JUNE 6, 2011
I'm pretty shocked that Dimension gave From Dusk Till Dawn to Echo Bridge instead of Lionsgate, considering its pedigree. It may not have been a huge box office hit, but it's still a movie from their golden boys, and apart from maybe Scream has had the longest shelf life of all Dimension films. Yet instead of sending it to the Gate along with the Screams and QT's other movies (not sure about Robert Rodriguez's), it went to the Bridge along with the DTV Children of the Corn and Hellraiser sequels. Ouch. But maybe they couldn't break a franchise, and thus its the existence of From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (and the woeful third film) that will likely keep the original from ever getting a good Blu-ray disc.
I rented the film back when it first hit VHS in 1998 or 1999, but apart from a colorful line from Muse Watson regarding the porno film they are watching, I couldn't remember a damn thing, and it's possible that I never even finished it. The entire 2nd half of the film (when they actually rob the vault) was a complete mystery to me, as was the fact that the film's scares were bat-based more often than not, with the (presumably more expensive) full vampire designs making very brief appearances. KNB returned to do the FX, but either their heart wasn't in it or they didn't offer the production a reduced fee, because the movie's plot seems designed to keep full blown vampire sequences at bay.
However it kind of works in the movie's favor, because it doesn't feel like a reduced budget remake of the original. The third film aped the original's structure nearly beat for beat, which just glorified its problems - this movie may not be as exciting, but it has its own identity, and once I got past the cheapness I found myself having a good time. Basically what happens is similar to the opening of Dark Knight, with the robbery crew systematically taking each other out, except instead of killing them they are turned vampire. It's unclear what main vampire Duane Whitaker (who co-wrote the script with director Scott Spiegel) was trying to accomplish with this; if he was trying to increase his share why not just kill them? But it's still a quirky little scenario, with hero Robert Patrick gradually realizing he's being outnumbered in the human/vamp ratio.
It's also got a laid-back charm that I enjoyed. Everyone on the team has their strange little quirks, such as the fact that Jesus (Raymond Cruz) is training his dog for a dog fighting ring by having it run endlessly on a treadmill, or Brett Harrelson's character having to deceive his wife about where he's going for the weekend by donning a bunch of fishing gear. And there's even a lengthy debate over what constitutes a good porno, which is just an attempt to deliver some QT style dialogue, but at least it's profane and not out of nowhere like most 90s wannabes (as they are all sitting around watching a porno as they wait for their contact).
As with Intruder, Spiegel's approach to directing seems to be "let's put the camera in as many weird places as possible!", which was the only other thing I remembered. Some are inspired, like when he mounts one on an oscillating fan, with the actors moving into the shot in time, but others are just plain obnoxious - a phone cord? A combination dial? Also, just about every single death is seen from inside the victim's skull, which again, is funny once or twice but is grating the 4th or 5th time. But when he's putting the camera in more traditional spots, or staging action scenes, he proves to be a lot better than your average DTV guru, which makes me wonder why he hasn't had a more prolific output. One thing he does do very well is use mirrors (and vampires' lack of reflection in them) for a number of cool moments, like seeing a guy get smashed into a mirror by the unseen vampire behind him. Stuff like that I'm all for - just keep the damn camera out of people's shoes or whatever the hell.
In terms of how it works as a sequel, it's a mixed bag. I like that they mention the Geckos and set one scene in the apparently rebuilt Titty Twister (with Danny Trejo popping up as the twin brother of his original character), but they botch one major aspect - women! Many an adolescent fantasy was born from Salma Hayek's dance, and the other ladies of the bar were no slouches either (hell some of them still looked hot as vampires). And Kelly Preston never looked hotter than she did in her 30 seconds of screen time. But here? There are only four women in the entire movie, with the hottest (Tiffani Amber-Thiesen) only appearing in the opening scene, with the others not leaving much of an impression (they don't last more than a scene or two either). And if you prefer the opposite sex, your choices aren't much better: Whitaker, Muse Watson, Bo Hopkins, Woody Harrelson's brother that looks like Chris Kattan... they're not exactly going to make you forget about Clooney. And no one is as memorable as the original's characters either; it's fun to see Robert Patrick playing a lead hero, but his character is hardly a great one, and the supporting characters have nothing on Sex Machine or Frost.
Needless to say, this new Blu-ray transfer is pretty lousy, looking sub standard DVD at times with some lined overlay blanketing the entire image off and on throughout the movie. Detail is nil, dark scenes are murky... everything I've come to expect from these discs over the past month. Since I'm about to watch it properly (plug #2!) in a few weeks I didn't watch all of the first film, which is on the same side of the disc, but it didn't look much better. Detail and colors were slightly improved, but if someone were to walk in they wouldn't believe you were watching a Blu-ray disc until you took it out of the player and showed them. However, it IS at least anamorphic, unlike the special edition DVD, so if you're a stickler for that sort of thing, I guess it's worth the "upgrade", though honestly it doesn't look any better than simply zooming in to correct the anamorphic issue on your DVD, and that release has all those great bonus features that this one, of course, lacks. But if you don't own the sequel and want to, this would be the one to get, as the original DVD didn't have any extras (or an anamorphic transfer) either, so this one will take up less space, and as a "bonus" you get a sub-par copy of the original movie.
What say you?