This Texas Ranger (Michael Parks) wanders into a local liquor store in the desert near the U.S. border with Mexico and picks up a bottle of beer, then starts shooting the breeze with his friend behind the counter (John Hawkes); after a couple of minutes of small talk he heads off to the bathroom and suddenly the shop assistant has a gun pointed in his face - again. These two criminal types are the Gecko brothers, Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino), who have recently committed robbery and murder, and they'll do anything to get away.
But quite where they end up is meant to be a surprise, except that even in 1996 when this was released, there cannot have been many fans of Tarantino going to see this who would be that shocked at the crunching gear change in plot halfway through. You could observe this collaboration between the man of the movie moment in the nineties and his cohort Robert Rodriguez, no slouch himself in the cult film department, was anticipating their later Grindhouse by telling two stories in one movie, but with From Dusk Till Dawn it was possible to argue they had pulled that off more successfully than what they did with an even more self-indulgent project later on.
Therefore for the first hour you got a gangster thriller of the sort that Tarantino had conjured up for his directorial efforts, and indeed he was originally intended to helm this as well until it was clear it was too much workload for one Quentin to handle. So while he wrote the script, there was a definite Rodriguez tone to the business in hand, sort of the high octane action he made his name with coupled alongside the dialogue Tarantino liked to pen, and he did like to hear his characters talk. Once the Gecko brothers escape the liquor store - and many liked to observe the arrogance of Tarantino cast as Clooney's brother considering their differing looks, but George was cast after many others had to turn the part down - they wind up at a motel.
They have already lost two hostages, but a spare happens to be in the back of their car; alas, Richie is left alone with her as Seth goes out to arrange the meeting point with their partners in crime, and he kills her, what with being a sex offender and all. This is a running theme of having to put up with your sibling because they are family, but it doesn't go anywhere except into the realms of ever more cartoonish violence, with the conclusion to that thread not so much Of Mice and Men and more Mexican soap opera. Just as well it's Mexico where they find themselves for the second half, but they're not alone as along the way the Geckos have picked up three more hostages, a family on a road trip to take their minds off the recent death of the mother. Nothing takes the mind off that like getting a gun in your face, it has to be said.
Though that's nothing in comparison to what's to come, and if you don't want to know look away now. The Fuller family - brother Scott (Ernest Liu in a role which conspicuously did nothing for his career), sister Kate (Juliette Lewis) and most importantly father Jacob (Harvey Keitel) - have their motorhome hijacked to cross the border and get to a strip bar out in the middle of nowhere, Seth keeping them around for a bargaining chip or three. What's vital here is that Jacob has lost his faith which is unfortunate for a pastor, but even more unfortunate for the situation they're about to find themselves in. That amounts to less a serious examination of theology as you'd get in something like The Exorcist, and more down to the fact that things are about to get a lot hairier in a genre swap.
What does that mean? If you don't know, it's that once hyped up dancer Salma Hayek does her snake dance and notices the blood dripping from Richie's injured hand after a brawl, all hell breaks loose which cues the most fun part: the vampires arrive. It's not the most intelligent way to ramp up the excitement, but who cares? Naturally all the characters know about killing bloodsuckers is what they've seen in the movies, which given there's a hefty dose of zombie lore in there to boot (get bitten and you're immediately doomed), that might not be such a bad thing. Seeing bikers Tom Savini and Fred Williamson fighting side by side was worth the price of admission alone, making for a movie that comes closer than many to the exploitation gems Tarantino and Rodriguez worshipped - including their later efforts in that direction, where they just thought about it too much. Plus where else would you get to see such cult actors as vampires? And Tarantino, too. Music by Graeme Revell.