.

Sean: Oh my god, right? But the movie wants it to be that way…. Like it pits these ultra macho types against the monstrous women and I don’t know…

Kristine: Plus one virginal girl.

Sean: …I just was like, Eyeroll-slash-“Ew.”

Kristine: Yeah, totally.

Sean: I mean Salma Hayek’s monologue about being Clooney’s master? And then he says “I already have a wife.” Wah wah. And then he shoots the chandelier and she dies. I mean that’s just a stupid joke and yes I get that it’s a winking homage to the terribly cheesy jokes in ‘bad” B-movies, but that doesn’t make it any less dumb.

This character became self-aware at 2:42 AM Eastern Standard Time in a deleted scenes reel on the “Machete” Blu-Ray.

Kristine: In defense of the movie, there were parts that made me laugh out loud. Fun moments. You want to hear them?

Sean: Yes, of course.

Kristine: Okay, well, we haven’t discussed Quentin Tarantino’s character yet…

Sean: Is there anything to say other than “Please stop acting, Quentin Tarantino”?

Kristine: …but when he imagines Juliette is asking him to eat her pussy, I’m sorry, it was so dumb and absurd and it made me die laughing.

Sean: Interesting….

Kristine: When Sex Machine’s “weapon” first emerges, I laughed.

Sean: Lots of talk of “pussy” in this movie.

Kristine: The reveal at the end – I mean, again, dumb and obvious, but I loved it.

Sean: Fyi, Sex Machine is played by Tom Savini, one of the horror industry’s most famous makeup/FX artists. He did makeup on the original Dawn of the Dead plus a bunch of other movies. And also played a biker in the original Dawn of the Dead.

Kristine: Neat.

Sean: I laughed when Sex Machine said “Now let’s kill that fucking band.”

Kristine: I loved the band. I like that band in real life.

Sean: But then… like the band explodes for no reason? I didn’t like that.

Kristine: Yeah, that was dumb. Any conflict resolving itself with people disappearing with a “poof” is lame.

Sean: I also was impressed by this: when Sex Machine stabs that vamp on the pool table, it disintegrates and it’s eyeballs roll into the two corner pockets.

Kristine: Heh heh.

Sean: I liked that detail.

Kristine: Yes, for sure. What did you think of the end reveal?

Sean: The Aztec temple reveal?

Kristine: Yes.

A honeymoon suite-walk right before the impaling of a female body on a chair leg? How romantic.

Sean: It was fun. I liked it.

Kristine: Me too, with all the bikes and trucks around it. And, you know, the “mysticism” of Mejico.

Sean: But I still…. the impaled stripper bodies. I didn’t like Juliette Lewis begging George to take her along with him and then George – with all the power – being like, “Um… bye” and we’re supposed to be like, What a good guy.

Kristine: When it’s really – you killed my entire family (and you knew my moms was already dead).

Sean: Right. I mean, here’s the thing. The target audience for this movie is male and straight  (and some might argue, white).

Kristine: Do we have to mention Asian sidekick boy?

Sean: I don’t want to discuss his penisy haircut.

Kristine: He’s like whatshisname from Indian Jones, right?

Sean: Indian Jones?

Kristine: Shut up. You know what I mean.

Sean: The Asian kid in the movie was just the most random shit in the world. QT being like, and he has an adopted son. Who is Asian.

Kristine: It is like shorthand for Harvey Keitel being a Good Man.

Sean: And it weirdly signaled something colonialist and creepy about Keitel’s religiosity.

Kristine: But, yes, random.

Sean: It also felt weirdly exploitative. He was there just so Juliette could shoot a bloated leech and watch it explode?

Kristine: Ugh.

Sean: Didn’t that remind you of the end of Hellraiser? Except instead of “Jesus Wept” he says “Ching Chong the Chinaman!” and explodes. I’m saying the movie exploits his Asianness for weird purposes.

Kristine: So, my dad is white. Straight. Male. And he told me this is one of his favorite movies. What do you make of that? Do you have to be either fundamentally sexist to enjoy it, or at least unaware/unconcerned with misogyny?

Was Quetzalcoatl actually a slutty vampiric she-beast? This movie dares to pose such questions.

