From Dusk till Dawn is a 1996 American crime and horror film directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Quentin Tarantino. It stars George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis. Although not very successful at the box office, the film has achieved cult status.
From Dusk till Dawn was followed by two direct-to-video follow-ups—a sequel, From Dusk till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, and a prequel, From Dusk till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter. They were both received poorly by critics. Danny Trejo is the only actor to appear in all three, although Michael Parks appears in both From Dusk till Dawn and The Hangman’s Daughter. Rodriguez, Tarantino and Lawrence Bender served as producers on all three movies. In late 2010 it was reported that a possible fourth film in the series may be produced. In late 2013 it was reported that a television series inspired by the film will be written, produced and directed by Rodriguez. The show will explore and expand on the characters and story from the film, providing a wider scope and richer Aztec mythology. The show is planned to be broadcast by Rodriguez’s incoming channel El Rey.
Two brothers, Seth (George Clooney) and Richard “Richie” Gecko (Quentin Tarantino), wanted by the FBI and Texas police for a bank robbery that has left several people dead, stop at a liquor store with the intent of just picking up a state map, but the psychotic Richie kills Ranger Earl McGraw(Michael Parks) and the cashier (John Hawkes) and burns the store down. During the gunfight, Richie is shot in his left hand.
The Geckos are heading towards Mexico, where a contact has arranged a safehouse for them. Along the way they stop at a motel and it is revealed that they had been keeping a bank teller (Brenda Hillhouse) in their car trunk as hostage. While Seth goes out to buy some food, Richie brutallyrapes and murders the teller, which infuriates Seth when he returns.
Meanwhile, Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel), a pastor who is experiencing a crisis of faith, arrives at the same motel with his daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) and his son Scott (Ernest Liu). Realizing that the family’s RV can be used to get them across the border, the brothers kidnap the family, making a truce that if they can make it past the border, Jacob and his family will not be harmed. When the RV reaches the Mexican border, the Gecko brothers hide in the bathroom with Kate, to ensure Jacob will not say anything to the cops or border guard (Cheech Marin). After successfully reaching Mexico, they arrive at the “Titty Twister”, a strip club/brothel in the middle of a desolate part of Mexico, to meet their contact Carlos at dawn. Seth and Richie brutally beat up the doorman to the club, Chet Pussy (Cheech Marin), when he tries to deny the group entry.
Inside, Seth and Richie and the Fuller family approach the bartender but the bartender refuses to serve them and tells them that only bikers and truckers are allowed. This angers Seth since none of the bikers and truckers like them and don’t want them in the bar. but Jacob convinces the bartender that he’s a trucker and Seth and Ritchie and his family are with him as friends. Seth still frustrated and angry begins to drink heavily with his brother, encouraging the entire group to do the same. Richie takes special notice of the club’s star performer, Santánico Pandemónium (Salma Hayek) during an extended solo performance, after which Chet Pussy and some others approach the group, looking to settle the score with the Geckos. In a short confrontation, Richie is stabbed in his already wounded hand, and seeing his blood, Santánico attacks him, undergoing a transformation into a horrific vampire, and bleeds him to death before she meets her own end.
Chaos subsequently ensues as the employees, the strippers and the house band (Tito & Tarantula) are all revealed to be vampires. One of the dancers locks the door, and the vampires start feeding on all bar patrons. Only Seth, Jacob, Kate, Scott, a biker named Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and a Vietnam veteran trucker named Frost (Fred Williamson) survive the attack and quickly establish an alliance in order to survive through the night. Seth convinces the group that Jacob is their best weapon, if he rediscovers his faith, and they also figure out how forming a cross with two objects helps fend off the vampires.
