My New Favourite Thing: From Dusk Till Dawn

As an avid consumer of media, I’m often encountering things I consider neat, impressive, bizarre, amazing, and/or worth sharing with those around me. The problem is that I encounter these things way more often than I actually have opportunities to discuss them, between my lax social calendar and tendency to get interrupted by a topic shift. And so I’m introducing a new weekly feature (yes, I know that my update schedule as of late makes “weekly feature” seem hopelessly optimistic, I’m working on it) to share these things as they happen: My New Favourite Thing. And perhaps describing them here will save people having to hear me rant about True Detective or John Mulaney: New in Town until I’m not the only one referencing them in casual conversation.

I will still be the only one referencing them in casual conversation. I have a sickness.

Anyway, let’s kick this off.

From Dusk Till Dawn is a TV show now

Does everybody remember the 90s movie From Dusk Till Dawn? The first full-on collaboration between artistic soulmates Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez? It’s the story of Seth and Richie Gecko, fiercely violent bank robbers, who abduct the Fuller family (an ex-preacher and his two children) in order to use their RV to escape to Mexico. Once in Mexico, they head for a skeevy strip bar catering to bikers and truckers to wait for Seth’s contact Carlos so that the Gecko brothers can retire in El Rey, where Seth hopes his more psychotic brother will find some peace. Except it turns out the bar is an ancient Mayan vampire lair, and the Geckos, the Fullers, and their new pals Frost and Sex Machine have to spend the night fighting off wave after wave of vampires.

I would totally have watched a spin-off movie called “Frost and the Machine.”

What’s fascinating about the movie is how the plot turns on a dime. The first half of the movie is a tense thriller based around the frightened Fullers trying to deal with the hair-triggered Seth and the psychotically violent Richie, in the hopes that Seth will honour his word and release them once everyone reaches Mexico. And then out of goddamned nowhere suddenly there’s vampires all over the place.

Anyhoo, if you have seen the movie, did you ever think to yourself “That was pretty neat, but I wish it had been a little longer?” Like, eight hours longer? Because apparently Robert Rodriguez did. The movie has been turned into a ten episode TV show that’s currently running on Netflix. And I don’t mean Rodriguez has made a TV series set in that world, he has expanded the “Robbers escape to Mexico, oh no there’s vampires” story from the movie into a ten-hour series.

It’s a baffling experiment. On the one hand, I have yet to find anyone who thinks there was eight hours’ worth of story missing from that movie. On the other hand… there are some neat additions. Richie’s a far more interesting character now, and the vampire element is less random. Richie already has a creepy connection to a cult of Mayan snake vampires, and his killings are less a matter of being a creepy psychopath and more being driven by supernatural visions. Richie sees things others cannot, and it’s left him wise in ways but less than sane.

While here in Canada it’s a Netflix original, the series actually debuted on Rodriguez’ El Rey network (named after the Gecko brothers’ planned destination, no doubt), a US cable network targeting Latino audiences. As such, they’re only releasing one episode per week. As such, I’ve been popping an episode on while at work on Saturdays, and emailing a running commentary to my associate Keith, who just finished directing my theatre company’s production of Reservoir Dogs and is one of the biggest Tarantino fans I know. He claims these commentaries are a highlight of his week, so I’m opting to share some of them with you now.

Episodes one and two

In which the ten minute intro scene where the Gecko brothers kill a Texas Ranger and shoot up a convenience store gets stretched into a full hour, and then the Fullers are introduced as some vampire stuff begins to seep into the narrative.

