The series “From Dusk Till Dawn,” does initially follow the plot of the cult classic film, directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), and written by Academy Award and Golden Globe winner, Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), based on a story by Robert Kurtzman. The show centers on the gun toting, suit wearing, Gecko brothers, Seth and Richard, originally played by Academy Award and Golden Globe winner, George Clooney (Syriana) and Tarantino. In the series, the role of the suave, do whatever it takes to survive, and stay out of jail, Seth, is taken over by D.J Cotrona. The incredibly smart, but seemingly, psychotic, and unpredictable, Richard, is embodied by actor, Zane Holtz. The ten episode series is a hybrid of the genres of action, crime, horror and the supernatural. The addition of new characters, expanded back stories on known characters, and the exploration of the mythology involving the Mesoamerican culture, whose members comprise the vampire population who were so prominent during the second half of the original film, had me intrigued enough to watch the series.
The idea to turn the original movie, which simultaneously opened in theaters in America and Canada in January of 1996, into a television show, belongs to Rodriguez. He wanted a program that would have name recognition for the El Rey Network, an English language station, which was launched on December 15, 2013. The maverick filmmaker created the network in a partnership with Univision Communications, and it is available on Comcast, Direct TV, and Time Warner Cable. The series is shot in Austin, Texas, headquarters of the director’s Troublemaker Studios. Rodriguez wrote the pilot episode, which premiered on March 11, 2014, and also directed four other episodes of the series. Part of the reason Rodriguez wanted to revive the long dormant film, into an episodic television series, was to explore the Mesoamerican mythology, which he first became interested in while the original film was shooting. The more research he did, the more his passion for the subject grew. The other reason was the characters; to quote the director in an interview he recently gave:
“It has been a joy to bring these characters back to life and have the opportunity to take our storytelling to a whole new place. We look forward to going back into production later this year and are excited about raising the bar even higher in season two.”
Following a botched bank robbery in Abilene, Texas, that left blood and bodies behind, the Gecko brothers, who, in their efforts to escape, also took a female bank teller (Samantha Esteban) hostage, and are attempting to make it to the Mexican border. The F.B.I. and the Texas Rangers are in pursuit. As in the original film, the Gecko’s are first introduced to the viewer at Benny’s World Of Liquor, which, just like in the movie, seems to be in the middle of nowhere, Texas. The stop at the store was meant to be a quick one, to get some provisions for the road. It will turn out to be anything but a short excursion. This is thanks to the arrival of Sheriff, Earl McGraw, played by Don Johnson, who has stopped off to purchase a bottle of liquor and use the bathroom. He is a veteran lawman, who has a weathered appearance. Unlike the character of McGraw in the movie, this time, however, the Texas ranger is not alone. His earnest, young partner, Freddie Gonzalez (Jessie Garcia), is waiting in the car.
The Sheriff is a frequent customer of the store, so even though the clerk, Pete (Lane Garrison), knows his presence is something that doesn’t sit well with the Geckos, he can’t rush the man out of the place. After McGraw asks for his liquor, Pete asks the sheriff if there is anything wrong? McGraw responds, that he can sense that it is just one of those not so good days. He proceeds to ask the clerk if he’s seen anyone strange in the store that day? Pete replies that strange is the only type of customer he gets. The Sheriff excuses himself to go to the bathroom; after he leaves, the clerk is threatened with death by the brothers, if he happens to tip off McGraw that they are hiding in the back of the store. The Gecko’s are holding their guns to the heads of two unfortunate girls, who happened to be at the store at the same time. After McGraw finishes using the bathroom, he repeats his initial question to Pete. This line of inquiry, prompts Richard to walk up behind Earl and shoot him in the back. During the mêlée that follows Pete also gets shot up.
The situation begins a standoff between the brothers and Gonzalez, who is trying to figure out a way to save Earl from dying, while at the same time, keeping the Gecko’s from escaping. While the standoff, is greatly expanded from the film version, it doesn’t consume the entire episode. There are interesting flashbacks, involving observations, and sage advice, given from Earl to Freddie, about the all-consuming nature of their line of work, and the importance of spending time with family. Additionally, a brief flashback to the bank robbery is shown, as well as demonic visions, which are seen by Richard. During the standoff, Seth reaches out to his contact, Carlos, who is a gangster portrayed by Wilmer Valderrama (That 70’s Show). Seth calls Carlos, who works out of Mexico, to see if he can get the brothers out of the situation via helicopter. Prior arrangements had already been made with Carlos, that in exchange for ten million dollars, he would offer Seth and Richard, a lifestyle of freedom and comfort, in a place, in Mexico, he calls El Rey. (As an aside: The name El Rey in Spanish means The King).
