Cinematic Crossroads – Battle # 2: From Dusk Till Dawn

Some of you might not know or remember when we started doing these group discussions, which I called Cinematic Crossroads. It is basically 4 dedicated horror fans and one guest star, discussing a film that is divided between when it comes to their opinion. This is our first one that was posted some time ago, but I am bringing them over from the old site to here. So if you haven’t seen this before, please read and enjoy!

Our panel consist of myself, Aaron Christensen (Horror 101 with Dr. AC), Dave Kosanke (Liquid Cheese fanzine), and Brian Kirst (Big Gay Horror Fan).

Special Guest Star: Adam Rockoff – In the past year, Adam Rockoff has written the remake of I Spit on Your Grave (under his pseudonym, Stuart Morse), as well as the Hallmark Channel made-for-TV-movie, Dad’s Home.  In one of them, a single father is heartbroken because he may be forced to uproot his family and move to another city.  In the other, a rapist has his eyelids pulled back by fishhooks while crows peck out his eyeballs.  You figure out which is which. 


What did you think of the cast?

fdtd10Brian Kirst:  I gotta say I truly enjoyed the cast, but since it’s all pretty much stunt casting in my mind (John Saxon, Michael Parks, Quentin Tarantino – Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, even Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis to a certain degree), I never truly examined the performances much past the surface before.

Dave Kosanke: I thought on paper the cast looked good.  George Clooney was the star, and Rodriguez thought so since he gives him the most screen time and frames him in several “hero” shots.  He is clearly supposed to be the “bad” guy, but at the end of the film the audience is supposed to accept him as the “good” guy.

Jon Kitley:  As much as I dislike George Clooney, I thought he was pretty good, even though he couldn’t seem to get his lines out without tilting his head down or to the side. 

Adam Rockoff:  I don’t hate Clooney – he’s fine in romantic comedies and as earnest everymans – but I found him dreadful in FDTD.  Totally unbelievable as any kind of a badass. 

fdtd13BK: I actually buy George Clooney as a badass and think he, ultimately, provides a needed sex appeal (as much as I truly love those boobs at the Titty Twister!) for the women and gay men watching the film. I just wanna lick that neck tatt!

Aaron Christensen: Honestly, I love George Clooney in this flick.  I saw this in the cinema, having never seen him in anything before, and I was like, “Who the f*ck is that?!”  Yes, watching it again having seen a few more of his features later (this is probably my 4th or 5th time watching the movie), I can totally understand Jon’s comment about him not being able to say a line without tilting his head from side to side.  For years, that was my George Clooney impression, tilting my head to the side and waggling it a little.  But I love the way he sinks his teeth into Tarantino’s chewy dialogue.  He nails it.  And while it’s entirely possible that QT lifted it from somewhere else, I love the exchange between Clooney and the big bearded Titty Twister patron, where the guy says, “One…” and Clooney rejoins it with “Two!” as in, let’s get on with it, tough guy!

AR: Usually it’s Jon I find myself at loggerheads with (he loves …Manchester Morgue; I find it painfully slow.  He hates the whole South American cannibal subgenre; I love Ferox, Holocaust, and Apocalypse,) but this time it’s the Doctor with whom I vehemently disagree.  To appropriate the Dr. Giggles tagline, “The Doctor is INsane!  The Doctor is OUT…of his mind!”  It’s not Clooney’s tics or delivery that I don’t buy.  It’s his whole persona.  And believe me, I’m not prejudiced because of his post-FDTD oeuvre.  Even seeing him the first time, I felt he was far too much the pretty boy.  Think of how good someone like Jeff Bridges could have been in this role (don’t laugh; he’s not too much older than Clooney).

AC:  Just like he was in Iron Man.  Ahem.  We obviously disagree regarding Clooney’s badassedness (always a fun word to type), so that might just be a matter of taste.  I think that he and Tarantino play off each other extremely well, and I like that QT chooses to play his psycho fairly straight. 

fdtd7DK: Even though Quentin Tarantino is NOT an actor, he does acquit himself rather well as the brother with a severe sexual problem which is only hinted at and never really shown (a nice move). 

JK: I think Richie’s “sexual problem” is way more than hinted at.  Sure, it might not have been over the top or that graphic, but the quick shots of hotel room when Seth comes back, seeing the blood and the obviously dead bank teller, I found that pretty disturbing.  You definitely get the feeling that this man is not running on a full tank.  I felt more sympathy for Seth having to deal with his twisted brother then even the remotest care for this degenerate.

