Our review of From Dusk Till Dawn / From Dusk Till Dawn 2 (Blu-ray), published May 30th, 2011, is also available.
Vampires. No Interviews.
From Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) and Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction) came the rollicking tongue in cheek extravaganza combining the action, crime, and horror genres From Dusk Till Dawn. Not to be taken seriously, this film combined gore, violence, foul language, gore, nudity, and gore. Perhaps the ultimate drive in exploitation flick; I still love it. After a very long wait Dimension Home Video (a Disney variant) replaces the sad movie only version with a full-on two disc set that has a wealth of extras. Oddly, we still get the same non-anamorphic transfer from the original DVD and laserdisc even though an anamorphic transfer exists. Leave it to Disney on that count to lag behind the leaders in all things DVD. Still a great disc set overall and one I'm happy to own.
Facts of the Case
Seth and Ritchie Gecko (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) are two criminals on the run, having left quite a few bodies in their wake on the way to Mexico and freedom. Seth is a professional thief with a much cooler head than his brother Ritchie, a psychopathic rapist and serial killer. After a bloody opening scene at a liquor store (worth seeing for Michael Parks (Then Came Bronson) all by itself, we follow the pair as they move on to kidnap an ex-preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two kids (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) in order to aid their escape using the family's motor home. Once in Mexico (after a hair raising scene at the border) they stop at The Titty Twister, a strip bar in the middle of nowhere. Here they only need to wait for dawn for the arrival of Carlos, the Gecko brothers contact who will lead them to El Rey and freedom. Here the movie turns on a dime and becomes a classic horror vehicle as the bars employees and some of the inhabitants turn out to be vampires. Carnage ensues as the remaining patrons (including one of my favorites Tom Savini, an icon of horror films), kidnappers, and hostages all must band together to survive.
We can forget all talk about high drama and meaningful exposition and story here. This was meant to be a drive in movie exploitation flick that nods its head in admiration for the B-movie genre. That so many talented people were able to get involved in it makes it one of the best of its kind.
This was the film to first feature George Clooney as a leading man on the big screen. Batman and Robin notwithstanding, he proved he had the chops and star quality to carry the film. He provided a palpable sense of menace while somehow remaining likable throughout the film. Quentin Tarantino, who has never been considered as fine an actor as he is a screenwriter or director, pulls off the psycho Ritchie perfectly, and this is his finest role. Early in the film is a well-done scene which shows things from Ritchie's point of view, and explains and captures his sociopathic outlook. Harvey Keitel keeps his machismo in check as the preacher suffering from a crisis of faith, until he must battle the spawn of Satan and comes into his own. Juliette Lewis has a solid and believable performance as Kate, the young and awkward daughter who rises to the occasion when things get heavy. Fred Williamson joyfully works in every character from every exploitation film he has ever been involved in, and Tom Savini is in his element as the athletic tough guy named Sex Machine. Cheech Marin, a staple of Rodriguez films, plays no less than three parts (and his "Pussy" speech in the middle is one of the high points of the film) which adds for several laughs as he reappears. Last but not least, Salma Hayek pulls off an erotic dance worth the price of admission, though sadly keeps her top on.
While Robert Rodriguez was the director, Quentin Tarantino was the writer and one of the stars of the film, so this is as much a collaborative effort as the vision of a single director. It is evident that both styles of filmmaking are combined, with shots that are trademarks of either director included. The editing is classic Rodriguez though, and that is not a bad thing. Tarantino's snappy dialogue works well, though it isn't up to the level of some of his other films.
While you can see both Rodriguez and Tarantino's fingerprints all over this movie, it also has some differences from anything they've done before. The first half of the film works as a "normal" take on killers on the run, but then you get to the second half where suddenly the killers are good guys compared to what wants them for lunch inside the bar. From this point on the film goes for pure schlock horror, with gore, flying body parts, more gore, decapitations, and more gore. Not for the squeamish or those who look down on B movie fare, but I love it. It's on my list for watching again Halloween night.