At the conclusion of the pilot episode, I was initially left wondering, if the new direction the show was touted to be taken in, would turn out to be nothing more than a vengeance piece. I originally thought that might be the case, because Gonzalez vows to McGraw, to do whatever it takes, in order to hunt the Geckos down, and make them pay for killing his partner. He tells this to McGraw, who is in his final moments of life, as he lays on the floor of the store, dying in a pool of blood. Gonzalez swears on the life of his infant daughter, that he will hunt the Geckos all the way to the gates of hell if need be. (As an aside: Don Johnson’s character of McGraw, does appear, via flashback, in five other episodes of the series).
This blog is not a breakdown of every episode, so in addition, to numerous other scenes and situations which arise, while making their way to the border, the Gecko’s take the Fuller family hostage. The brothers are using them to hide out in their RV. Former Pastor, Jacob Fuller, portrayed in the movie by Academy Award nominee, Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs), is now acted by Robert Patrick (True Blood). He is dealing with the sad set of circumstances, regarding the death of his wife. Accompanying Jacob on the trip is his adopted son, Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo) and his daughter, Kate (Madison Davenport), who were played in the original film by Ernest Lie and Academy Award nominee, Juliette Lewis, respectively. The Fuller’s stories like those of the other characters that populated the original film, have all been expanded. There is a reason, other than his wife’s death, why Jacob has given up on his duties as a clergyman, as well as his decision to take his son and daughter away from the only life they have ever known.
The only choice Jacob has at the present time, for the sake of his family, is to believe in the promise made to him by Seth. He has informed Jacob, that he will let his family go free, without any harm having come to them, once he makes the exchange of money for freedom. Arriving at the border crossing, the viewer will once again see, that there is more to the Carlos character, than that of a typical gangster. Without getting into spoilers, he did something in the second episode of the series, that clearly shows he is not just a crime lord. Will there be light at the end of the tunnel this time for Pastor Jacob and his son Scott? If you remember the original film, you know things didn’t end idyllically for either character.
The meeting place, that Carlos has arranged, is a strip club and bar, that he owns. The place, however, is anything but a normal gentlemen’s club. Instead, it is a haven for the undead – for snake worshipping, vampires, to be exact. Professor Aiden Tanner (Jake Busey), who is first seen helping Gonzalez try to decipher a symbol, which keeps turning up at crime scenes, is at the bar. He is someone who has been studying and teaching archeology for many years, but he also turns out to be the character of Sex Machine. Many of you may remember, makeup and special effects master, Tom Savini, portrayed the character in the original film. Professor Tanner, for those of you who are wondering, still keeps a gun in the most unusual of locations on his body. His character points out, that the Spanish missionaries, who first reported on vampires, got it incorrect when it came to them stating that humans transformed into bats. The professor, aptly demonstrates on the body of a deceased member of the vampire tribe, that when one of them becomes their true self, they take on the features of a snake. Without describing everything that happens, suffice it to say, that once the Geckos and Fullers get inside the club, it doesn’t take long, for all sorts of hyperfrenetic mayhem and violence to break out.
The exotic dance, performed by Academy Award nominee, Salma Hayek (Frida), as the character, Santanico Pandemonium, in the original film, took up virtually all of her screen time. The series, however, treats the Santanico character, portrayed by Eiza Gonzalez (Amores Verdaderos), in a vastly different manner. She is a Queen among the vampires who inhabit the club. While she reigns supreme, there is a catch; she is stuck inside, physically confined to the grounds, unable to venture outside, not even under the cover of darkness. She can, however, make herself appear to Richard Gecko, in extraordinarily vivid visions, and is attempting to compel him to come find her. Apparently, he possess the power to set her free from her enslavement, that is being carried out by a group of vampire men, known as the nine lords.
The El Rey Network’s first original series, has already, as stated in Rodriquez’s quote, been given the go ahead for a second season which will expand the episode count from 10 to 13. The first season is currently streaming on Netflix. The series as a whole, contains new plot points, interesting flashbacks that add details about the characters lives, as well as spot on direction, not only from Rodriquez, but from guest directors; for example, Fede Alvarez, who directed the re-make of the original, “Evil Dead” movie. If you had more than a casual interest in the first film, and have seen it several times since its release, you will probably enjoy this series a good deal. For those of you who have never seen the cult classic, but are fans of the horror and supernatural genres, with the understanding that the series does contain action and crime elements mixed into the episodes, you should definitely give the series a try, for at least the first few episodes. One other point, if you were like me, the final shot of the original film left you wondering, what exactly was contained within the huge structure of the Aztec temple that the club was built atop of? Without getting into spoiler territory, the answer to that question is made quite clear, while watching the series.