AC: I enjoyed Tarantino as well, Dave.  As time goes on and I find him more and more of a jackass in real life, he’s less appealing to me onscreen, but objectively speaking, I think he does a more than serviceable job here.  I totally buy him as a crazy killer who has intimacy issues/fantasies.  Do I like his character?  No, but I think QT does a terrific job as Eddie.  He’s not a total badass, he’s a twisted nerdy freak who happens to be a psycho.  He’s the comic relief as well as a major antagonist, which is a pretty difficult balancing act.  Now, listening to Tarantino on the commentary track (his first commentary, as it turns out – hadn’t done any for Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs), that’s when he gets annoying.

JK: I never found Tarantino’s character humorous in any way.  You know from the get-go that he is bat shit crazy, so you never believe what he is saying.  If anything, he just annoyed me that he kept screwing things up.  And yes, this was way before I really started to dislike Tarantino personally.

AR: Tarantino, despite dozens of attempts to the contrary, is no actor and I cringe whenever he’s on screen.  (Although I too find him to be more and more of a jackass in real life.)  I never bought him as a stone-cold killer, don’t find his “comic relief” particularly funny or interesting, and find his fantasies less of a compelling character trait and more of a way for him to write something for himself he probably thought would be fun to try and pull off.  I can almost picture him writing, getting all excited at getting to say the word “pussy” onscreen.

fdtd4BK: Tarantino has a bit of a “Hee-hee! Look at me!” quality and that’s my main problem with the film. He truly seem to play his character as a joke – like, “Isn’t this a crazy, out there part, y’all?” and he’s playing a molesting, raping madman. As much as I want to be one of the ‘tough’ guys who don’t get bothered by that stuff, I truly think it adds a dangerous and unnecessary misogynistic quality to the film.  Exploitation is one thing – even as a gay dude, I don’t think it’s horror without some female flesh (and hopefully a little male) shown, but this is just nasty to me and totally not fun.

AC:  Actually, Brian, we never really see him go “psycho,” he just has his own internal logic, such as when he says that John Hawkes’ clerk is mouthing words to Michael Parks or more explicitly when we see the world through Richie’s eyes and hear his fantasy dialogue with Lewis.  The most horrible thing he does (the murder of the elderly bank teller) happens offscreen, which I think is a great choice.  We are left to imagine the whole scenario and in that instant we realize that Richie is NOT okay in the head.  Yes, there is an innocence and a fast-talking juvenilia to him, and maybe that is the misogyny that you’re reading, but I don’t think we’re ever supposed to relate to or empathize with Richie.  He’s the wackjob and I think Rodriguez and Tarantino are pretty clear about that.

BK: I think I still have to disagree. You’re right in the fact that he underplays it and there is no bug eyed wildness for the majority of his performance. But, from the first viewing on, I do find some underlying sense of comedy with the character. There is something about the undertones that just get to me. And I do think his imagining of Juliette Lewis’ come-on is played mostly for demented comedy and not as a serious look into the mind of a sociopath or twisted individual – the same with the off screen death of the clerk.  I don’t think you have to eviscerate a female on screen for twenty minutes to still come off on the wrong scale of the cinematic fairness law. Maybe I’m going way too deep, but I really feel like Tarantino’s giddiness in the role somehow comes through, energy-wise, and I guess I can honestly see some dumb fuck movie fans getting off on that and just thinking that Richie is the coolest guy ever. I wish I had the perfect words to describe my feelings on this character, but I think it’s mainly just gut reaction  more than anything else.  As much as I’ve enjoyed Tarantino’s output over the years (and even this film), I still have gone “wtf?!” several times over the way he’s occasionally treated female characters in his work, which I feel ultimately bears out my original conclusion about Richie.

JK: I’m right there with you, Brian.  I think that because it is obvious that Ritchie is mentally ill, and since we’re suppose to sympathize with Seth for having this burden to deal with, that we are a little more easy on Ritchie.  Bullshit.  On the other side of the coin, as the preacher who’s lost his faith, Harvey Keitel seemed pretty restrained.

fdtd20AR: I could watch that guy pick his toenails, but in FDTD he’s wasted. 

DK: Even though I agree he was restrained, he managed to pull off the character rather well.  Keitel in anything is usually a good sign, and playing against type, he showed just how versatile he is. 

