Julien Neaves, Editor
Last week when Sommer did her Top 5 Action Horror Movies she included 1996 film From Dusk till Dawn. I’m also a huge fan and I didn’t even realise it turned 25 this year (January 17 to be exact). So I figured it would be a good time to revisit the film with a retrospective review.
Now I knew about the two 1999 direct-to-video prequels Texas Blood Money and The Hangman’s Daughter but I heard they weren’t great so I never bothered with them. But I decided to watch them recently so I could review all three films. Editor Jules—working for you. I will not, however, be including the three-season TV series because I haven’t seen it, but Sommer says it’s pretty good (you can read more about it here). So with that out of the way and a Titty Twister-sized SPOILER ALERT for the original film (and a mild spoiler alert for the prequels) let’s get to it. And don’t worry; it won’t take you from dusk till dawn to read it. Jokes! I got ‘em!
From Dusk till Dawn
I remember first watching this film late at night on cable and just being blown away by it. And rewatching it this week I found that being older, and a moderately seasoned film reviewer (*dust shoulders*), I appreciated it even more. Now I think every horror fan worth their salt would have seen the film so I’m not going into any plot breakdown here. And if you haven’t seen it, what are you even doing with your life? En serio.
During my rewatch the first thing that stuck out to me was just how blasted good George Clooney was as steely criminal Seth Gecko. This was his first major Hollywood role (Return of the Killer Tomatoes doesn’t count) and you can tell this was a man with something to prove because he acts his backside off. He really sold it as this ruthless character and any shades of the handsome, charming doctor from ER were long gone. Seth Gecko is just super cool and has so many quotable one-liners.
The casting here overall is just well done. Quentin Tarantino, who also wrote the film, is so good as unhinged Richard “Richie” Gecko that it’s a bit scary. And boy did he get to enjoy his foot fetish. On the Fuller family I enjoyed Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis as conflicted preacher Jacob and assertive daughter Katherine respectively, but Ernest Liu’s character Scott was annoying and didn’t do anything for me.
Do I need to mention that Salma Hayek delivers one of the sexiest vampires and sexiest dance scenes in all of cinema as Santanico Pandemonium? I don’t? That’s good. Less pressure. Moving on. I also had fun with Danny Trejo as Razor Charlie, actor/practical effects wizard Tom Savini as crotch-gun packing Sex Machine (I would wager that was not his birth name), blaxploitation star Fred Williamson as Frost, and my boy Cheech Marin in not one, not two, but three roles: border guard, Carlos, and Chet P—y, the latter offering a whopping 17 varieties of vagina at the Titty Twister (and yes, I counted). Now that is value for money.
Another thing I must mention is how well both the crime thriller aspect and the vampire horror aspect both work. The crime stuff is engaging and thrilling and likely could have stood on its own. But in this case it helps to flesh out the characters and make us actually care about them before everything goes to hell. Except Scott. He’s a twerp. And we actually don’t even see a vampire revealed until about 50 minutes into the movie, and I didn’t mind at all.
But when the vampire stuff gets started it is just a wild, bloody, gory, tragic, darkly humorous blast. So many great vampire designs, practical effects, improvised weapons, and over-the-top deaths. You really don’t get a chance to take a breath until the sun explodes the remaining blood suckers. And again, vampires. Not psychos. Man I love this movie.
Editor Jules Score: 9 out of 10
Part 2: Texas Blood Money
So they dropped two movies in the same year and I think most of the budget went to the third film, because this is some low-budget bovine excreta right here. Firstly, the film is described as a prequel but it seems to be a sidequel because some of the events of the first film are referenced here.
And let’s talk about connections to the original film. There’s an opening scene with Saved by the Bell’s Tiffani Thiessen and Evil Dead‘s Bruce Campbell as lawyers speaking about a client who killed 14 people which I assume is Seth Gecko though I don’t recall them mentioning his name. They are attacked by a bunch of vampires in bat form (well, stupid-looking fake bat form) and this all goes nowhere. There’s also a cop character playing the son of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (who we saw Richie kill in the first film). And we also have a scene in a Titty Twister with Danny Trejo’s Razor Charlie, who has a relatively small role in the film. That’s it.
The rest of the film is about a bunch of criminals trying to rob a bank with some of the members secretly vampires while being pursued by the authorities. And there is a workable cast here. There’s post-T2 Robert Pattison in the lead, future Breaking Bad actor Raymond Cruz, and Prison Break/NCIS actor Muse Watson. But all the characters are flat and boring. The vampire effects, including multiple Halloween store-looking bat shots and weird mouth and skull POV perspectives, look cheap and laughable. The action is lame and the kills derivative. The plot is dull and uninspired. And because it barely connects to the rest of the franchise it is not even worthwhile for completionists.
Whether dusk or dawn avoid this dripping bag of suckage.
Editor Jules Score: 2 out of 10
Part 3: The Hangman’s Daughter
After Texas Blood Money sucked the life out of me I had very low expectations for the third film. But thankfully this seems like where all the attention and budget went. It’s actually a pretty okay film. Yes, it’s the same structure of the original but set in the Old West, but I really didn’t mind all that much. The change of setting was refreshing.
There were some cool characters, including brutal bandido Johnny Madrid (Marco Leonardi), thoughtful journalist Ambrose Bierce (played by Michael Parks and based on the actual Civil war veteran and writer), Jango Fett himself Temuera Morrison as the titular Hangman, Trejo returns as Razor Charlie in a slightly bigger role, and Sônia Braga is here as super sexy vampire queen Quixtla. I mean, she’s no Santanico Pandemonium, but then again, who is. And speaking of easy on the eyes, there was also the lovely Ara Celi as Esmeralda aka the titular Hangman’s Daughter, and the beautiful Rebecca Gayheart as Christian missionary Mary Newlie.
Like the original the first two thirds of the film is a straight-up Western and then everything goes testicles-up at the Old West version of the Titty Twister saloon. And while not on the scale of the first film there are some entertaining scenes of gore and vampire kills. But for me the best part was how it connected to and expanded the lore of the original in a way I saw coming but I enjoyed (I won’t spoil it here).
So if you really want to check out another From Dusk till Dawn film my advice would be to skip the first prequel and just hang out with The Hangman’s Daughter. A little gallows humour for you guys there.
Editor Jules Score: 6 out of 10
So are you a fan of the original film? And what are your thoughts on the prequels? For more vampire content to sink your teeth into you can check out our suggestions below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.