Judge Jim Thomas gladly volunteers to be Salma Hayek's footstool.
Our reviews of From Dusk till Dawn: Season One (Blu-ray) (published October 6th, 2014), From Dusk Till Dawn: Season Two (Blu-ray) (published April 16th, 2016), and From Dusk Till Dawn: Collector's Series (published October 3rd, 2000) are also available.
"The world's my oyster, except for the fact that I just rammed a wooden stake in my brother's heart because he turned into a vampire, even though I don't believe in vampires. Aside from that unfortunate business, everything's hunky dory."
In 1996, Robert Rodriguez was coming off Desperado, while Quentin Tarantino was still basking in the glow of Pulp Fiction. Rodriguez directed from Tarantino's script, and thus From Dusk Till Dawn was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. The movie was a surprise hit, marking George Clooney's emergence as a big screen star. The movie sired a number of direct-to-video sequels; Echo Bridge re-releases the first two movies as a double feature.
From Dusk Till Dawn
From Dusk Till Dawn is a great thrill ride, a B-movie hopped up on steroids and crank. The first 30 minutes or so is spent simply getting to know the characters—Seth's devoted to his brother but is also constantly worried about Ritchie losing control. Jacob's on the brink of abject despair, his children his only lifeline. For all of that time, the movie plays out like a standard action flick. Then, in a twinkling, everything changes into a no-holds-barred fight for survival. The direction and editing keep the adrenaline high. A marvelously surreal touch is the transformed band (Tito and Tarantula). They're not only vampires themselves, but they play instruments made from their victims. It sounds silly, and if the camera lingered on the band for more than a split second at a time, it would certainly look silly, but the quick cuts make it work. Rodriguez can't quite top that initial battle; the action itself is wanting, largely because it makes no sense: Our Intrepid Gang is in a secure room connected to the main bar by a long hallway. Instead of killing as many vamps as possible in that confined space, they back the vamps out into the main bar, where Our Heroes can be easily surrounded by vastly superior numbers. By that point, we're invested enough in the characters that we don't mind. (Why, yes, I do realize that I'm overthinking what is clearly a check-your-brain-at-the-door movie. What's your point?)
Acting is a mixed bag. While credulity is strained a bit to accept Clooney as a seedy bank robber (tattoo notwithstanding), his commanding screen presence is the film's biggest asset. Keitel brings unexpected depth to a somewhat clichéd character, and almost manages to pull off some at-times bad dialogue ("I'll be a lapdog of Satan"). Rodriguez uses a lot of clever editing to create Ritchie's psycho vibe, but Tarantino's performance itself just isn't that good. Juliette Lewis' accent gets on the nerves at times, but she does handle the emotional demands of the part well, particularly at the end, when she asks if she can join Seth, not out of any attraction, but simply because she has no idea what else to do. Salma Hayek, of course, just has to show up to get her accolades.
The disc uses the MPEG-4 AVC codec; the film is presenting in 1.78:1 widescreen, modified from 1:85.1. At this point in the game, there's little excuse to use anything other than the original aspect ratio. Video quality is something of a tease; the opening sequence in the liquor store looks fantastic, filling you with anticipation for the glorious high-def carnage that is sure to follow. Sadly, video quality the scenes in the Titty Twister—the bulk of the movie—are sharp, but there's a marked loss of detail in the shadows; the final scenes, outside the bar, looks flat out bad—excessively grainy, with inconsistent colors. The DTS-HD surround track fares better. It has great dynamic range, covering everything from the subtle music accompanying Satanico's dance of the damned to the abject chaos of the battles.
Extras? There are none. Dimension, whose From Dusk Till Dawn: Collector's Series release sported a sterling set of extras, must have only sold Echo Bridge the rights to the movie.
From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money
The first movie kept its tongue firmly in cheek; this first sequel, in sharp contrast, cranks the camp up to eleven. Director Scott Spiegel (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is less concerned with telling a marginally coherent story as he is using as may clever or elaborate shots as possible: A riff on the Psycho shower scene, a number of weird POV shots—a couple of shots look at a victim from inside a vampire's mouth, one including an actual bite, with blood spurting onto the lens. (The shots are vaguely reminiscent of the shot in Little Shop of Horrors looking out of a patient's mouth at Orin Scrivello, DDS.)
You generally don't expect strong technical performance from a direct-to-video release; this film still manages to disappoint, with a fuzzy image. Colors are murky and black levels lose definition in shadows. For some reason, audio is only stereo, but is clear enough. Again, no extras.
The movie is half-baked, and if you're half-baked yourself, this could be a fun little flick. Maybe. To be fair, the filmmakers seem aware of that fact. Hell, they have one of the main characters ask the question that was bothering me throughout the latter half of the movie.
If you don't care about extras, then this is a decent little disc, if only for the first movie. From Dusk Till Dawn has enough style that it can be enjoyed again and again; the sequel doesn't have style so much as gimmicks, and any marginal enjoyment to be had quickly dissipates in the sunlight of a second viewing. If you're even a casual collector, you'll be better off waiting for a better release.
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