AC: He’s playing a much gentler character than we’re used to seeing him as.  In fact, he never really turns into a tough guy, and that’s impressive considering we know he has that in his wheelhouse and the situation would seem to lend itself to that.  He comes off as a man who has had his lifeforce snuffed out, lives a very muted emotional life, and only lives for his children.  I enjoyed watching him play this tired old man, and even when he rises to the occasion in the bar, he does it as an old man.

DK: For me, the kids, as portrayed by Ernest Liu and Juliette Lewis, are the weak links acting-wise.  When everything goes to hell in the bar, their non-reactions to horrible situations is pretty laughable.  Considering Juliette Lewis’ fine pedigree in film, I’d blame her bad performance more on Rodriguez since he seemed to care more about the leads. 

AC: I’m puzzled by your “non-reactions” comment.  They seem pretty appropriately freaked out when the shit goes down.  You say “considering Lewis’ fine pedigree,” – do you like her in other films? Because she’s pretty much the same here as I’ve seen her elsewhere. 

fdtd21DK: Essentially Liu and Lewis fare well for most of the running time, yet when they are faced with eliminating their family, that’s where they drop off.  For instance, when their father gets bit, neither of them seem to show any emotion, one way or the other.  Once he “turns” and Liu blows his head off, he doesn’t show any emotion.  Maybe that was the intention, but for a dramatic moment it doesn’t work, except for showcasing a nice head explosion.  Lewis musters a half-hearted, “Oh My God,” but that’s about it.  Same thing for when she has to kill her brother.  No emotion, just get the job done.  After both her father and brother are dead, she just wanders around, as if waiting for some direction.  She is awesome in Natural Born Killers, displaying lots of emotion throughout the entire running time.  I also enjoy her in Cape Fear and Kalifornia.  Both of those performances showcase her chops much, much better than FDTD in my opinion, proving to me she has what it takes to get the job done. 

AC: Well, for me, she’s doing her thing here as well, it’s basically her Cape Fear character in another scenario.   I liked her in that, so I didn’t mind seeing her doing it again, but I consciously thought to myself, “Hm, so this is what she does.”  I probably should have more to say about her, but I just don’t find her that fascinating as I did when I first saw her.

BK: While I think Juliette Lewis puts on a mean and sweaty-ass rock show in real life – she’s always bugged me as actress. She just seems too purposefully odd, but here I really enjoyed her performance, honestly found it effective.

AR: I always get the feeling there’s something a wrong with her – not a little quirky, like many “indie” actresses – but something diagnosable, and therefore feel bad being too hard on her performance. 

AC: I’m pretty much with Adam on Juliette.  She’s a weirdee, and while she may have put it to good use onscreen at times, I definitely wouldn’t want to have her as a next door neighbor. 

fdtd17JK: I’m still trying to figure out how Juliette Lewis gets hired?  That one just doesn’t add up to me.  I’ve never been impressed with her and this did nothing to make me think otherwise.  On the making-of documentary, she sounds and acts like a drag queen.  Definitely an odd one.  Not that drag queens are odd….

DK: I enjoyed the roles given to Savini and Williamson, save for some corny dialogue spouted off by Savini (while the line about Peter Cushing is nice to hear from die-hard fans, his delivery of it falls flat…whereas Williamson’s tale about being in ‘Nam was pretty cool). 

JK: I found them both just too cheesy.  Savini should go back to doing effects and finally give up those hopes of being a real actor.  I remember seeing Williamson at a convention and a fan asked him about how he liked working on FDTD.  His reply, “The check cleared.  That all that mattered.”  Nice.

fdtd19AC: Savini does okay, but at the time I think I was enjoying seeing him show up because I hadn’t seen him onscreen in a long time (Dawn of the Dead, probably).  On follow up viewings, his shortcomings as an actor are much more apparent. And yes, I totally agree the “Peter Cushing” line – comes outa nowhere for this biker badass to be down with Saint Peter.  Still, how about that cock-gun?  And (hangs head in shame) this was the first time I had ever seen Fred “The Hammer” Williamson in anything before, so I liked him.  Obviously, in retrospect, it was stunt casting, but at the time, I liked seeing this aging badass rise up and do battle against the bloodsuckers.

AR: I like Savini in a lot of things, but FDTD is not one of them.  Williamson was fine for what he was required to do. 

