Retro Rewatch: From Dusk Till Dawn – 1996


Retro Rewatch is an ongoing editorial that takes a look into certain films, conventions, crazes, and characters of the horror genre years after their heyday. It is an effort to try and put the magnifying glass up to the horror world with the much needed luxuries of time and perspective applied in order to fully understand the impact and social significance of these projects/themes/ideas (if any). So for this installment of Retro Rewatch, I give you well renowned favorite “From Dusk Till Dawn”. 

1996 doesn’t seem like too long ago, but 13 years to Hollywood is several lifetimes to a normal person and in 1996 Quentin Tarantino’s stock was extremely high.  He had recently won an Oscar for Pulp Fiction and the entertainment industry wanted to know what was next for this maverick that supposedly came out of nowhere with Reservoir Dogs under his arm just a few years earlier.  So with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction under his belt, Quentin wrote From Dusk Till Dawn with the hope of expanding his time spent on screen from Pulp Fiction while also directing.  During Preproduction, QT came to the conclusion that he wanted to focus on his acting role rather than directing, so he suggested the young guy who made El mariachi and its next installment Desperado (I’m talking about Robert Rodriguez).  After making a bold decision by casting the star of a pretty big TV show (George Clooney) the project was off and running.

From Dusk Till Dawn is an extremely interesting feature because on the surface the movie looks like it exists as some sort of psychotropic release for the creators.  Upon first viewing I got the feeling that the people behind the project were absolutely insane crack addicts acting as if their fix was getting this image from their heads onto the screen.   The movie busts out from every orifice with memorable characters, crude behavior, and general ass-kickery.  I really enjoyed the film upon its release but for completely different reasons that I enjoy it now (I was 13 and it took place in a strip club…).

After watching the movie for the first time in a few years, what really struck me about the story is the dynamic between the Gecko brothers and the Fuller family.  When we first meet the Fullers, they are eating a decent truck stop meal and the head of the household, Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) wants nothing more than to sleep in a real bed for just one night.  His two children relent but ultimately fall in line.  Jacob is an honest man who used to be a preacher but has since given up his belief in god when his wife died in a car accident.  As if you were in any way wondering who the good guys in the story were and who the bad guys are, in the scene before this, the Gecko brothers were busy blowing up a liquor store and killing almost everyone inside.  The Gecko brothers then made their way to the same hotel that the Fullers are staying in and after Richie (QT) rapes and kills their female hostage, they need another group of hostages and a ride across the border. 

Now at this point we know who to root for.  We want to see the bad guys punished and the good guys alive and thriving.  However, the more we learn about Jacob, the more we care less about him and pretty much his whole family.  He abandoned everything that he loved and believed in because the dice didn’t roll his way in life.  Put that factor into a formula where the Geckos are a hell of a lot more interesting than the Fullers could ever hope to be and very quickly, the idea of traditional group dynamics comes into question.

Seth exploded when he saw what Richie did to their only hostage by yelling directly in his face and explaining to him that “this is not how we do things”.  When Seth tells Jacob that he will let his family go the morning after he meets up with a gangster after spending a night in a rowdy bar, I actually believe him.  There is no point to killing the hostages and with some strange sort of criminal code, Seth doesn’t want to harm innocent people if he doesn’t have to.  So we have a deal, the good guys and the bad guys clearly defined but are slowly starting to run into each other.  We don’t yet know who to really trust or believe yet because the bad guys are really charming.  We have all these important events and some great characters before the vampires even show up.  This is a vampire movie after all.

The bar that they decide to stay at for the night is obviously a hunting ground for vampires where they kill a bunch of truckers enjoying a night out on the town.  As soon as the gauntlet is thrown down from a super sexy stripper (Salma Hayek) at the first sight of blood all hell breaks loose and the boundaries between The Fullers and the Geckos quickly evaporate.  They fight side by side and when Richie turns into a Vampire, Seth kills Richie himself.  This can be seen as Seth traveling through the door of evil into the valley of the righteous.  Richie and Seth were both criminals, but in the movie we only see Seth act like a criminal when provoked.  Richie raped and killed people for fun so when Seth kills Richie something changes in him, he has successfully destroyed the dark side of his persona and while still having questionable moral fortitude, he at least now has a clean palate.  He starts off his new found cleanliness by helping any living human by literally bringing light to the situation leading the remaining people out of the darkness. 

From Dusk Till Dawn isn’t just a fun, scary, and violent thriller with vampires in it.  There was genuine care and love that went into this screenplay that fills out the story with great and complex characters that are believably motivated.  This is exactly why the movie succeeds.  It could have very easily disappeared into the background and ruined both Quentin Tarantino’s and Robert Rodriguez’s career had they not put the time, effort, and care into every stage of the process.  If they had given anything less, we would have been shown a terrible ode to exploitation films rather than a genuinely good horror movie.

Is it a cult classic, a fitting analysis, or complete forgettable?:  This is a cult classic because the casual fan has already forgotten about it.  We will be talking about it in the future after catching a midnight show somewhere.

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