The original release of the film on DVD was underwhelming at best. Non-anamorphic transfer and no worthwhile extras were the norm on all Disney discs of the time. Though I have several pages worth of rants about Disney stored up still (I haven't gone there yet because bashing Disney is just soooo easy), I must admit that many of their newer releases have had anamorphic transfers and substantial extra content. This release seems to be a combination of the old, bad Disney and the newer, somewhat better incarnation. No one will have any complaints about lack of extras this time around, unless you already own the laserdisc. This 2-disc set is chock-full of bonus goodness. The disc the movie is on (oddly Disc Two) has most of the extras marketers give "bullet points" for. First up is the commentary track with Rodriguez and Tarantino ported over from the laserdisc. It may be a rehash, but it is a good one, as both (especially Tarantino) swap stories and provide information every second during the film. It is entertaining, as both are happy to be there and seeing it again. Next up are 6 minutes of outtakes, which mainly show how many times Clooney took to get a line out. The 13 minute featurette "Hollywood Goes to Hell" is next which is a purely promotional piece but does have some information and humorous moments, followed by the theatrical trailer. Five TV spots run in sequence when you enter the next menu item. Two music videos, one from Tito & Tarantula and the other from ZZ Top, offer songs used in the film done in stereo. A still gallery comes next, with photos coming in sequence set to music from the film. Moving on to the second page of extras, comes the best of the featurettes on this disc, called "The Art of Making the Movie," which takes four sections of the movie and really dissects them from a filmmaking and special effects standpoint. 5 minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes come next, with or without commentary from director Rodriguez and makeup effects guru Greg Nicotero.
A short 2 minute featurette of hijinks on the set come next, appropriately titled "On the Set." Thorough cast and crew bios finish out the extra content on this disc.
The extras aren't over by a long shot, as you finally get to move to Disc One. Here we get the feature length documentary Full Tilt Boogie, which chronicles in minute detail the making of the film, and goes deeper behind the scenes than virtually any similar feature I've ever seen. This documentary doesn't focus on the director or the stars, though they're part of the show as well. Instead you get a close up look at all the other people who made the movie happen; truly a behind the scenes look. Grips, personal assistants, 2nd 2nd directors, assistant cameramen; these are the real stars of Full Tilt Boogie. These people and their lives are a big part of the film, but it also puts everything into the context of making From Dusk Till Dawn. Week by week we progress along with the crew as they make the film; but it also deals with the union troubles encountered since it was a non-union shoot. It seems the producers had as much to deal with from the union as they did seeing the film get finished. A full 100 minutes in length; this is one of the best "Making Of" pieces I've ever seen.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is outstanding. The soundtrack, like the video transfer, is the same as the first DVD release (and the second laserdisc), but this was done right. Aggressive use of all channels combine with fantastic bass response and terrific dynamic range to create a spacious, deep soundstage. Music and sound effects come at you from all sides and directions, in a barrage that keeps up with the frenetic pace of the second half of the film. The audio for Full Tilt Boogie is just stereo, befitting a documentary, but is clear enough.
As you can tell, I'm not pleased with the decision to rehash the laserdisc transfer once again, especially since it isn't anamorphic. But I have to admit that the picture isn't that bad. In fact, for a non-anamorphic transfer on a 4:3 television, its pretty darn good. Colors are represented especially well, without bleeding or blooming. Some grain and sometimes murky shadow detail are the only real flaws, but despite them the film looks very nice. Full Tile Boogie is shot in full frame, with varying degrees of detail and grain, but this is done with handheld cameras on location and was never meant to be the same picture quality as a polished feature film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Here is the real rub about the video transfer. There already exists an anamorphic transfer for this film, from a Hong Kong release. Choosing to use the same old rehash for its third incarnation is simply criminal. For many, this will spell the death knell for a purchase (or especially a re-purchase) of this disc. For shame.
With the exception of the other disc containing Full Tilt Boogie, this is basically the Dolby Digital laserdisc set ported over to DVD. Owners of the laserdisc will have to decide if the documentary is enough to warrant another purchase. The way I look at this is that there are millions more DVD owners than ever bought a laserdisc player and they deserve to see these features too. This excellent set of bonus features, and the documentary as well, are well worth the $29.95 retail price.
Moving back to the film, this isn't high art. The special effects range from very good to decidedly cheesy. Continuity isn't exactly perfectly adhered to, and the film has it's tongue lodged far into its cheek. This flick doesn't try to be any more than it is. For what it is, it is very good. Full of wit, self-parody, and respect for films like the Evil Dead series, it is a high-energy romp and nothing more. I will say for those concerned that this film stretches the R rating about as far as I've ever seen. It's raw, violent, and gory. Plenty of nudity as well, though in my own personal opinion this means much less than graphic violence. But then I'm not a holdover from the Puritan era like the MPAA.
Yes, it is a rehash from a laserdisc, and yes there is no new anamorphic transfer. Still, for the price and the wealth of extra content, I have to give this my recommendation. Kick back, have a beer, and enjoy the flick, preferably with friends.
Disney is fined $10,000 for not using an already existing anamorphic transfer, or better yet, making a new one from a hi-def master. Otherwise the disc is acquitted for the fine soundtrack and tons of extras; and the film gets an instant acquittal from me for all its mindless gore and violence, naked ladies and foul language, and everything good from a B movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
• Commentary Track
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