“Did they look like psychos? Is that what they looked like? They were vampires. Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them…”
From Dusk till Dawn, 1996 (George Clooney) Dimension Films
Two movies (and movie genres) collide in From Dusk till Dawn, the 1996 Tarantino/Rodriguez horror opus which launched George Clooney’s second career as a movie star. Fresh from his breakout star status on the NBC hospital soap, ER, Clooney already had a brief television career, appearing on The Facts of Life and Roseanne as well as the short-lived Elliot Gould hospital sitcom, E/R, and a movie career with low-budget movies such as Return to Horror High and Red Surf. Quentin Tarantino, at this time, was the resurrection king of cinema, facilitating the resurgence of John Travolta, Robert Forster, Harvey Keitel, and Pam Grier.
In 1995, Tarantino directed an episode of ER titled “Motherhood,” at the same time pitching his vampire movie to Clooney. The script started as a work-for-hire commissioned by makeup/special effects artist Robert Kurtzman. When Tarantino’s name acquired currency, he bought back the script and gave it to Robert Rodriguez to direct. Shot on a budget of $19 million (with a predominantly non-union Mexican crew), the movie was profitable, but it wasn’t as big a hit as it should’ve been because of the major theater chain embargo on all movies distributed by Miramax and subsidiaries. Nevertheless, Clooney’s career exploded.
From Dusk till Dawn starts out as a high-adrenaline shoot ’em up about two career criminals, the brothers Gecko: the psychotic Richie (Tarantino) and his more practical older brother, Seth (Clooney). Seth and Richie abduct the church-going Fuller family headed by lapsed minister Jacob (Keitel). They make their way past the border to Mexico, where the Geckos are shortly to meet up with coyotes who will ferry them to a mysterious place called El Rey, a safe haven for fugitives from the law. First, they have to cool their heels at a massive strip bar. Like Janet Leigh in Psycho, their plans are thwarted by a random element: in this case, monstrous vampires.
Clooney encourages Keitel to embrace his inner Christian bad-ass. Keitel blesses the water to make it holy, and our heroes construct crosses from various implements. While Rodriguez creates great ambiance and a raucous tone, I thought the material would’ve been better served by a director like John Carpenter. It has all the trappings of a great John Carpenter movie. Clooney does a fine impersonation of Kurt Russell, but there are times when he can be grating, particularly when he takes on a lecturing tone with his hostages. Barring some of the cheesy mid-’90s digital effects, there is some wonderful old-school makeup and matte painting work. The final shot is a kicker. From Dusk till Dawn is great fun.