Sunday, February 5, 2012

43. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996)

Strange as it may seem -- especially since George Clooney is already showing some gray and giving a fairly familiar performance here -- this freewheeling but heavy caliber collaboration between director Robert Rodriguez and screenwriter/actor Quentin Tarantino is now rapidly approaching its 20th anniversary. That said, time is treating it well; it's aging into one of the more durable and yet representative artifacts of 1990s horror, in that it showcases the best and worst tendencies of its era.

In brief, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (conceptually anyway, a precursor to GRINDHOUSE in that its title has drive-in provenance and it sports a duplex structure) has everything going for it -- a powerhouse cast, directorial panache, inventive and funny writing, unpredictability, playfulness, as well as some surprising yet very welcome eroticism in Salma Hayek's instantly classic cameo as vampire stripper Satanico Pandemonium. It also has a third act that's heavily reliant on CGI and KNB special makeup effects -- admittedly well-done, but when you have a cast this impressive in front of the camera, wouldn't it be more satisfying to all concerned to let the actors act and let KNB focus their Raimiest resources on the aftermath of their attacks? The point is further driven home by the script's references to certain Hammer films like DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (Harvey Keitel's disillusioned priest must recover his faith to offer viable opposition to the Undead) and KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (the climactic vampire bat raid), both of which made more indelible impressions on the vampire movie genre with a lot less money and conceptual and literal gunpowder. I can't forgive the movie for turning Hayek into some kind of cobra-headed cartoon as soon as she shows her fangs. Even if they'd had the technology in 1965 -- imagine what we would have lost if Hammer and Terence Fisher had done this to Barbara Shelley in DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS! Technically speaking, we still don't have Salma Hayek giving a full performance as a sexy, voluptuous vampire and she's almost 20 years older now, so that is something we're now unlikely to see. But we are given one hell of a preview of this never-coming attraction.

Keitel is miscast (or at least cast in a role that doesn't complement, inspire or fully access his ability), the third act is seriously underwritten (if not unfinished, and yet it seems to drag on well past its end), and it plays its best performance hand with Michael Parks' impressive work as Sheriff Earl McGraw in the pre-credits scene (so impressive, he was brought back to appear in GRINDHOUSE and KILL BILL VOL. 2). And yet, for all that, it's a very entertaining package with Cheech Marin playing three different characters in the best Dick Miller tradition. Fred Williamson (wielding a sharpened pencil) and Tom Savini (doing his best work since KNIGHTRIDERS as Sex Machine) are fabulous and it's pure movie-going pleasure to see them, flanked by Clooney and Keitel, facing down the dregs of the vampire club in the climactic scene. Resulted in two DTV sequels I have still not seen.

Viewed on Netflix. 

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