Written by Mule
There is no reason to expect anything other than a hyperawareness of the very artificiality of the medium when dealing with a Tarantino movie, and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) is a prime example of the wild playfulness of the notion of genre-hopping. Note that Tarantino didn’t direct this one, Robert Rodriguez did. Tarantino both wrote the script and co-stars, though, so it’s a fair assumption that he had a heavy influence over the proceedings.
Seth Gecko (George Clooney) is the beleaguered elder brother who has to try and keep little brother Richard (Tarantino) in check through breaking out of prison and trying to evade the law. They have taken a hostage at a bank robbery, but she is promptly dispatched rather gruesomely by Richard who is more than a little disturbed, necessitating that the Geckos’ then take a second set of hostages in the form of a former Baptist minister, Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel), and his two children Kate and Scott (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). The family travels in a mobile home that the Geckos appropriate to get themselves over the border and in to Mexico.
Meeting up at a bar in the middle of nowhere probably seem like the clever thing to do if you’re on the run and looking to keep a low profile. What starts as a pretty gritty modern gangster movie takes a sharp turn into unexpected vampire territory when the Gecko brothers arrive at The Titty Twister bar. The vampires are both fair, as in the lovely snake charmer version of Salma Hayek as Santánico Pandemonium, and foul, as the same said lady in full vampire transformation.
Make no mistake, this is a bloody, gory, slimy, violent, foul-mouthed vampire movie of the old shock-and-awe kind. There is no glittery pining emo angst in any of this, just a frantic fight for survival where the heroes are of the shabby, sweaty, tattooed and leather-clad variety. The body count is high, the derivatives of the word “fuck” and “pussy” are plentiful, and the level of absurdity is staggering. Honestly, the idea of a miniature machinegun secreted in a codpiece will get you laughing and at the same time give grudging respect to the twisted imagination that could come up with such a blatant representation of the notion of the gun as phallic symbol. It’s also a reference to Rodriguez’ movie Desperado (1995).
Despite all the b-movie schlock there is a real solid human element to the relationship between the Gecko brothers and a very unsubtle resolution to minister Jacob Fuller’s crisis of faith. There is always a component of slippage in Tarantino’s work where you can either argue that he is just making drive-in B-movie entertainment or nihilistic postmodern irony. If it had not been for the obvious love of the medium, and his awareness that the medium really is the message, his entire oeuvre his would be easier to dismiss.
Rodriguez is a good foil for Tarantino’s script when it comes to the visual aspect of this romp. He is dynamic and vibrant and makes excellent choices that bring a level of spaghetti-western to the mise-en-scène which is certainly apt here. Supporting actors include Fred Williamson, Cheech Marin, John Hawkes, and Michael Parks as well as the band Tito & Tarantula who supply some of the soundtrack and play live, or rather un-dead, at the bar.
The question is always if you have similar sensibilities and affinities as the author of a work, same as with most things, and that’s probably why I, for one, enjoy this lavish, brutal and perfectly unapologetic genre clash. It is in part the bizarre and phantasmagorical approach that appeals to me, and in part the sheer level of gore and violence. I can take my finer feelings to a Merchant-Ivory movie and just hang on for the ride here.