AC: Speaking of small roles, one other thing I noticed looking at the cast list this time around is that  Walter “Dr. Satan” Phelan and special f/x guy Wayne Toth both appear as “monsters.”  Plus, you’ve got Greg Nicotero as the biker who menaces Savini, and the ill-fated convenience store clerk at the beginning of the movie is longtime under-the-radar character actor John Hawkes, who did fine work on Deadwood and received an Oscar nod last year for his work as the cult leader in Winter’s Bone.

DK: Nobody can overlook Cheech Marin who portrays no less than 3 different characters and manages to make all of them unique.

fdtd22AC: I think I’m most impressed with his “straight man” character of the border guard, as it’s not something we often see out of him.  And of course, the “pussy” monologue at the Titty Twister is classic.  Oddly enough, no one really ever seems to talk about Ernest Liu, either his performance or the fact that Keitel has a Chinese son and no one says anything about it in the movie.  It oughta have a bigger deal made out of it, and I kind of love that nobody does, because we get the chance to make our own back-story about it.  Presumably Jacob (Keitel’s character) took him in or adopted him or whatever, but we just don’t know.  I think Liu does a fine job for what he has to do, but it’s kind of strange that he never did anything much at all after this movie.

BK: I love that you mentioned Ernest Liu. He truly does give an understated, authentic performance. I wonder if his lack of credits is simply because it’s a bitch for anyone to make it in show biz let alone a young Asian male – no matter how talented. Or – perhaps it could be to do with the fact that it appears that, from a bit of online research, his blog is called and includes a recent post mentioning that God hinders him from finding a girlfriend – let alone do a movie that may make him do ‘bad things’.  Very interesting, at the very least.  I do love that there is no back story for the relationship between his character and Keitel’s. It’s subtle and does that magic bit of showing without telling that writers find so hard to nail. The immediate assumption is that he was adopted – which would be a very natural thing for a deeply religious preacher to do – and helps show how far Keitel’s character has digressed since the loss of his wife. But, because of the unusual and twisted nature of the film, it also allows, as you mentioned, your mind to wander onto the bizarre avenues of how this adoption may have actually been accomplished.

JK: The only thing that made me notice Liu was the fact that he wasn’t “somebody,” since the rest of the movie seemed to be filled with known commodities.

fdtd12AC: There’s no way we cannot talk about Salma Hayek’s dance scene as Satanico Pandemonium.  It has never had the same impact as it had the first time, but when I first saw it I nearly lost my mind.  Man, she was sexy, and having not yet seen Desperado, she was a completely new face (and body) to me.  Trust me, I never forgot her name after that.  The trickling of the tequila down her leg into Quentin’s mouth?  Yowza.  

JK: Yes, Salma Hayek was pretty damn hot doing her little dance number.  I think I was more impressed seeing it now then when I first did all those years ago.  Never wanted to be a snake so much in all my life.

AC: I think the reason why Hayek’s dance isn’t quite as effective for me now is that it seems staged, nothing feels particularly organic about it.  Unlike, say, Cherry’s go-go dance at the opening of Planet Terror, where there is something going on behind the eyes.   Granted, Hayek’s a vampire and probably an elder one at that, so maybe she’s not too impressed by things anymore.

How did you like the change in tone from the first half to the second half?  Do you think it worked?

fdtd11DK: After I viewed the film in theaters opening weekend, my initial review stated that the tone shift was “seamless” and worked as advertised.  Watching now, it is anything but.  The first half is almost perfect in setting up the situation, and the interaction of the Gecko brothers is quite interesting to watch unfold.  No doubt the highlight is the opening in the gas station, but the tense scenes the two share in the hotel room are also good.  The main problem with the initial vampire attacks as they happen at the Titty Twister is they stage them too fast.  Once they wipe out most of the creatures, not to mention how fast the humans are dispatched, the film stops dead in its tracks. In order to fill out the running time, we are left with pointless dialogue, and filler such as finding the hidden “stash” in the back of the bar.  These scenes are pointless and do nothing but provide tedium to the audience.  Not to mention the decidedly unfunny tone that is tacked on which I mention because the filmmakers clearly meant for it to be funny, but it just comes off stupid.

JK:  I totally agree; after that first initial vampire attack, the pace just bottoms out.