The slain patrons, including Richie, suddenly reawaken as vampires, forcing the group to kill them all. During this second struggle, one of the vampires bites Sex Machine’s arm. While the group is listening to Frost recount an event from his days in Vietnam, Sex Machine transforms into a vampire and bites both Frost and Jacob before being tossed through a boarded up window, which allows many other vampires, in the form of bats, to enter. Seth and the Fullers retreat to a storeroom and improvise anti-vampire weapons, a crossbow, shotgun cross, Holy water and a pneumatic drill from supplies left by prior victims of the bar. The four stage their final assault on the vampires, their weapons proving effective in destroying many of the creatures. During the battle, Sex Machine is killed by Kate and Jacob slays the vampiric Frost. Jacob transforms, but Scott is hesitant to kill him and gets bitten. He manages to dispatch his father and is dragged down by other vampires. Kate follows the wishes of her brother and kills him, also destroying his attackers.
As the sun rises, only Seth and Kate remain alive, surrounded and low on ammunition. Just then, sunlight breaks through the bullet-holes in the bar walls and burns the vampires. Seth and Kate shoot out more holes, which allows them to survive until Carlos and his guards show up. They open the doors, and the sunlight reflects on the bar’s disco ball, killing the rest of the creatures while Seth and Kate flee outdoors as the Titty Twister explodes. Safely outside, Seth confronts a bewildered Carlos (Cheech Marin). Angry over the deaths of Richie, Jacob and Scott, Seth demands that Carlos lower his 30% take for his stay in El Rey and telling them to wait in the bar, to which Carlos reluctantly agrees. Kate offers to accompany Seth, but he declines and gives her some cash before they go their separate ways.
After Kate drives the RV away, the camera pans back to reveal that the “Titty Twister” bar is the top of an Aztec temple partially sunk into a valley wall, most likely the source and true home of the vampire monsters who’ve been spreading their curse for centuries, with many abandoned motorbikes and trucks from their past victims littering its grounds.
From Dusk till Dawn had its world premiere on January 17, 1996. On its first week, the film grossed $10,240,805 in the United States making it the highest grossing film of the week. The next week, the film fell to third highest in the box office where it grossed $4,851,921 being beaten by Mr. Holland’s Opus and Bed of Roses. From Dusk till Dawn earned a total of $25,836,616 on its theatrical release.
Critical reception for From Dusk till Dawn was mixed to positive, earning a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 64%.
Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars and described it as “a skillful meat-and-potatoes action extravaganza with some added neat touches”. In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “The latter part of From Dusk till Dawn is so relentless that it’s as if a spigot has been turned on and then broken. Though some of the tricks are entertainingly staged, the film loses its clever edge when its action heats up so gruesomely and exploitatively that there’s no time for talk”. Entertainment Weekly gave the film a “B” rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, “Rodriguez and Tarantino have taken the let-’em-eat-trash cynicism of modern corporate moviemaking and repackaged it as junk-conscious ‘attitude.’ In From Dusk till Dawn, they put on such a show of cooking up popcorn that they make pandering to the audience seem hip”. However, in his review for the Washington Post, Desson Howe wrote, “The movie, which treats you with contempt for even watching it, is a monument to its own lack of imagination. It’s a triumph of vile over content; mindless nihilism posing as hipness”. Cinefantastique magazine’s Steve Biodrowski wrote, “Whereas one might reasonably have expected that the combo of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would yield a critical mass of nuclear proportions, instead of an atomic fireball’s worth of entertainment, we get a long fuse, quite a bit of fizzle, and a rather minor blast”. In his review for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle called the film, “an ugly, unpleasant criminals-on-the-lam film that midway turns into a boring and completely repellent vampire ‘comedy.’ If it’s not one of the worst films of 1996 it will have been one miserable year”. In Marc Savlov’s review for the Austin Chronicle, he wrote, “Fans of Merchant-Ivory will do well to steer clear of Rodriguez’s newest opus, but both action and horror film fans have cause for celebration after what seems like a particularly long splatter-drought. This is horror with a wink and a nod to drive-in theatres and sweaty back seats. This is how it’s done”.
The soundtrack features mainly Texas blues by such artists as ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan. The Chicano rock band Tito & Tarantula, who portrayed the band in the Titty Twister, appears on the soundtrack as well. The film’s score is by Graeme Revell. “Dark Night” by The Blasters plays over the film’s opening credits.