During the first part of the entertaining, and genre shifting, 108 minute, Robert Rodriguez (Machete) directed film, “From Dusk Till Dawn,” a viewer would think they would be in for a gritty, action and crime drama movie. At the heart of the mayhem are Seth and Richard Gecko, a pair of outlaw brothers, who are on the run from the Texas rangers and local law enforcement, as well as the FBI. Academy Award and Golden Globe winner George Clooney, (Syriana) playing against type, in a convincing manner, portrays Seth. He is the tattooed, older brother, who calls the shots. Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino, (Pulp Fiction), who also wrote the screenplay for the film based on Robert Kurtzman’s (Predator) story, is cast in the role of Richard Gecko, a psychotic sexual deviant. As an aside, Tarantino was originally going to direct the film, but decided against it in order to concentrate more on his role, and on fine-tuning the screenplay.
The brothers need to make their way across the border. They are fleeing from the consequences of a crime spree which included the killing of Texas Rangers, police officers, a civilian woman, and taking a female bank teller, named Gloria, (Brenda Hillhouse), hostage. That information is made known to the viewer via a news story on television. What is shown to the viewer during the opening scene is the Geckos killing a Texas Ranger (Michael Parks), and the clerk (John Hawkes) of the liquor store they are hiding out in. It is a scene that not only ends in a fiery crescendo, but one in which Richard gets a hole blown through his hand. From there, using Gloria’s car, they make their way to the seedy Dew Drop Motel in order to re-group. Seth leaves the motel to see what’s going on at the border and get food. While he is gone, Richard invites Gloria to sit down with him and watch television. Her rape and murder, at his hands, takes place off camera. When Seth returns, he is repulsed by what Richard has done. He shoves him up against the wall, imploring Richard to tell him what’s wrong with him. Seth lets Richard know, in no uncertain terms, that he considers himself a professional thief, who only kills people when he has to.
At the same motel, the Geckos kidnap the Fuller family, in order to hide out in their RV, so they can be snuck across the border into Mexico. Seth assures the family that no harm will come to them, provided they can safely get them across. In addition, the family must remain with the Gecko’s until they rendezvous with Seth’s connection, a crime lord named Carlos (Cheech Marin). They are going to be meeting at a biker and trucker bar, that is also a strip club, which is open from dusk till dawn. The Fuller family consists of three members: The father Jacob is portrayed by Oscar nominated actor, Harvey Keitel, (Reservoir Dogs). He is a recently widowed man and former Baptist minister who gave up his role in the church, after a car accident claimed his wife’s life. Jacob’s children, Kate and adopted son Scott, are acted by Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers), and Ernest Liu, who has made occasional appearances on television over the years since the film came out in 1996.
The second part of the film, once the group arrives at the bar, which appears to be far off the beaten path, is where there is a complete tonal shift. The five unsuspecting individuals haven’t just entered any old normal watering hole. No, the strippers, bartenders, even the house band, will all be revealed to be vampires. At first the group is asked to leave, by the bartender Razor Charlie, played by Danny Trejo (Sons of Anarchy). He lets them know that the bar is only for bikers and truckers. Leaving is something the Gecko’s can’t do because Carlos won’t be there to meet them until the morning. Keitel’s character thinks quickly and produces his driver’s license for the RV, which is classified as a trucker’s license. He saves the day temporarily, but things will only begin to spiral downward for the Geckos and Fullers from there on out.
After a scuffle with some bouncers, one of whom the brothers roughed up while entering the bar, Richard’s wound begins to bleed. The dripping of the blood off of his hand causes Salma Hayek’s (Frida), character Santanico Pandemonium, who has just finished performing an erotic dance, to morph into her true appearance. She attacks Richard in her vampire visage, and from there, it is virtually non-stop carnage. These vampires are not the sort that populate the “Twilight” universe or “The Vampire Diaries.” There is nothing romantic or endearing about them. Instead, when transformed into their true self, they are ugly, beast like creatures who, when killed, ooze green blood. (As an aside Salma Hayek’s character’s name comes from a Mexican horror film that Tarantino saw on one of the shelves of the horror section, in the video store he once worked in.)
In addition to the main characters, there are brief appearances by: John Saxon (Enter the Dragon), as an FBI agent; Kelly Preston (For Love of the Game), as a TV news reporter; and prolific character actor, Marc Lawrence (Key Largo), as a curmudgeonly motel owner. Rounding out the cast is makeup and special effects guru, Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, 1978) in the role of the whip wielding character, Sex Machine, who is a biker that keeps one of his guns in an unusual place on his body. He is at the bar with his friend, Vietnam veteran, Frost, played by Fred Williamson (Starsky & Hutch).
Who will survive until sunlight? Do the Geckos finally get their comeuppance at the hands of the vampires for all the evil they themselves have committed? Does the presence of unholy creatures lead Jacob back to his faith? For those of you who don’t like – or can’t handle – films that are gore heavy or graphically violent, you will want to skip out on this film, even if you love George Clooney and want to view his entire body of work. It is doubtful, by the way, that he will ever appear in this type of movie again. For fans of the horror genre, the directing style of Rodriguez, and Tarantino’s writing, this is a hyperkinetic thrill ride that will more than likely hold your attention.