AC: Funny how the movies don’t change but we do, huh, Dave?  I do agree that the second half of the movie is not nearly as strong as the first, and that the story moves in fits and starts.  I understand that they’re trying to build tension, release it, build, release, but the mechanisms are felt.

AR: Honestly, I didn’t find too much of a tonal change at all.  I mean, once the transformations happen the pace obviously picks up tenfold.  But for me, the tone remains the same: snarky, quasi-referential, and, for lack of a better word, light.

AC: I think “light” is fine word for the film overall.  It’s never really scary or laugh-out-loud funny nor does it have any jaw-dropping action moments.  However, I don’t say that as a criticism – it’s part of the movie’s appeal.  It still manages to entertain throughout.

fdtd6DK: I see what Adam is saying with the statement above, but I still think a case could be made that FDTD could be broken up in two halves, with the 1st part playing more like a typical Tarantino flick (at least circa 1996).  You have the criminals fleeing the scene of a crime, which aside from the opening sequence, is never really shown (shades of Reservoir Dogs).  Also the in-jokes, like the bag of Kahuna burgers, are for Pulp Fiction fans.  Yet once we get to the Titty Twister, it becomes more of an action flick, ala Desperado.  Not only that, but most of the cast we see here were already becoming Rodriguez staples, such as Danny Trejo, Tito Larriva (the lead vocalist in the band), Cheech Marin, and Salma Hayek.  So I think again the tonal shift is more evident here, and even if you didn’t know any better that the movie was divided up with Quentin taking the first half, and Robert orchestrating the second part.  

JK:  With the cold-blooded murder of the Ranger in the opening sequence, I thought that would have set the tone on how serious the movie was going to be.  So once it changed for the lighter, campier feel in the second half, I was disappointed.  That opening gas station scene is the highlight of the film to me.  And I think that has to do a lot with Michael Parks and John Hawkes.  Also like Dave mentioned, the hotel scene has some merits.  After Seth discovers what Ritchie has done to the bank teller, it does show us how hard it is for Seth to deal with his nutter of a brother.  Again, maybe why the second half disappoints me so much.

BR: The change in tone works for me because such a big deal is made about the change in locale. There is that huge build-up scene (which I actually find very intense) at the border which introduces the first of Cheech Marin’s characters into the mix and ultimately feels like a bridge into the second, more comic half for me. It’s kind of like the Wizard of Oz (okay, totally gay, right, but it’s the easiest reference for my overtaxed pink brain right now) going from black and white into color. And, yeah, I have to agree the second half is more action-comedic with horror elements than anything else, but I truly believe its set-up well.  I think the second half is just a balls-out gonzo wild ride and if I had to coin a term, it would be “body-gushing slapstick!” Again, it works because even in the most intense scenes in the first half: the opening hostage scenario, the border dilemma… I feel that there is an odd scene of dark comedy already at work.

fdtd9AC: Actually, the Wizard of Oz reference is perfect, Brian, since we absolutely go from the “ordinary” world to one of magic and fantasy and horror.  I love it.  I think it works great.  In the spirit of great horror movies where we spend so much time learning about the characters, who they are, how they interact, and then introducing the horror elements.  The whole first half is heightened action/exploitation, it’s totally artificial but enjoyably so.  Which is why when the horror half being huge and cartoony and artificial seems completely in keeping with the spirit of the film as a whole.  Besides, I think the idea of seeing criminals on the run encountering a bar full of vampires is awesome, especially since nothing has pointed us in that direction thus far.  I dig it.  And all the hot vampire stripper boobs are the icing on the awesome cake.

JK: I can remember all the pre-hype when From Dusk Till Dawn was coming out.  There was an interview with Tarantino, where he talked about the film being this non-stop action film for the first half, and then in the turn of a page, it goes out to a balls-out horror film.  Sounded pretty damned amazing to me and that is what I went in expecting.  So needless to say, seeing it in the theater then, I was a little more than disappointed, since the first half was not filled with non-stop action, and the second half was definitely not balls-out horror.  More like a gory comedy.  I don’t totally hate the film, since I do think the opening sequence in the gas station is great, mainly due to Michael Parks and John Hawkes.  But after that impressive beginning, I felt like nothing exciting really happened after that.  It was more like 50 minutes of character set-up.  Then when the horror element started, I just thought it was just plain silly.

AC: Jon, I think “balls-out horror” means something different to Rodriguez than it does for you.  If you look at his other horror efforts, he doesn’t really do “scary,” he does “thrill ride with gore.”

