When I popped in From Dusk Till Dawn this morning, something caught my eye that I never noticed before: Robert Kurtzman is credited as the writer. Now, I’ve watched this movie probably 50 times. That name finally registered this viewing, which sent me to computer immediately.
In 1990, Kurtzman was part of the special effect powerhouse KURTZMAN, NICOTERO & BERGER EFX GROUP, INC. (KNB). KNB brought horrors to life through their makeup. They were responsible for Night of the Creeps, Evil Dead 2, Phantasm 2, 976-EVIL, People Under the Stairs, and nearly any horror movie remembered today for its extravagant makeup. (Personal friends with Robert Englund, he also worked on the upcoming film Fear Clinic where I got to see some of his creations come to life.)
KNB paid Quentin Tarantino $1,500 to convert a story Kurtzman wrote into a screenplay. The money allowed Tarantino to quit his day job, and KNB agreed to do the makeup on Tarantino’s debut directorial film Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino was talking to his friend Robert Rodriguez (who had just completed El mariachi) and mentioned the script took place in Mexico. Rodriquez read the script and gave some input on where it needed to go, but was very excited. He said that he would direct it if Tarantino rewrote it. The rest is history.
You can read more about the film’s trivia here.
Although the 90s are not remembered fondly for horror, From Dusk Till Dawn is the (oft-forgotten) classic of the decade. The first half of the movie plays as an over-the-top-killers-on-the-road film, while the second half takes all the reasons you hate those characters and makes it their strength as they become heroes. The weaknesses in the film are small, and the conclusion just leaves you wishing for more.
From Dusk Till Dawn opens in an isolated liquor store in the Texas desert. A Texas Ranger and the owner are having a conversation, and the Ranger excuses himself to the back to use the bathroom. Suddenly, Seth and Richard Gecko (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) emerge with hostages from their hiding spots. After accusing the owner of signaling the Ranger, they hear the toilet flush. They head back to their hiding spots, but then a gunfight erupts when Richie can’t control himself.
Richie is shot in the hand, and the brothers head towards the Mexican border. Seth was in jail for a bank robbery, and Richie helped him escape. The two are leaving a trail of bodies across Texas in their wake. They stop at a seedy motel with a hostage they have been keeping in the trunk.
While at the motel, Seth spots a family pulling up in an RV. He has an idea, and decides to allow them to drive the brothers across the border. Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) has left his post as a pastor after his wife’s death. His two kids (Kate and Scott) are along for the ride. Kate (Juliette Lewis) questions her father’s emotional state, while Scott (Ernest Liu) seems ambivalent and cold. After being taken hostage at the hotel, the group makes its way to Mexico.
After successfully avoiding detection at the border, Seth begins celebrating as a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulder. He informs Jacob that they will part ways after they meet up with their contact at a bar called the Titty Twister. Unfortunately, the bar turns out to be a den of vampires that lures travelers in and then feast. The group is forced to defend itself from the vampires in a bloody final act.
Tarantino’s trademark style is unmistakable in From Dusk Till Dawn’s first half. The story, the dialogue, and the style all scream Tarantino. But the second half is a different story. The film takes off into blood and fantasy, and the special effects are outstanding. The vampires are all green blooded (to avoid censorship issues), and slimy as all hell. Standard vampire mythology rules here (wooden stakes, holy water, etc), but there are many gorier features added to it. One vampires head is pulled off, and he becomes a giant rat. Newly risen vampires are all roided up, and the older vampires look to be emaciated (but still strong). They turn into bats, and they use human bodies as instruments (which is just awesome). (From Dusk Till Dawn was written to showcase KNB’s special effects, and it does.)
Seth is an iconic character with his badass attitude, leather vest (no shirt), and the tattoo. Richie is more generic, but his character is a tortured soul that you’re not sure whether to feel sorry for or just put to death (no questions asked). Kate becomes a great character as the movie progresses, while Scott stays bland. Jacob is Jacob. We are also introduced to phenomenal bikers: Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and Frost (Fred Williamson). They’re caricatures, but they are awesome.
Excluding the Fuller family, everybody is a horrible person. But the movie asks us to put up with this in the finale as there are far worse things out there. It’s an odd turnaround, but one that works. The only transformation that had me questioning reality was Kate’s. Kate is just a teenage girl, and somehow she picks up a crossbow and does Buffy the Vampire Slayer moves (with outstanding accuracy as well). Everybody else dies trying to make this conversion, but she does it flawlessly. It works for the movie, but she just sticks out like a sore thumb sometimes (despite playing the part well).
From Dusk Till Dawn is an outstanding piece of work. The stars aligned for Robert Kurtzman as he managed to grab up and coming stars Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and George Clooney for this film. It has Tarantino’s trademark style at the beginning, but it becomes a Kurtzman gorefest at the end. It’s a great movie, and definitely worth a watch.