Sean: I think the point of this movie is to consciously indulge in something “forbidden.” It’s like, the movie equivalent of eating at McDonald’s – you know it’s “bad” and “unhealthy” but you do it because it’s fun crap. And I think Tarantino and Rodriguez designed it to be exactly that: a self-conscious exercise in being “inappropriate.” And this is where we get to my Tarantino theory/revelation. People who love B-movies often argue that Tarantino is just an imitator, a maker of pastiche, and that has never bothered me because I am not really that familiar with the genres he usually rips from: kung fu movies, blaxploitation, WWII movies, etc. But this is the one film where he dips into a genre I do know, love and hold dear. And it’s the only time I’ve felt the validity of those criticisms of Tarantino, even though I still like his movies and look forward to them.

Kristine: I get it.

Sean: It has such an over-designed, over-determinedness to it. And also, my boyfriend and I have been watching a ton of Japanese samurai movies these past few weeks and loving them. But we watched Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri and I was like, floored at how much of Kill Bill’s DNA came from that movie. I mean actually just the whole Tarantino aesthetic of the circuitously told tale, out of linear sequence, in which parts of the story only make sense after flashbacks have been revealed later in the movie… I was just struck by how deeply imitative he really is. And again, I don’t think this will change my love for Kill Bill, but I will never be able to love From Dusk till Dawn, which is irrational and biased but there it is. And watching this with you has made me think fo all Tarantino’s movie’s (including his collaborations, like this one) not really as movies, but as fan-videos, a bunch of rich boys and girls getting together to pretend to be in the movies they loved as a kid, but not really movies that hold up on their own…. Which makes me sad.

Kristine: First of all, let me say that I absolutely agree with your assessment. My dad is not a misogynist, or unaware/unconcerned of such issues, but he does adore inappropriate media. Loving this is in line with his love of Kevin Smith, South Park, John Waters, Mel Brooks, et al.

Sean: I am dying that there is any sense of comparison between Kevin Smith and John Waters and Mel Brooks, but I get what you mean.

Kristine: I also agree that of course QT is an imitator, and possibly a dilettante of movie genres, though a sincere and well-studied one.

Sean: Yes. You bringing up John Waters just changed the entire way I think about this movie, btw.

Kristine: Well, I loathe Kevin Smith’s movies (he seems like a good guy in real life) but for some reason he is lumped into the group.

Sean: In the Straight White Male imagination, Kevin Smith is a demigod.

Kristine: John Waters needs to make a horror movie.

Sean: Um…. Serial Mom?

Kristine: I don’t think it is horror. He never will make a tried and true horror movie because he is so fascinated by the horrible aspects of everyday people.

Sean: Serial Mom is John Waters making a horror movie.

Kristine: Yeah, yeah, I get your point.

Sean: Well, here’s the thing: John Waters’ kind of exploitation cinema wants to shatter bourgeois values and lampoon corrupt systems of power. So, one might argue, do a lot of other kinds of exploitation movies…

Kristine: I agree.

Sean: But From Dusk till Dawn doesn’t accomplish any of those things. I mean, are we really supposed to think the movie is lampooning male heterosexuality? I think one could make an argument for that, but it would have to be incredibly well-argued in order for me to buy it.

Kristine: I don’t believe it is lampooning male hetero-ness. You could argue it. I mean, maybe with Sex Machine.

Sean: All that “pussy” talk.

This Movie Is Cool Because There Are Guns in It OKAY!!!??? Case File #8: Harvey “Sweaty-Pits” Keitel.

Kristine: But, no, I do not believe that is the intent.

Sean: I think it’s a comic book exaggeration of male heterosexuality, but for the purposes of reflecting on its awesomeness.

Kristine: Agreed.

Sean: Not for the purposes of critically examining it. I guess, to me, this movie is the equivalent of a bunch of guys looking at porn together, waxing rhapsodic about their cocks and then passing out drunk in vomit.

Kristine: Eh, I don’t take it quite that way.

Sean: I want to close by saying, I have no real problem with From Dusk till Dawn. I have no problem with people enjoying it. But it’s just not for me.

Kristine: It sounds like you do.

Sean: I know it sounds that way, that’s why I’m making the point. If someone said to me “I love that movie” I wouldn’t be like ‘How could you?’ It just doesn’t work for me, personally, but I get why it’s fun and enjoyable for other folks.

Kristine: Fair enough.

Sean: I will say that I love Salma Hayek as an evil vampire queen and one of my main beefs with the movie is not doing more with her.

Kristine: I was surprised at how small her role was too, because I always heard it was like, such an iconic part for her.

Sean: Fyi back in the day they advertised the hell out of her and used her to sell the movie and then she was in it for 10 minutes and I was like, Ugh. But her “Welcome to slavery” speech is the movie’s high point.