  • I guess this is Salma Hayek’s character being sacrificed by the Mayans? I don’t recall death by snake being a cause of vampirism…
  • I certainly don’t know of any species of boa constrictor that crawls into its victim’s mouth while it’s alive. What the shit was that.
  • Oh good. Because the key to improving the gas station showdown is to make it an entire episode instead of a perfectly succinct action/character beat. And let us really get to know the ranger you showed us dying before the credits. Can’t wait to be given a list of reasons why I should be sad he’s dead. Guess this is how we’re rolling on this show. (note from the present: Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, originally played by Michael Parks, is now played by Don Johnson)
  • Dude playing Seth Gecko is trying to be 1990s George Clooney super hard. George Clooney doesn’t even try to be 1990s George Clooney anymore.
  • Well Richie Gecko is creepy as fuck, so they’ve got that going for them.
  • Did… did they just have a commercial break? On a Netflix original series? Ain’t no commercials, why did you cut as if there were? (I now understand this was designed to have commercial breaks, I did not at the time)
  • Well great. Richie’s insanity is being connected to the Mayan vampire whatnot.
  • And now we’re in episode two, and the family in the RV has arrived. I already like the kids more, although the daughter’s younger. Was the father always dragging his kids to Mexico basically against their will?
  • Still trying to figure out what exactly is going on with Richie. He’s not just crazy like in the movie, there’s something weird going on.
  • Oh. They’re snake vampires. Explains a thing or two.
  • Still not sure what I think. Some of the new stuff is interesting. Some of it is blatant padding. Seems like I’m-a keep watching for the nonce.

Episode three

Apparently I did keep watching, because the commentaries continue. In week three, we continue the trend of spending a whole episode on people who had two minutes of screen time before being killed by Richie in the movie. Also, meet Seth’s ex-wife, who exists in the movie as a reference in a one-liner.

  • Come now, Seth. What exactly about the rest of today suggests that Richie can be left alone with the female hostage?
  • Katie Fuller, the ex-preacher’s daughter, is way cuter than I’m comfortable with.
  • As foretold in the pilot, Big Kahuna Burger makes an appearance.
  • Adrienne Palicki! Yay! Jake Busey. Boo.
  • If you didn’t want to be creeped out by the crazy man’s sketch book, don’t ask to SEE the crazy man’s sketch book.
  • Again with the cuts for non-existent commercials! Did he make this for a network that turned it down? (Again, did not know about the El Rey network at the time)
  • Like his father, Jake Busey can’t act not crazy.
  • So Richie’s Cthulu-crazy, seeing horrible truths, not brain-chemical-crazy. Should probably still not leave him alone with hostages.
  • Be honest, Robert Rodriguez. Was this whole Mayan snake vampire cult/cartel something you always wished you’d included, or a way to make “and then they fight vampires” less jarring than it was in the movie?
  • Also at this rate that’s going to be like episode seven.
  • Oh my god did Jake Busey just try to Jedi Mind Trick the Marshall?
  • Okay, yes, he dumped some bullets on the counter. This is Texas. Is that something people in Texas get to freak out over?
  • 25 minutes. After three episodes we have covered almost exactly 25 minutes of the movie. Honestly, more than I thought.
  • We’ve had a lot of fun here tonight, mostly at the expense of this show, but damned if “The Geckos are being lured to the vampire bar for a larger purpose” doesn’t intrigue me a bit.

Episode four

At this point I think we can firmly declare that whatever complaints and nitpicks I’ve had, this is now a show I watch. I’m better at keeping up on this than half the shows I claim to be a fan of (really got to catch up on Hannibal and Supernatural soon…)

