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FROM DUSK TIL DAWN

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Salma Hayek
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Disney/Dimension Home Video
Features: See Review
Length: 108 Minutes
Release Date: October 3, 2000

Film ****

From Dusk Till Dawn marked a very satisfying moviemaking collaboration. It brought together director Robert Rodriguez, whose 1992 cult classic El Mariachi still remains one of the most profitable films ever made, and the writing wizardry of Quentin Tarantino, who had just won a most deserved Oscar for his original screenplay for Pulp Fiction. Although the two had collaborated in such previous projects as Four Rooms and Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn marks the strongest collaboration the two are ever likely to make. Tarantinoís script blends together his unique use of dialogue with homage to b horror movies. Rodriguez is a master of over the top action films. Desperado had its share of remarkable and outrageous shoot out scenes, but the action scenes in this movie are even more over the top and remarkable. The film was released to theaters in January of 1996, and I quickly labeled it the first great movie of that year.

This is a movie that ingeniously blends together numerous genres into one movie, though itís clear that film was to be primarily sold as a horror movie, and the best vampire flick since 1985ís Fright Night. Itís also a crime drama, a comedy, and at times, it has the go for broke quality of an exploitation film. From the beginning, Rodriguez and Tarantino had set out to make a horror movie with a more original tone, and a much stronger kind of narrative. Rodriguez pointed out in an interview; ďPart of the advantage to the movie that weíre making is that there is no horror for the first half of the movieĒ. This strategy was used in order to invest some time in the characters so that you actually care about what happens to them in the end. Tarantino script pays homage to the works of Stephen King, and pointed out when interviewed, ďHeís the best writer of characterization that there is, and you always end up caring about what happens to the characters in his stories.Ē Well, Tarantino himself is a terrific writer of characterization of films, as he proves with this original movie, filled the quirkiest characters that youíll ever see in a film of this nature.

The movie has one knockout of a cast, led by a magnificent, hard edged performance from George Clooney, who at the time when this movie came out, was saving lives on the hit show ER, and had never had a major starring role in a movie. Even before seeing this movie, and aware that I had never seen what Clooney had done before, I knew he had something just watching him in the ads for the film. After seeing his performance in this movie, I knew for sure that a star was born. Clooney and Tarantino play Seth and Richard Gecko, brothers and the countryís most wanted fugitives. The movie opens with an exhilarating sequence that has the two brothers in a liquor store turning a low-key hostage situation into a out of a control shoot-out, which ends itself in a very outrageous manner. The Geckos are trying to make it to the Mexican border to meet some partners in crime and elude the authorities apprehending them. The two brothers soon cross paths with a family in a recreational van, who they kidnap to help them get to the border. The family consists of Jacob (Harvey Keitel), a former preacher who has somewhat lost his faith, his daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis), and adopted son Scott (Ernest Liu). Seth assures Jacob that if he simply does as he is told, him and his family will be set free once Seth and Richard reach the rendezvous point.

They do reach the border, and arrive at the rendezvous point, which is a Mexican bar and grill located in the middle of nowhere. As it turns out, the bar turns out to be a feeding ground for bloodthirsty Mexican vampires, led by the establishmentís seductive exotic dancer (Salma Hayek). It is at this point in the film that the horror genre kicks in, with a parade of superbly over-the-top exercises in blood and gore overkill, which I found simply a giddy delight. You can instantly sense the B movie quality as the film builds toward its climatic battle between the humans and the vampires. Try and recall another movie where such weapons as a handmade power saw, water balloons, and yes, super soakers, were used to fight off the undead. Youíd be lucky to find another moment like it anywhere else, and itís unlikely youíll encounter another one like it anytime soon.

Another winning element of the movie is the screenplay and the dialogue, written by one of the greatest filmmakers the world will ever know, Quentin Tarantino. Itís clearly his technique of writing and characterization that makes us care about these characters, much like a Stephen King novel. I can certainly say that with exception of a few other movies in the horror genre, acting, writing, and character development was never delivered better in a horror movie than this one.

Video: ***

I had previously owned the original DVD version of the movie, and as far as I can tell, thereís no major difference in the video quality. The quality itself is of top form, other than the fact that it isnít anamorphically enhanced, which is what Disney had been accustomed to doing with the majority of their discs. For what it is, though, it is of clear and crisp form.

Audio: ***

The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is also not that different from the standard disc. The soundtrack and action scenes come through superbly. At the same time, I would have given it a higher rating if some of the gunfire could be heard, as I noticed in a few scenes, where a gun would go off, and yet a shot could be heard, mostly because of the loud musical score. Other than that, itís a fairly good sounding disc.

Features: ****

Now here is where disc excels immensely:  the features department. Other than such discs as Scream 3 and Good Will Hunting, Disney has never thrown this much into a DVD before, neither have they ever issued a 2-Disc collectorís edition, which a lot of studios have started doing. To start off with, on disc number one, there are 3 behind the scenes documentaries, a superb commentary by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, a series of deleted scenes, a trailer as well as numerous TV spots, two music videos, a still gallery, and some of the funniest outtakes Iíve ever seen, most of which consists of George Clooney screwing up his lines, and losing his cool as a result. The second disc is the full-length feature movie Full Tilt Boogie, which is a 90-minute documentary of what went on during the making of the movie. Just about everyone who was involved in the project is included in this film, with the exception of Salma Hayek and Harvey Keitel, who has a very brief scene with Tarantino. By far the best assortment of extras to ever come from Disney.

Summary:

From Dusk Till Dawn is over the top moviemaking at itís best. With the help of a stellar cast, intelligent writing, and good directing, this is one horror film that truly delivers the goods, which is a lot more than I can say for most films in the genre.