Kristine: It is.

Ratings Round-Up

The Girl’s rating: This movie is dumb but I had fun watching it (and I don’t know why).

The Freak’s rating: It’s fine but it’s not for me.

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19 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

  1. You are the other sister, K. Celebrity in movies is always a problem for me. almost anytime it’s a celebrity it takes me out of the movie and I quit seeing a man grow a beard and befriend a volleyball, and instead see Tom hanks do this. However Rosie Odonnell as a tard was magnificent.

    Seeing as I am a straight, white male I have to say Kevin Smith has never entertained me. Well Jay and Silent Bob strike Back is ok, BUT THAT’S IT. HATE CLERKS, HATE MALLRATS AND SAVING PVT AMY AND ALL HIS OTHER AWFUL OFFAL.

    QT’s movies have always rang as “fan-videos, a bunch of rich boys and girls getting together to pretend to be in the movies they loved as a kid”. Reservoir Dogs not so much because I didn’t see City On Fire till way after the fact. But everything else I had seen his reference movies and it isn’t merely homage, it’s like giant sections and scenes lifted verbatim. Go watch Assault on precinct 13 (the original0 and tell me From Dusk Till Dawn doesn’t ape it incessantly.

    Also how is that supposed to be vagina dentata in the vampire creature. I can appreciate that homosexual men aren’t paying that much attention to women’s nether regions (typing about QT here) but IT’S IN HER STOMACH!!!!!!!!!!

    1. I never thought of Assault on Precinct 13 (which itself was an NotLD/Rio Bravo mashup) as a template for From Dusk till Dawn but hell yeah, totally see it. Oh, Quentin. He does love great movies, at least.

      For me, Dogma is the nadir of all things Kevin Smith: horrible horrible beyond belief the worst movie experience of my life.

      Also note: any flapping open hole is a Freudian va-hee-na (see, the chest hole in Videodrome). Add teeth = v. dentata. Drop the mic.

      1. don’t believe in Freud’s drivel beyond it explaining him quite well. any flapping open hole is a flapping open hole to this bohunk, add teeth and it’s a mouth. sticks mic up ass

  2. I was surprised you didn’t comment on Quenton Tarantino’s foot fetish. The scene with QT slurping tequila from Salma Hayek’s toes is a classic.

  3. So what’s the big deal with Rosie McGowan? If she wants to fuck with her face, that’s her problem.

    And now for my take on FDTD. First, after watching FDTD for the first time in a few years, I’ve had a change of heart. It’s no longer one of my favorites. Well, the second half still is but not the first 45 minutes of the movie. I found the psycho-criminals on the run segment to be repulsive, especially the (mercifully) off screen rape/murder of the hostage. The second half of the movie still worked for me as outrageous if nonsensical fun. Yes, the topless dancers, bar fight, etc. were geared for 12 year old males, but I don’t see how anyone else could take it seriously any more than a South Park episode or a Troma movie – or for that matter Robert Rodriguez’s glorious “Machete.” Was FDTD a good movie? HELL NO. But I had fun watching it. The Aztec temple at the end was way cool. The only thing I didn’t like in the second half of FDTD was the Juliette Lewis character wanting to go with the George Clooney character at the end. Now THAT didn’t make any sense at all, because JL’s character grew in power and maturity throughout the film. BTW, I thought Juliette Lewis performance was the movie’s best by far, although the funniest character was Sex Machine.

    What do Kevin Smith, South Park, John Waters, Mel Brooks et al have in common. They all are (sometimes) hilariously inappropriate and (can be) slyly subtle is getting across an important point. (I don’t include Troma movies here. They’re just silly but still funny.) I was also surprised at the poor reception Kevin Smith’s movies given by you, Sean and some of the commenters. Granted, a lot of his stuff is crap. But for every piece of dreck (Red State) or mediocrity (Jersey Girl), there’s a good movie like Clerks (although not Clerks 2 which was awful) or a great movie like Dogma. Re Dogma, maybe one had to be raised/schooled Catholic to appreciate the parody of Thomistic theology going on. It didn’t make any sense, but that was the point. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents.

    Keep churning out the movie reviews. I enjoy them a lot.

    1. South Park, John Waters, and Mel Brooks all do satire very well. Kevin Smith’s idea of satire is much akin to his God’s idea of irony (see Dogma – a complete craptacular celluloid crime) and he should not be spoken of or even typed about on some blog in cyberspace in their company