Episode 44: From Dusk till Dawn (1996) HALLORE’EWIND SERIES

Film chosen and introduced by Matt

When did you first hear the words “Quentin” and “Tarantino?”

The Tarantino explosion of ’96/’97 (for me anyway – most older people were aware of him much sooner, but I was only ten when Reservoir Dogs came out, so give me a break) was a multiple film initiation, as if Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, Desperado, Four Rooms, and From Dusk Till Dawn, were all sat on the QT shelf, just waiting to be discovered. Unlike today, I didn’t have to wait two or three years for a new Tarantino movie – they were all just there. Directed by him or not, I could gorge on them; this major “hit” of perhaps seven, life-altering films in quick succession. It was like finding a great band and sifting through their back catalogue, impressed with everything they did. Quentinmania had gripped my secondary school; not so much the girls though, who I remember were more into Trainspotting at the time, but the lads, certainly.

I first saw Pulp Fiction on a school sick day. It was kindly rented by my mum, as per, due to it being an 18 certificate, top-shelfer. She, of course, chose Mia’s gory, “madman” heroin overdose scene to walk in on, and likely regretted her decision. I was completely gobsmacked. I’d never seen anything like it. Tarantino became the biggest director to me since Steven Spielberg. It was the first evidence of a true auteur. Not just a director; a writer/director. This opened up my mind to what films and filmmakers truly are, or could be. I coveted that “written and directed by” role ever since, in spite of finding it extremely difficult to write my own material; at least until my time at film school, where I was actively encouraged, and directed a few of my own scripts. QT was my “in” to everything cinematic beyond the usual TV repeats of the era’s most popular films, and the accessible, pop cultural, commercial fare surrounding everyone in the ’80s and ’90s.

I saw Reservoir Dogs next, at my friend, Rob’s house. I think his mum rented it this time from the same local video shop; Cav’s (the one I always namecheck on The Rewind Movie Podcast), but I had to leave just before the very end, so I rented it again immediately to catch the full, uninterrupted resolution – after Rob returned his, of course, as there was only ever one copy of anything. Occasionally, villagers would pop in to rent a Hard to Kill and Nico double feature tape, a C. Thomas Howell film perhaps, or something like One Tough Bastard or The Delta Force, and see the dreaded, red “ON LOAN” tab. You’d then have to reserve it and wait a few days.

“I will turn this place into the fucking Wild Bunch if I think that you are fucking with me.”

Seth, From Dusk Till Dawn

On a family holiday in 1994 to Hong Kong, I recall noticing my uncle David had a couple of pretty edgy t-shirts – no doubt from one of the many cheap, unofficial clothing markets there. One was Janet Jackson’s topless 1993 Rolling Stone cover shot with someone’s hands covering her boobs from behind, the other was a bald Woody Harrelson with little, round, red sunglasses and the title, Natural Born Killers. Although the violent and controversial film was directed by Oliver Stone, and disowned entirely by Quentin, who only received a story credit, he was somehow guilty by association and became a notorious, wanted man; his name, a cool and dangerous one. Natural Born Killers was banned outright in Ireland, and delayed a theatrical and video release in the UK due to the Dunblane Massacre. Alongside a VHS of True Romance, a dodgy bootleg copy, or imported version of NBK, circulated my school; possibly from Germany or Holland. It had slightly shoddy, unofficial artwork, and an over-sized, ex-rental style, plastic case.

Desperado was next, as I’d heard it had a QT connection – he appears briefly and tells a piss joke. Notably, it was also my introduction to the incredible Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, and Danny Trejo, who would all pop up in Dusk soon after. This was a VHS purchase first, but I later bought an early El Mariachi/Desperado double bill on a flipper disc DVD. This was my real introduction to Robert Rodriguez, and the concept of low (or no) budget indie filmmaking, as it included his award winning short, Bedhead, an insightful and beyond inspirational, Ten Minute Film School, and feature debut, El Mariachi, with a commentary to end all commentaries on one side, and Desperado on the other with Ten More Minutes, a Hollywood stage follow up to the Ten Minute Film School. It ignited something, and for years, fuelled my interest in independent filmmaking; planting a seed that would eventually send me off to film school to follow in the footsteps of my cinematic heroes (sort of, as neither RR nor QT really attended one). I always told myself I was going for the equipment and the experience, not the education. Above all, I wanted an opportunity to use their 16mm Arriflex and Aaton film cameras, and work with like-minded people.

My contribution to Richmond School’s Tarantino craze was From Dusk Till Dawn, which I owned on VHS on first release in ’97. A lad (previously mentioned in my Demolition Man blog intro as the Lynx deodorant huffer) borrowed it, then lent it to a friend, who passed it on to a mate of a mate, and it was gone forever. But there is an upside to this tragic tale. The DVD I subsequently bought to replace the thieved Dusk tape had extensive bonus features, my favourite ever commentary, a terrific making of in Full Tilt Boogie, deleted scenes, etc. So thank you to whoever nicked off with my video – you actually did me a favour.

I went to college to study journalism for a couple of years when school ended, but the film, TV, and radio modules were all more appealing than the dull, regimented newspaper writing, so with a love of film already burning within me, I pursued that instead. In fact, on our first ever film, Night Class, myself and best mate, Sam, peculiarly thanked Earl McGraw (the Michael Parks character from Dusk) for his inspiration, and included the quote, “We’ll get ’em… we’ll get ’em” in the end credits. Only now do I fully understand how impactful and influential From Dusk Till Dawn, and its makers were.

