From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn is currently available on instant Netflix.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – Rated R

“Robbers-on-the-lam Seth and Richard Gecko take an ex-preacher and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires in this ode to 1960s horror movies.”

“I’m not gonna drain you completely. You’re gonna turn for me. You’ll be my slave. You’ll live for me. You’ll eat bugs because I order it. Why? Because I don’t think you’re worthy of human blood. You’ll feed on the blood of stray dogs. You’ll be my foot stool.”

Director and editor Robert Rodriguez makes two separate movies here. The first is a criminals on the run saga which takes up quite a bit of screentime but then it morphs into a vampire survival tale. Although much of it is unprintable, Tarantino’s script has a lot of punch and great characters.

George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the outlaw Gecko Brothers. Clooney is firm, loyal and desperate as bank robber Seth but Tarantino is off-the-wall as his crazy brother Richard. They take a family hostage on their way to Mexico. The father is an embittered ex-priest, Jacob Fuller, played by Harvey Keitel. His children are Kate and Scott Fuller played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu.

Rodriguez packs the movie with guest stars. Before the bar, John Saxon cameos as FBI Agent Chase. John Hawkes, Oscar-nominated for Winter’s Bone, has an early role as Pete the store clerk. Kelly Preston (Mrs. John Travolta) is a newscaster.

At the bar, makeup artist Tom Savini plays Sex Machine. Makeup artists Greg (Walking Dead) Nicotero plays Sex Machine’s friend. Director Robert Rodriguez pops up as a bandmember. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson plays Frost. The lovely Salma Hayek plays Santanico Pandemonium (and dances with a snake for you fetishists). Cheech Marin plays three roles: a border guard, Chet, and Carlos.

The criminals on the run saga is pretty good, mainly due to Tarantino’s funny script. It takes awhile to get to the vampire portion of the movie but once there, Rodriguez makes it a non-stop roller coaster ride of vampire destruction. Special effects are good and fun, with the vampires perishing in a myriad of ways. They use a lot of green blood to get some of the killings past the ratings board (an old trick).

People Watch: The wonderful Michael Parks plays Texas Ranger Earl McGraw. He would reprise that character again in Kill Bill parts one and two as well as both segments of Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof). He also plays writer Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3.

Sequel-itis: What happens when you take a franchise and get rid of director Robert Rodriguez, writer Quentin Tarantino, and actors Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Salma Hayek, and Juliette Lewis? The straight to video back-to-back sequels – From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) with Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999) with Michael Parks. The only connecting thread is Danny Trejo but the sequels are not very good.

Christmas week – Black Christmas

As White Christmas is not available on instant Netflix, I am sadly forced to review Black Christmas which is available.

Black Christmas

WATCH: Black Christmas (1974) – Rated R

“Terror reigns inside a sorority house a few days before Christmas break as a series of menacing phone calls — and the discovery of a dead girl’s body — transform yuletide cheer into fear. Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey and Andrea Martin (“SCTV”) co-star as just a few of the petrified sisters at the mercy of an unseen stalker in this 1970s horror gem from director Robert Clark, who told a much happier holiday tale with his 1983 classic, A Christmas Story.”

It’s really hard to believe that this is produced and directed by Bob Clark. I guess he had to get out all of his bitterness towards the holidays before he could mold all of his love for Christmas into A Christmas Story. The poster of a victim’s face covered by a plastic bag on a snowy background is certainly unsettling. The tagline is hysterical – “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight!”.

While watching this film, I realized the difference between this and John Carpenter’s Halloween. They are both slashers that feature some killer point of view shots (Black Christmas to its credit does this four years before Halloween). The feel of the films though is completely different. Halloween comes off as an incredible edge-of-your-seat suspense film in spite of the material where Black Christmas comes across as pure exploitation cheese in attitude (even though there isn’t much gore and no sex/nudity).

In addition to the killer, we have an extremely foul-mouthed Santa predating Bad Santa by almost 3 decades, a student who wants to have an abortion, a student happily sharing alcohol with a small child and an alcoholic, foul-mouthed den mother. There is also an abundance of bad 70s hair and fashion through the movie.

This film is not very good but I recommend watching it for three reasons. First, it’s a fine example of grindhouse fare although Bob Clark did tone down the kills somewhat. Secondly as a precursor  to much that followed afterwards in the horror genre, this set some groundwork. This is the first of “the killer is calling from inside the house” movies and an early use of the now ubiquitous killer point-of-view shots. The scene of Claire in the rocking chair with a bag over her head is wonderfully effective and disturbing although it is used too often in the film. There is some genuine suspense in the film (though some of the scenes with the killer are annoying) and the ending, while a bit nonsensical, is quite good – the absence of music during the final scene was a very good choice. The final reason is that you simply won’t be able to believe that this was made by the same man who did “A Christmas Story”.

People Watch: Look for B-movie stalwart John Saxon as the police lieutenant. Also note that Andrea Martin, here playing a college coed, plays the house matron role in the 2006 remake.

From Dusk Till Dawn

Prior to sending up exploitation films with Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed a vampire exploitation film called From Dusk Till Dawn. This movie is available on instant Netflix. The two sequels are not available but you aren’t missing much as Rodriguez didn’t direct the sequels and Tarantino didn’t write them.

From Dusk Till Dawn

WATCH: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – “Robbers-on-the-lam Seth (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) take an ex-preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires. That’s when director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) abruptly switches from hostage drama to tongue-in-cheek, vampiric melee, creating a blood-stained ode to 1960s Mexican horror movies.”

This is a rude, crude and violent tale as might be expected from Tarantino and Rodriguez. Quentin Tarantino overacts as always but it comes off well here as do George Clooney and Harvey Keitel in more restrained performances. It takes a good long while for the vampires to show up but once they do, it’s a non-stop thrill ride. There are small, fun over-the-top performances from the lovely Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, make-up wizard Tom Savini, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. The special effects are lavish and over-the-top and they take a page from the Evil Dead book and use green blood to help with the ratings board.

People watchers: look for cameos by John Saxon and makeup artists Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger and a small role by Michael Parks as Earl McGraw (a role he repeats in Kill Bill and both parts of Grindhouse).