Do you think the second half is more horror or comedy?

fdtd18DK: Clearly comedy.  The smirking vampire “band” playing with human torsos is about as silly as it gets.

AR: Agreed, although I do have a soft spot for GWAR.  Comedy, for sure.  But the first half of the film has its goofy moments too.  And although I’d say the film as a whole is a far cry from horror, it does have some horrific moments.  The Savini/The Thing monster is pretty cool.   

AC: I never liked the bit with the band playing the guy’s torso as a guitar.  That just gets a bit too silly, although Rodriguez must have loved it, since he keeps cutting back to it.  However, it is heightened cartoon comic horror, and these wisecracking tough guys stay true to their character.  Bottom line, I find it entertaining.  

JK: Definitely a comedy.  And not a funny one either.

AR: Now, that was funny… at least funnier than anything in the movie.  

What were your thoughts on the make-up effects and the CGI work?

fdtd15DK: The bad morphing CGI is more like a cartoon than anything else.  Even the normal exemplary FX work by KNB is pretty shoddy here, especially Savini’s rat man which again is more silly than scary.

AR: Really?   Admittedly, I’m far from an expert on makeup and FX work, but I thought the KNB stuff was pretty good.  Again, I’m assuming the post-vampire faces of Williamson and Savini were makeup/masks rather than CGI, but I thought they were pretty cool and creepy.   FDTD was made over 15 years ago, so of course some of the effects are going to be dated.  But I really thought most of them were pretty good, purely from a technical standpoint.  In fact, I had a tough time determining which were CGI and which were practical.  I’m gonna be in the minority here, but I thought the effects were the least of the film’s problems. 

AC: Because of the goofy, cartoon quality of the entire film, they didn’t really bother me.  The practical effects are fun and splattery, but never feel so real that I’m grossed out, which I think was the intention.  Morphing is never my favorite effect, but I was willing to give it a pass, especially 15 years ago.  Now, sure, it’s a little more painful to watch.

fdtd14BK: I have to agree that the make-up and CGI are pretty obvious, but it doesn’t bother me that badly and I truly like that Rodriguez has his vamps morph into more mythical Mexicali style creatures as opposed to elegant vamps or even the more traditional bloodthirsty jagged mouth types. I think it shows some originality and attention to locale. Plus I think the image of a wild-jawed Fred Williamson standing maniacally proud while thousands of bats pour in from behind him is one of the most awesome modern horror sequences-images out there. I actually totally forgot about it until it happened and I actually muttered, “awesome,” out loud as it transpired this time.

AC: YES.  That shot with Williamson and the bats is definitely awesome, and I think it’s the reason why Williamson went against his “I never die in my movies” credo, because they gave him this literally “fantastic” character.  The swarming bats are a great effect, and again, for early CGI, they work a treat.

JK: The CGI transformations immediately turned me cold.  Very cartoonish, too cheesy, and way too fake.  The creature designs, while being different, were not scary at all, but more comical, more along the lines of the likes of Monty Python.  At no point would I consider these monsters scary.  Sure, there was a lot of blood, but just wasn’t impressed.  Would have thought I’d be down for the rubber monsters, but not this time.   

fdtd8AC: I’m surprised at how down you are on the monster designs.  So, they’re not scary, but does that make them not fun?  They’re weird and grotesque, a la the EVIL DEAD II demons, and just as cartoony.  Why embrace the one but not the other?  I can’t really defend the morphing.  I’d rather see cheesy time-lapse or gradual scene-to-scene transformations, but it doesn’t completely kill the movie for me.   As Adam says, for the time they’re not bad at all.  They do the job, they tell the story.

JK: I’m not sure why the rubber monster suits bother me so much here.  Usually, I’d be all over that type of makeup effects.  But for some reason they just left me cold.  Reminded me of something you’d seen in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  Like Dave mentioned, coming from KNB, I would have expected much more from them.  I will give them a some kudos on some of the effects, like Keitel’s  half-face effect, and a couple of other ones, but for the most part, they let me down.

Do you think it was influential in any way?

DK: Looking back on the film now, I wouldn’t say it influenced much of anything accept perhaps the seed was planted for what eventually became GrindhouseFrom Dusk Till Dawn was intended to “revitalize” the horror film, yet the big breakthrough horror film that did jumpstart the horror genre (for better or worse) from that year proved to be Scream.

fdtd1AC: I agree that Tarantino and Rodriguez working together here and enjoying success is what furthered their bonding.  If this movie would have been an unmitigated disaster, I doubt that they would have been as buddy-buddy as they are now, directing scenes in each other’s movies, etc. 