Dusk (along with Peter Jackson) also inspired my British film on vampire lore, which I attempted to shoot on black and white 16mm, using a clockwork Bolex around 2010. Devlin (eye gouge) and Gali (throat slash) patiently sat for makeup tests by my sister, Anna. Unfortunately, due to a lab error, we lost a lot of footage and were forced to abandon it.

Anna and Matt, Christmas 2013

Sarah Kelly’s insightful making of From Dusk Till Dawn, entitled Full Tilt Boogie, opens with a fictionalised, spoofy segment of Larry Sanders proportions, with Quentin and George playing skewed versions of themselves, mugging, and generally speaking, being faux-assholes. Also, Quentin’s assistant, Victoria Lucai (name-checked in Death Proof during Rose McGowan’s bar story) is sent on an errand to retrieve Tarantino’s treasured Wacky Races mug, as “He needs it on every set.” We meet some lovely people, some strange and wonderful characters, such as adventures in craft service’s Ken Bondy, the sweet art direction team, who sadly burn half the Titty Twister set down by mistake, but discover it still looks great. There’s the 2nd or 3rd AD that doesn’t care about the creative process, and the quirky “career extras.” Among other things, Full Tilt taught me what an AD actually did. Here seems like the perfect opportunity to draw attention to Gali’s excellent first AD work on my 2007 graduation film, The Wilds, along with superb camera assistant, Devlin.

Full Tilt Boogie also interestingly highlights the issues QT producer, Lawrence Bender, faced when selecting a non-union shoot for Dusk. Their hardline rules were against his crew’s approach to filmmaking. In particular, the blurring of lines between departments troubled them, e.g. Rodriguez was the one-man show poster boy; a Rebel Without a Crew, renowned for editing his own work, operating his own camera and Steadicam, and generally speaking, making films in his trademark Mariachi-style. Dusk seems to have been targeted as it featured a successful, high profile, cast and crew. The union could easily make an example of them. In my eyes, Bender and company were essentially standing up for indie film. They fought for their idea of what filmmaking can and perhaps should be. Full Tilt Boogie brilliantly illustrates the possibilities when filmmaking is conducted with a family element; its camaraderie, and on set relationships – romantic and otherwise, feel warm and genuine.

Dusk is not without faults. I favour its practical effects over the shoddy computer morphing, but it’s fine. It’s all a bit schlocky and cheap and nasty at times, but it fits somehow. It’s very 1996. Nothing takes me out of the film, really. I even have a fondness for Ritchie’s “I love you too, Seth” roaring digital face transformation. It was one of the scariest parts of my early viewings. The Superman-vision, hostage in the boot shot during the opening titles nails the feeling RR and QT were after. It’s befitting of exploitation horror, and sets the perfect tone for the dark humor in the vein of something like Evil Dead II. The deleted scenes reveal a few other poorly rendered effects, such as a vamp swooping down to attack. There is at least one seriously dodgy effect in the movie, where Jacob is about to strike Frost and he suddenly melts down. I love the giant animatronic rat! It’s really one for the Fangoria crowd. The CG shot of the bats swarming outside also holds up nicely, and the ace matte painting of the pyramid at the end makes for a worthy closing image.

“Ok, vampire killers. Let’s kill some fuckin’ vampires.” 

Seth, From Dusk Till Dawn

Described as “brothers” by Robert’s ex-wife, Elizabeth Avellan; Robert and Quentin first met on the festival circuit promoting their debut films, El Mariachi and Reservoir Dogs. The duo came together for Dusk due to a duplicitous scheme. One executive told Rodriguez’s agent, if Robert agrees to direct, Quentin will come on board to rewrite. The other told Tarantino’s people, if QT rewrites the script, Robert will direct. The ruse worked and brought the friends together once again after already collaborating on 1995’s Desperado and Four Rooms. At Dimension Films (Scream, Scream 2, The Crow, The Faculty), a division of Miramax, Robert and Quentin got all the perks; 100% approval of casting, promotional materials, and final cut – which was totally unheard of, and no one else had.

I have a real soft spot for Quentin – his honest, emotional nature and innocence actually. The word “geek” gets thrown around, but that’s a little too derogatory and dismissive of someone with such cinematic clout. Yes, he’s a bit eccentric. His twitchy energy and gesticulating in interviews is intolerable to some; Vincent Gallo had a go at him a while back for being a “day and night” California weed king, but if he’s conceiving of, and creating the caliber of movies he does high, then I say leave him be.

To me, Tarantino’s deep film knowledge, unbridled enthusiasm for all things cinema, and undying passion for filmmaking, make him my favourite working director (alongside his buddy and worthy contemporary, Paul Thomas Anderson). He’s the one I leave my house for every single time – to go to the cinema and see a Tarantino film on the big screen. There are almost no directors like that left, and I’ll be heartbroken when he concludes his ten-film directorial run, and retires from filmmaking to be a gentleman of leisure, and work on his novels and film criticism books. I also get the feeling I won’t be alone. Some of these QT naysayers will miss him too, because the saying is true – you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

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