  • Tonight, on “From a Bit Before Dusk Till Slightly Closer to Dusk.”
  • I guess “Jacob Fuller is a drunk” is a better justification for stopping at a motel when you have an RV than “The guy who bought an RV doesn’t understand what they’re for.”
  • What kind of motels have maid service at sunset? That’s crazier than Richie.
  • Uh oh. Looks like the late Texas Ranger Earl McGraw’s protege might be going Cthulu-crazy like Richie…
  • Rest easy. The cantankerous old motel manager remains as vital a part of the story as ever.
  • STOP BREAKING FOR COMMERCIALS YOU ARE ON GOD DAMNED NETFLIX (Okay, look, if you put “Netflix original” at the beginning of the episode, I’m going to make some assumptions regarding format.)
  • I give this show a decent amount of grief, but it’s certainly well cast. I’m sure this statement is unrelated to Katie Fuller in a bikini.
  • Nnnnnnnngggggyyyyyaaa Richie has found Katie in the pool I am so uncomfortable right now
  • Seriously, try to watch Seth Gecko in action and not see it as a 90s Clooney impression.
  • Richie and Kate Fuller bonding is powerfully weird to see.
  • Sure, more Earl McGraw flashbacks. Let’s do that. Otherwise we might reach Mexico by the halfway point of this series.
  • I get it. You paid for Don Johnson, you want to use Don Johnson. But NOT paying for Don Johnson was an option.
  • Tune in next week for “Stuck in line at the border” on “From Pretty Close to Dusk Till It’s Almost Dusk, Honest.”

Episode five

The bank teller hostage and Texas Ranger Earl McGraw each got massively expanded stories for this series, and Seth’s contact Carlos has become a whole new presence, so if one of the next few episodes is NOT titled “Shooting From the Hip: the Life and Times of Sex Machine,” me and this show are having words.

  • Okay. Nearing the halfway point. Let’s rock.
  • Pastor Jacob Fuller is played by Robert Patrick. His ministerial ID is old enough that he still looks like the T-1000. This shouldn’t be a point of interest, yet I’m unable to ignore it.
  • I’ll give them this, the Jacob/Seth banter remains sharp, albeit tainted by being a conversation between Robert Patrick and a high-end George Clooney impersonator.
  • Nobody on the show seems to be having more fun than Wilmer Valderrama as Seth’s contact Carlos. This is more sinisterness than I expected out of Fes from That 70s Show playing Cheech Marin’s third least-threatening character from the movie.
  • Richie, if you want Seth to take you seriously as a strategist, stop acting like a spree-killer.
  • And the moral of tonight’s episode becomes clear early on: if you try to treat severe depression with prayer and positive attitude, don’t be surprised if your wife dies in a car wreck. I mean, getting kidnapped by violent fugitives and eaten by vampires seems like fifty pounds of punishment for five pounds of crime, but part of Jacob’s downfall seems predictable.
  • That said, at least Jacob’s demented determination to drag his kids to Mexico is making more sense.
  • The problem with being Cthulu crazy like Richie is that some of the things you spout might be prophetic (Jacob’s not a demon now, but there’s a long night ahead), but there is no way for any of them to sound not-crazy.
  • Huh. The RV reached the border before the end of the episode. I thought we’d have an extra half hour of RV-related cat-and-mouse to deal with before we got here.
  • Aaaaaand I spoke too soon. Clearly I underestimated how long all of the principal players in this little chase could be stuck in a border crossing traffic jam.
  • Oh, Katie. Asking someone to listen for the word of God is a lot easier when they’re not already being drowned in the word of Mayan Snake Vampire Goddess.
  • “What a fantastic idea, let’s bring another hostage on board.” Took the words right out of my mouth, Richie.
  • Okay, Rodriguez. Show me how the Gecko brothers and the Ranger chasing them can be in the same border queue without the series ending here.
  • Great plan, Jacob. Nothing attracts less attention from border guards than clearly anxious teenagers trying to get into Mexico.
  • Okay, BULLSHIT. That is TWICE that this show has violated one of the core concepts of the movie. First Carlos, now the border guard who inspects the RV? Someone better be played by Cheech Marin pretty damn fast!
  • How do we resolve this tense border standoff? Have we considered throwing some snake vampires at it?
  • Oh, Ranger Gonzalez. Will you ever win?
  • Gonna have to wait a few weeks before we know if snake vampires are bullet-proof or if border guards are just god-awful shots.
  • We reach the Titty Twister right at the half. Just like the movie. At long last dusk! Next week, more dusk!
  • Also: nearly an entire episode spent at the border crossing. CALLED IT.

Next week: a different favourite thing. Before then: hopefully another blog of some sort.

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