AR: Not really influential, other than it furthered the cult of Tarantino.  Remember, when FDTD came out Tarantino was at the height of his popularity.  It was a year after Pulp Fiction and he could do no wrong.  Plus, people were just starting to discover Reservoir Dogs and True Romance.  So, if you’ll forgive the crass analogy, he could have taken a shit on a roll of film and people would have still flocked to the theaters.  I guess this is the main problem I have with the film: It doesn’t feel like a horror movie, an action movie, or even a movie for that matter, but more like an exercise in self-indulgence, Tarantino just trying to be Tarantino. 

DK: While I’m well aware that technically it is a Robert Rodriguez film, this has all the hallmarks of a Tarantino one.

AC: I agree that it has the stench of an indulgent Tarantino project, but it’s very much Rodriguez’s style as well.  I mean, there’s a reason these guys like each other – they both share an affinity for delivering bigger budgeted versions of the drive-in flicks they grew up on.  It does seem at times like they’re afraid they’ll never get to make another movie, so they feel like they need to jam two or three genres into each one.  I mean, look at Inglorious Basterds.  Talk about a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be.

fdtd2BK: I don’t know if it radicalized any movements, but I do think that the fact that Tarantino and Rodriguez were involved in the project gave horror a bit of a credibility increase in the mainstream public. They were both such respected enfant terribles at the time, that I think it gave the genre some cache and respectability whether it wanted it or not. I, also, think it was an interesting experiment to take some of the tropes used for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, both quirkily arty and respected films, and apply them to the horror genre (particularly in the film’s first half). I think it gave the public and filmmakers permission to think another way to about horror and apply different styles and techniques to it. So, yeah, I have to say it was influential and maybe even a precursor to Scream (which used a lot of comedy) and Rob Zombie’s Devil’s Rejects, as well.

AR: I completely agree with everything Brian said…up until the last sentence.  While they both contain (or attempt to contain) comedic elements, Scream’s humor is of the self-conscious/self-referential/meta variety (I know, I sound like some pompous ass wannabe film professor).  FDTD, on the other hand, while referential in its own way, derives its humor from its sheer outrageousness, a la Evil Dead or Dead Alive.  And other than its deserty and/or sandy location, I don’t see anything similar to Devil’s Rejects.  

BK: I don’t mean From Dusk to Dawn‘s humor necessarily influenced Scream – totally different types of humor and probably in production around the same time, anyhow.  I merely meant they both created an aura – a united front of sorts – about using comedic elements in horror and, being released first, FDTD kind of led the way.  Although, the stunt casting and Zombie’s anti-artsy artiness in Devil’s Rejects does reflect a similar FDTD vibe.

fdtd5AC: Interesting that you think it gave horror some credibility, Brian, because I don’t think anyone went to see this film that wasn’t already a horror fan, i.e. just because Rodriguez and Tarantino were involved.  Maybe I’m wrong about that.  I do like the notion that it was a new way of delivering up a horror film, even if for some fans (like Jon) it didn’t work.  I know that I have shown it to people who aren’t dyed-in-the-wool horror fans, and they really enjoyed it…and might be back for more, which is always the end goal, right? 

BK: I’m still going with the gut reaction that the Tarantino-Rodriguez pairing give the film some celluloid glow.  I mentioned to a couple movie fans – not particularly horror fans either – that we were covering this and they all exclaimed that the combo of talent behind the project got them to check it out either in the theaters or on DVD.  Also, I was just watching a review copy of a goofy cheap ass horror flick, Death Hunter: Werewolves vs. Vampires and there was a backwoods vampire strip club sequence that was obviously modeled after the Titty Twister sequence, along with some over-the-top monster effects/comic sequences that could be derived from FDTD as well.

AC: It also made George Clooney a movie star.   Rodriguez showcases all the best of him:  He’s sexy, funny, tough, intelligent…he’s the MAN.  Rodriguez even says on the commentary that while he was making the movie and editing it, he thought, “If I can’t make a movie star out of George Clooney, then I need to be sent to movie hell.”  Well, mission accomplished, Robert.

