Year Of The Vampire: From Dusk Till Dawn Remains A Singular And Bloody Cinematic Experience

(Welcome to Year of the Vampire, a series examining the greatest, strangest, and sometimes overlooked vampire movies of all time in honor of "Nosferatu," which turns 100 this year.)

I was fortunate enough to find my way to horror movies at a young age as my mom also loved movies and didn't put too much in the way of content restrictions on me. Admittedly, vampires were never near the top of my list of classic creatures. I was more of a monster man and slasher dude, with "Godzilla" and "Halloween" becoming early favorites. But one fateful lazy Saturday afternoon, my mother told me to sit down and watch a movie named "From Dusk Till Dawn" without telling me a damn thing about it. To this day, I am thankful for that experience because there is nothing I have ever encountered in all of my cinematic adventures quite like it.

Imagine sitting down with this movie and having precisely zero idea what it's about. Imagine watching a young George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino convincingly play a pair of ruthless, murdering criminals attempting to get to Mexico by stealing a family's RV (whilst abducting them in the process) to get there unscathed. The first half of this movie is a straight-up, violent crime flick cut from the cloth of writer Tarantino and director Robert Rodriguez. There are literally no hints whatsoever that it is in any way going to become a vampire movie. Yet, during that magical number at The Titty Twister bar just over the Mexican border, with no warning whatsoever, Salma Hayak's entrancing dance does indeed make the film devolve abruptly, rapidly, and welcomely into a vampire flick the likes of which we've never seen. If I may; f*** yes.

What it brought to the genre

There are plenty of great vampire movies out there, or else we wouldn't be collectively celebrating 100 years of the genre in popular cinema. But it is incredibly safe to say that many, many movies over the years have dealt with more common elements of the lore, with Dracula leading the way. Coffins in castle basements. Stakes through the heart. All of that good jazz. And look, when done well it is very much good jazz, but some 74 years removed from "Nosferatu," a reinvention of the subgenre was very welcome. "From Dusk Till Dawn" was a bold reinvention of vampires because it starts as one thing (and a very good version of that thing, at that) before becoming a vampire movie, one that is wildly unconcerned with treading on familiar territory.

Once The Titty Twister devolves into hell on Earth, the vampires of the bar reveal themselves to devour the patrons, with only Clooney's Seth Gecko and his gang surviving the onslaught, including Tarantino's Richard Gecko, Harvey Keitel's Jacob, Juliette Lewis' Kate, Ernest Liu's Scott, Fred Williamson's Frost, and Tom Savini's unforgettable Sex Machine. Quickly, Seth makes a point to go over what they know about these vampires, not ones from popular culture. These are not slow-moving creatures of the night wearing cloaks. They are hell beasts with sharp teeth and a thirst for blood, coming in all shapes and sizes. These aren't your daddy's vampires; these are hip, Tarantino vampires.

The word fresh gets thrown around a lot in Hollywood, especially in its modern franchise/reboot/nostalgia-fueled engine. But this movie truly does provide a wildly fresh take on something that was deeply familiar in mainstream pop culture at that time. It is one thing to do a movie well when adhering to a formula. It is another thing entirely to throw that formula and the rulebook out the window to do something entirely different — in this case, using a crime flick as a Trojan horse to eventually get to a wholly unexpected vampire picture. Few movies of any kind have ever pulled off a bait-and-switch so effectively.

Nearly 30 years later, it stands alone

There have been near-countless vampire movies both before and since "From Dusk Till Dawn." Heck, the movie even had several direct-to-video sequels and a rebooted TV series on Rodriguez's El Rey Network. But in 100 full years of vampire cinema, nothing — and I do mean nothing — has ever felt quite like this movie. It is a truly singular entry in the well-trodden subgenre. Tell me of another vampire flick where a guy name Sex Machine kills a vampire with a phallic gun attached to his belt buckle. Find me another example of a vampire getting its head cut off and then turning into a four-legged demon monster. Show me any other movie where a Super Soaker and condoms filled with holy water are used as weapons against the undead!

There is no question that this movie has its fans, it wouldn't have become a full-blown franchise if it didn't. But it does feel like in the pantheon of great vampire films that this one gets lost in the flow a bit, perhaps dismissed because it is so widely departed from the familiar tropes that audiences know, or maybe because it is two things that were melded to become one. Whatever the case, "From Dusk Till Dawn" deserves its place amongst the greats in this arena of horror. In the immortal words of Seth Gecko, "Okay vampire killers, let's kill some f***ing vampires!"