In 1996, Robert Rodriguez unleashed the vampire/robbery thriller “From Dusk Till Dawn” unto the world. I will admit that I LOVED this movie when it came out. I actually saw it in the movie theatre three times. There was never anything quite like it. The first half of the movie begins as a simple heist flick with a western feel, with the Gecko brothers (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) having just robbed a bank and on the run to the Mexican border. At the midway point, the Geckos meet up at a designated spot across the Mexican border, the trucker stop/strip club “Titty Twister”. The defining midpoint of the movie features a dance by Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek, in one of the sexiest roles ever put to film), the end of which brings the reveal that the strip club is actually a vampire den. The movie then becomes a vampire action movie out of the blue and the remainder of the film becomes survival horror.
I was always amazed by the complete 180 that “From Dusk Till Dawn” took and how it melded the two genres of western/heist and horror. When I found out that Rodriguez was adapting the film for television, I was intrigued and was not sure how the material would play out. After watching this series, I can say that Robert Rodriguez has once again bent the storytelling medium. This time, he has done something that I’m not sure has been done before: he has taken his movie’s overall plot and expanded the story into a ten-episode series for the new El Rey Network. The overall story arc of the movie has been retold in ten episodes, with expanded background and origin stories, as well as a few new characters. Each episode of the series tells a small slice of the movie’s storyline.
All of the characters from the movie have been recast and the new actors bring new life to the roles. The Gecko brothers are played by DJ Cotrona (the Clooney character) and Zane Holtz (Tarantino). Cotrona does a pretty solid Clooney impression but manages to add a bit more likability to the character of Seth Gecko. Holtz is probably the biggest revelation as Richie Gecko; he takes Tarantino’s two-dimensional creeper character and adds a deep third dimension to the role. He reminds me of a younger Michael Shannon, who is one of my favorite current actors. Tarantino’s Richie seemed to simply be a creepy pedophile, but on the TV show, Holtz’s Richie has been possessed by Santanico Pandemonium and is haunted by her visions through a ceremonial knife used for ancient sacrifices.
The Gecko brothers are being hunted by Texas Rangers Earl McGraw (played by Don Johnson) and new character Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia). Don Johnson chews every bit of scenery given to him like a pro. Jesse Garcia’s Ranger Gonzalez is tenacious and swears to follow the Gecko brothers to the gates of hell (which is almost accurate by the end of this season). It turns out that Gonzalez has a rich bloodline that grants him special powers.
Along the way to Mexico, the Gecko brothers end up taking the Fuller family hostage, just like in the movie. This time, the patriarch of the family is played by Robert Patrick (previously played by Harvey Keitel). His children are portrayed by relative newcomers Madison Davenport and Brandon Soo Hoo. The Fuller family are on the run from their own lives as the mother of the family died in unusual circumstances (which are explained by the end of the series).
As the Geckos and Fullers make their way to the “Titty Twister” and eventually begin the swapover to vampire story, we learn more backstory about all of the characters as well as some more background on the vampires. The vampires are unlike any vampire I’ve previously seen on TV or in movies. This show’s vampires’ lore explains that these vampires are actually reptilian as opposed to the classic vampire bat. The origin of Santanico Pandemonium was due to possession by snakes, rather than bats. It is an interesting spin on the classic vampire origin.
If I had one complaint for this show, it would be the casting of Santanico Pandemonium (played by newcomer Eiza Gonzalez). Perhaps it is because Salma Hayek’s Santanico was so iconic, but the new actress just doesn’t compare. Of course, the character is given far more depth and backstory on this TV show, but the actress simply isn’t as breathtaking.
Two other characters that are repurposed are Carlos and “Sex Machine”. Carlos was originally the man that the Geckos were meeting at the Titty Twister in the movie, but on the show, Carlos is a vampire masquerading as their human point of contact. In the movie, “Sex Machine” (originally played by Tom Savini) was a fellow human at the Titty Twister who was mainly defined by having a gun shaped like a penis that fired from his crotch. On the show, the character is played by the scene-stealing Jake Busey, and he is an anthropologist on the hunt for this vampire civilization.
In summation, I really enjoyed this revision of the “From Dusk Till Dawn” story. The new actors and expanded storylines really fleshed out the movie’s original plot without feeling like the show was a redundant exercise. The series has been renewed for a second season and I am curious to see where this show heads next, as the first season pretty much followed the storyline of the movie. Perhaps I need to watch From Dusk Till Dawn 2 and 3 in preparation?