It’s easy to imagine From Dusk Till Dawn as the all-time favorite film of Christian Slater’s film-geek character in True Romance. A deliriously trashy, exuberantly vulgar, lavishly appointed exploitation picture, this weird combo of roadkill movie and martial-arts vampire gorefest is made to order for the stimulation of teenage boys.
Written by Quentin Tarantino in 1990, two years before Reservoir Dogs made him a major cult figure, Dusk is actually two films in one, the longer first section being a brotherly variation on Natural Born Killers, the second coming off as a Night of the Living Dead-tinged offshoot of John Carpenter’s 1976 lowbudget classic, Assault on Precinct 13 – a fact acknowledged by one character’s T-shirt.
What demands attention by a wider audience is George Clooney’s instant emergence as a full-fledged movie star. What also jumps out from the opening scene is a reminder of Tarantino’s indelible touch with dialogue.
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Michael Parks, as a Texas Ranger, gives an uproarious reading of some corking redneck speeches before getting blown away by the unstable Gecko brothers (Clooney and Tarantino), who are headed for a safe haven in Mexico after a bloody crime spree. After the more psychotic of the two, Tarantino’s Richard, needlessly murders one hostage, the boys find new ones in Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel), a preacher who’s lost his faith, and his two teenage kids – Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu).
The Geckos commandeer the Fullers’ RV for the trip over the border, where they pull up at a joint called the Titty Twister, which qualifies as the raunchiest bar on Earth even before the full nature of its entertainment offerings is revealed.
It’s thoroughly juvenile stuff pulled off with lowdown flair and relentless energy by Robert Rodriguez. As the weird kid brother, Tarantino isn’t bad, and generates a few laughs with his straight-faced portrait of dementia and lasciviousness. Keitel is a bit miscast as the solemn ex-pastor, Lewis is at her most subdued.