JK: Sure, the film may have given a boost to the careers of Clooney, Tarantino, and Rodriguez, but the movie itself…not so much.  But like Dave and Brian mentioned, maybe because of the success of Scream that came out later that year, any plans on making a horror movie turned into a slasher film. Didn’t really see an all-star cast monsterfests show up after this one. 

fdtd3BK: While I don’t think its contributions are on a grandly apocalyptic scale, I still feel it had some influence. It always has struck me as a fan favorite.  Maybe this is a bit too hypothetically vague, but I truly can see young filmmakers, because of Rodriguez’s publicized do-it-yourself-ness, going “Hey! I can make a horror film, too!” and I do kind of see its influences in some of Rob Zombie’s work and even films like the French zombie flick The Horde (toughened characters, a little bit of bloodshed, some humor). It spawned a sequel and sequel-prequel – and while I know they’re not noteworthy per se – they did attract more character folks like Bo Hopkins, Robert Patrick, Michael Parks (again) and Bruce Campbell (who has kind of a fun opening act death scene with Saved by the Bell‘s Tiffani Thiesen in the first sequel, Texas Blood Money).  I have to admit, goofy shit like that is one of the reasons I love these films.  So, no I don’t think its impact was that of a Jaws, Psycho or what have you – but it definitely stands out above a lot of the mainstream horror films of the past 15 years.  I am, also, willing to concede that this is just a personal connection, as well, and doesn’t stand, factually. I saw the film in the summer of 1996, the first time I lived alone without roommates or a romantic partner and it was the first time I could dive, without anyone clucking disapprovingly over my shoulder, into the world of horror. That was the summer I went to my first convention (an event which previously had seemed like a mysterious, chunk strewn land of nirvana only whispered about in the ads in Fangoria magazine) and it was, also, the year of Scream (which, initially, bowled me completely) so – it was just a very exciting time for me and I think a resurgence in the public eye of horror, as well – so the film (although truly not, ultimately, a personal favorite) might just stand out in my mind because of that. (Though, I kind of don’t think so!! Ha.)

Thoughts on the watching the movie now compared to the first time?

fdtd16AR: It’s funny, but as tough as it is to remember how I felt 15 years ago, I think I had the same reaction.  Just, eh.  It wasn’t scary, that’s for sure.  It wasn’t witty enough to be truly funny.  And there wasn’t that much action. 

BK: The main difference in my viewing this time is that I think I have gotten a bit more political-sensitive in my watching habits and the way the filmmakers and Tarantino approached his character bothered me even more this time. Horror and exploitation films can be nasty, over the top and juicily controversial (and that’s why I love em’) without being misogynistic and I truly think the gleeful attitude toward the boyish ‘lady killer’ is a wrong one.

AR: Opposite of Brian, I’ve become far more liberal in my viewing habits, even as I grow more conservative with age (sigh).  And with apologies to all the female readers, I don’t find anything particularly misogynistic about Tarantino’s character.  Or I should say anything particularly disturbing about it.  In fact, I find him more annoying than disturbing.  

AC: The joy factor between the first time I saw it and now has diminished slightly – it hasn’t become an old friend, the way that Evil Dead or EDII have.  Seth Gecko is not as big a badass, Salma is not quite as hot, etc., example of familiarity breeding contempt.  Obviously, the fact that I’ve seen it four or five times means that it still has an appeal, but it’s not one that I bust out all the time.  That said, it is still the fun drinking film that it sets out to be.  I really like the dialogue, and how the actors embrace it and never seem to be winking at the camera.  They live in that world and tear it up.  

JK: My thoughts pretty much stayed the same.  Might have been a little more forgiving now since I knew what to expect and wasn’t going to be as disappointed, but it definitely didn’t get any better over the years.  I think with a lot of the reasons for me not liking it back then was simply because I had my expectations set so high.  Viewing it now, it is probably my distaste for Clooney (and even more so of Tarantino) that makes it even harder for me to sit through.  Granted, I watched it this time with more of an open mind, trying to appreciate it for what it is.  But this is one film where my feelings have not changed and I don’t see myself watching it again any time soon.

AR: Agreed. FDTD ain’t no fine wine. In fact, if anything, it just reinforces my general feelings about the players…how much I love Harvey Keitel…how much can’t stand Tarantino…how weird Juliette Lewis is…

2 thoughts on “Cinematic Crossroads – Battle # 2: From Dusk Till Dawn

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