From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn ★★★½

NOTE: Rating unchanged on rewatch.

For the love of God, this movie opens with a hostage situation, a standoff, a pile of early, classic Tarantino crime dialog, a shootout with a man who is on fire because he is covered in burning Jack Daniels, who, when he falls from multiple gunshot wounds, causes popcorn to pop from the fire erupting from his clothes, neck and face. Then the liquor store that is the scene of the crime explodes. What the hell else do you want from a movie?

This is a movie that shouldn't work, and I recognize that for a lot of people, it doesn't. After all, it's two movies. One of them is a crime movie with unlikable protagonists at best and one stone monster you want to see run over with a steamroller at worst. The second is a hardcore action horror film that might as well have required you to leave your seat and go to the next theater to see it on the same day.

And because of that, neither are the best of their breed. The front half is a decent enough men-on-the-run crime thriller, with Clooney as the professional thief, threatening but straightforward and no-nonsense, and Tarantino as a foot-obsessed pervert. Like, this is the first Tarantino-adjacent movie I can remember where the director let him leer at feet in front of the paying clientele. Harvey Keitel pivots from Mr. White, the Bad Lieutenant and Winston Wolf, to a fallen pastor with no faith but a spine of steel to protect his family. It's no Reservoir Dogs, but it's well put together, with consistent, believable characters that sell the situation.

Where it falls apart for a lot of people is at the Titty Twister, where things start to go over the top and we pivot to a Night of The Living Dead / I am Legend-esque locked door against the monsters movie. It is jarring. It is completely out of place. It is also exactly what was advertised when the movie was released, so it was not surprise at the time, and after nearly a quarter century, you're either in for the full ride, or you're not.

(The band suddenly playing instruments made out of fresh dead dudes is a bridge too far into the ridiculous. I will admit that, even as a viewer who accepts the completely unworkable engineering of Sex Machine's codpiece pseudo-wang revolver. But I don't want to lose the thread here.)

When the movie becomes a horror movie, it becomes a full-throated one, with gore, and practical makeup effects, and horror movie pacing with waves of monsters and increasing stakes and Fred WIlliamson and Tom Savini. It's not a gimmick; it becomes a real horror movie, and one that works. Is it Halloween or Night of The Living Dead? Fuck no. Is it a goof that's just bubblegumming through the genre? Again, fuck no. It's serious enough, and that's enough for me. Sure, there's some humor thrown in, but Dawn of The Dead had a pie fight, for Christ's sake. I'll allow Savini having a little fun with his vampire transformation.

Okay, I'll grant there's a level of 80s, A-Team goofiness to the family building their own homemade weapons just before the final battle, and that the rubber suits don't hold up as well in 2020 as they might have in 1996. But let's take a second to give a shout out to Juliette Lewis, who was a year out from playing a treacherous sexpot in Strange Days when this came out, where she played as innocent and naive as she was able to in Cape Fear in four years earlier. That girl's got some talent, and it'll take her places. Probably to the Celebrity Center at the Church of Scientology in LA, which is, in fact, a place, but that's not the point.

The point is that this isn't a movie for everyone, because it is, in fact, two movies. But both of them are pretty decent, if neither of them is a classic, and it makes this a singularly memorable movie.

tl;dr: I will never get tired of that closing matte painting, or of death by disco ball.

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