From Dusk Till Dawn
dir. Rodriguez, 1996
In 1996, Quentin Tarantino teamed up with Robert Rodriguez. Separately, Rodriguez and Tarantino had redefined independent film—Rodriguez with his super-cheap, adrenaline-charged El Mariachi, Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs, his sharp neo-noir. Rodriguez had since followed Mariachi with Desperado, Tarantino was still polishing his Pulp Fiction Oscar, and the duo's team-up should have been the next big thing. Except it wasn't.
Tarantino and Rodriguez's new project? A giddy mash-up of action, horror, drama, and comedy. From Dusk Till Dawn was half heist flick, half vampire gore-fest, and with a script by Tarantino, direction by Rodriguez, and a bang-up cast featuring Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Salma Hayek, and some dude from ER, it was poised to be a major hit—but instead, it landed with a thud. Over 10 years later, people still seem confused as to what, exactly, From Dusk Till Dawn is: Its goofy humor isn't reliable enough to make it a comedy, its characters are too unlikeable to make it a legit drama, and despite its gallons of fake blood, it's hardly frightening. But what looked like an ill-advised clusterfuck was actually a spot-on homage to the cheap, pulpy B movies of the '70s and '80s. With its cartoonish gore, surreal dialogue, and a plot right out of Tales from the Crypt, From Dusk Till Dawn was Tarantino and Rodriguez's attempt to make the ultimate grindhouse flick. And From Dusk Till Dawn succeeds fantastically at what it tries to be—it's just that what it tries to be isn't the type of film most critics or audiences consider "good."
So kind of ironically, From Dusk Till Dawn is just as grindhouse—if not more so—as Tarantino and Rodriguez's latest stab at the genre, Grindhouse. But then, Grindhouse is more obvious in its intentions, clearer in its affectation—so maybe this time, with the help of an obvious retro tone, fake celluloid scratches, and inserted soundtrack pops, audiences will finally catch on to what Tarantino and Rodriguez first tried to do in 1996.