Hollywood is rife with stories about small, low-budget pictures which suddenly get some major talent behind them, undergo a rapid infusion of money, and begin to bloat alarmingly as more and chefs begin to fiddle with the recipe. Last Action Hero leaps to mind (naturally, given the metaphor, it leaps through a plate glass window with a barking machine gun in either hand).
But sometimes that doesn't happen; sometimes the influx of "name" talent and a higher budget serves to kick the picture up to a higher level. And such is the case with From Dusk Till Dawn - kindred souls Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez set out to make a kick-ass drive-in movie, and they succeeded.
The Gecko Brothers (George Clooney and Tarantino) are a tag team of bad bongos on the run from the law after their latest bank robbery (a smirking newswoman breathlessly reports the score at "5 Texas Rangers, 8 police officers, and 3 civilians"). They need to get to Mexico somehow, and to that end they take a family hostage (Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu and Harvey Keitel in a surprising performance) and use their RV to sneak past the border guards. The five settle down in a Mexican strip bar to await the Brothers' underworld contact, unaware that they are about to contact an underworld of another sort: the bar is a giant roach motel set up by demonic vampires to trap their next meal.
Did I mention the others in this astonishing cast? Tom Savini, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, Salma Hayek (sigh), Cheech Marin (doing an odd, Peter Sellers multiple role turn), John Saxon, Michael "Jean Renault" Parks, Danny Trejo...
From Dusk Till Dawn is a constant surprise, not only from its sudden shift in timbre an hour into the movie, but in the quality of writing, direction, and acting. Loud, profane and gory, this movie would likely never have gotten made if not for El Mariachi and Desperado, for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction - and the fact that these movies made From Dusk Till Dawn possible makes us love them all the more.
There's a somewhat more full review at the Bad Movie Report.
Included in the package is Full-Tilt Boogie, a feature length documentary on the making of From Dusk Till Dawn. Like most documentaries, you probably won't find yourself watching this more than once, but it does an excellent job of conveying the utter grind of making a movie. The doc is in danger of losing its center when the camera crew, documenting the Union pressures brought to bear on the production, suddenly decide they are Michael Moore and storm a Teamster convention to interview the IATSE official spearheading the effort.
Full-Tilt Boogie is at its best when documenting the disasters, natural and otherwise, that dogged the filming ("No, we weren't supposed to burn up the building's facade - but it looks pretty cool.") and interviewing crew members that normally don't get noticed, like drivers, electricians and grips. Possibly the most telling is the contrast between the personal assistants of George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino. Clooney's assistant has the demeanor of a lady in a 007 movie, while Tarantino's seems no less than a woman mired in the ninth circle of hell.
A lot of people are going to moan and complain that the movie is not anamorphically enhanced; the other 95% of us who are still watching on 4x3 TVs will simply have to make do with admiring the widescreen transfer, which handles the sun-baked landscapes and darkened bar scenes equally well. In an attempt to seem enveloping, sound effects do sometimes cause one to strain to hear dialogue, but rarely to the point of irritation, since the Foley artists seem to be having such a good time.
The box for this two-disc Collector's Edition is one of the oddest I've come across yet: the first disc is in a holder, stuck into the keepcase like a page in a loose-leaf binder. Of course it immediately popped out when I attempted to release Disc 1, and I had to struggle a bit to put it back in. The most unfortunate thing about the packaging, to my thinking, is that the two discs are labeled merely as Disc 1 or Disc 2, with no indication as to what lies on which disc.
As a public service, we are pleased to inform you that Disc 1 contains Full-Tilt Boogie, and Disc 2 is From Dusk Till Dawn, and all the other bonus material.
The initial pressing of this disc contains a glitch. At 70 minutes into the main feature the picture will go black for a second or stop altogether on some players.
Speaking of all that other bonus material, there's quite a bit, besides the aforementioned Full-Tilt Boogie: the usual marketing puff piece, "Hollywood Goes to Hell", the theatrical trailer and umpteen TV spots (in English and Spanish). The disc includes two music videos, one for "After Dark" by Tito and the Tarantulas, the other for "She's Just Killing Me" by ZZ Top. Both are directed by Rodriguez, and the latter features new footage of George Clooney and Salma Hayek (sigh).
Rounding out the promotional stuff is a Still Gallery which moves at its own pace, accompanied by an instrumental version of "After Dark", and Cast and Crew bios, which laudably concern themselves with more than just the high-profile players. They aren't quite complete, though. For example, Salma Hayek's bio (sigh) manages to leave out Roadracers, her first film with Rodriguez.
There's more. Outtakes (more varied and humorous than is usual) and Deleted Scenes and alternate takes, with commentary by Rodriguez and makeup head Greg Nicotero. The deleted scenes include one where Salma Hayek bites Nicotero's head off with her tongue (sigh)! "The Art of Making the Movie" goes in-depth into four major sequences in the movie, skillfully combining the movie with behind-the-scenes footage and narration by Rodriguez and Nicotero. The narration sounds like it may have been excerpted from a longer track. If Full-Tilt Boogie whetted your appetite for the mechanics of filmmaking, this segment goes a long way toward quelling that hunger. There is also some brief footage of Salma Hayek lounging around in her bikini outfit (sigh). Finally there is a brief "On the Set" extra that seems to be composed of footage they couldn't shoehorn in anywhere else.
In contrast, the commentary track by Tarantino and Rodriguez is helpful mainly for gauging how much of a picture is formed by the original script, and how much is added by various personnel throughout the production process. Tarantino puts his finger on why this movie is so eminently embraceable when he states that (quoting from memory here) "Most studio horror movies try to bring in people that don't normally go to horror movies, and that's why they suck. We made a horror movie for horror fans, and invited everybody else to come along."
And until the holographic version comes out with a life-sized Salma Hayek dancing in my living room, this is going to be the ultimate presentation of this movie. And I say goodbye to another member of my laserdisc collection.
Dr. Freex, 11/14/00