Posts Tagged ‘Tom Savini’

30. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Michael Parks

It really doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years since “From Dusk Till Dawn” was unleashed upon the world. In fact, it almost feels like it could have happened yesterday… or even overnight. The thing that best serves to keep this movie fresh in the mind is how effortlessly it is able to combine two completely different genres into one beautiful package. Add to that the fact that the script was written by Quentin Tarantino (as his first paid Hollywood writing gig) and an excellent cast of characters, and you have a classic modern horror movie on your hands.

Bank robbing brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) are on the run, both from the FBI and law enforcement of the State of Texas. They’ve already killed a few cops, feds and civilians, and two more casualties soon follow at a liquor store. On top of it all, they’ve also kidnapped a bank clerk, to whom Seth has promised she will live as long as she does all that they ask of her. Unfortunately, Richie has a bit of an impulse control problem. He rapes and murders the woman while Seth has stepped out of their motel room to pick up some hamburgers.

Meanwhile, a family of three driving an RV fatefully stops to rest at the very same motel. Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) is a former preacher who lately has questioned his faith following the death by auto accident of his wife. Jacob and his children, Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu), are to be the Gecko brothers’ next hostages. Forcing Jacob to drive past the Mexican border, the Gecko brothers’ destination is a strip club called the Titty Twister, where are supposed to rendezvous at dawn with a man named Carlos. Until that time, they intend to enjoy themselves, and encourage the Fullers to do the same.

The fun only lasts a short while. After a very sexy show from the featured attraction, Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek), the truth of this place is revealed: All of the employees (the girls, the bartender, the band, Santanico and others) are in fact vampires! Most of the truckers and bikers who’ve shown up to eat, drink and get their rocks off are killed within minutes. Richie himself is bitten and killed by Santanico. When Richie turns, Seth is forced to drive a wooden stake through his heart. By the end of the initial assault, the only ones who still have a pulse are Seth, Jacob, Kate, Scott, Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and Frost (Fred Williamson).

As the survivors commit to dealing with the dead bodies so as to prevent them from rising up again, one of them bites Sex Machine on the arm. Gradually, he turns into a vampire. When he does, Sex Machine bites both Frost and Jacob. As Frost becomes a vampire, he tosses Sex Machine through a door, allowing a second wave of vampire to fly in as bats. Retreating to a storage room, Seth, Kate and Scott and an injured Jacob (wielding a shotgun) make the most out of what they can find to create weapons to be used against the vampire horde. This includes a Super Soaker with holy water (for Scott), a crossbow (for Kate), and a rather phallic pneumatic drill with an attached wooden stake (for Seth).

Going back out into the crowd of vampires, the group begins to fight back. Jacob doesn’t last long before he changes and bites Scott. Kate is forced to kill her father, and then her brother as well. Having lost their weapons in the fracas, Seth and Kate are down to one gun with a scant amount of ammunition. Daybreak arrives, and the sunlight starts to peek through the holes in the walls, made by earlier gunfire. Seth instructs Kate to create more holes, but it’s only partially effective, as the vampires continue to close in on them. Just then, Carlos (Cheech Marin) and his men show up outside. Seth hollers at him to shoot down the doors, which then exposes all the vampires inside to sunlight, killing them in a fiery explosion. Expressing anger at Carlos’s ignorance of just what kind of establishment that the Titty Twister turned out to have been, Seth makes their planned exchange, and give some of the money to Kate. Afterwards, Seth sends Kate on her way back home, while he departs for El Rey, Mexico.

The second-best movie I’ve watched all month (behind only “Psycho”), I have long considered “From Dusk Till Dawn” to be a fantastic movie in every conceivable way. It’s horrific (thanks to wonderful makeup effects from KNB), it’s well-acted… George Clooney in particular is just superb… and expertly written. I love the fact that it’s essentially two movies for the price of one, starting off as a action-crime getaway movie before transforming into a vampire flick at the sixty-minute mark.

I kinda wish we’d seen a little more from Tom Savini’s Sex Machine, as he’s just hilarious. Cheech Marin, a veteran of Robert Rodriguez’s films, plays three roles: in addition to Carlos, he also shows up as a border patrol officer and as one of the vampires. Greg Nicotero (best known today for his directing and supervision of the makeup effects on TV’s “The Walking Dead”), in addition to working on the makeup effects for “From Dusk Till Dawn,” also cameos as a biker from whom Sex Machine steals a beer. Although Nicotero’s character dies off-screen in the final cut of the film, a deleted scene shows that his head is bitten off by Santanico Pandemonium.

If you love the work of Quentin Tarantino but never have bothered with “From Dusk Till Dawn,” you’re missing a lot! Everything that makes a Tarantino script great is present here. If you’re a “Walking Dead” fan and love the gore that the show provides… same answer, except that it probably would have been even better before cuts were made to bring the movie down to an R-rating. Basically, you can’t go wrong. As fresh now as it was in 1996. Two decades from now, you’ll doubtless be able to say the same thing, because “From Dusk Till Dawn,” like the creatures of the night that it depicts, is immortal.


Day of the Dead (1985)

Director: George A. Romero

Starring: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty

If consumerism was the topic for discussion raised by “Dawn of the Dead,” then the overall focus of 1985’s “Day of the Dead” must be communication. With the zombie infestation having spread to the point where humans are now being outnumbered somewhere in the vicinity of 400,000 to 1, gone is the urban environment of “Night of The Living Dead” and the more fun locale of the shopping mall in “Dawn of the Dead.” Instead, these are replaced by one of the only “safe” areas for humans to seek refuge: an underground military base in Fort Myers, Florida. In fact, aside from a couple of guys (named Billy and John) whose main job it is to fly a helicopter, the only civilians present at the base are a team of scientists, with the other dozen or so being military officers. The whole operation hinges on the ability of this handful of survivors displaying the ability to trust one another and maintain civil dialect… and if that were even a possibility, this wouldn’t be a very exciting movie, would it?

Communication has already been made a problem as it concerns the outside world. There is no indication that anyone outside of Fort Myers (including Washington, DC) is even alive, and any way of sending or receiving messages has long been lost to them. When the rescue team takes the helicopter to look for survivors, all that main character Sarah (Lori Cardille) and the others find are deserted towns overrun by zombies everywhere they go. Things aren’t any better back at the base. With commanding officer Major Cooper having died just prior to the film’s events, the scientists are left to deal with the dangerously unstable Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato). Worse still, any chance the scientists might have of getting through to Rhodes is diminished by the bizzarely secretive experiments being run by Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), nicknamed “Frankenstein” by the soldiers.

It is Logan’s belief that, although humans can no longer overtake the zombies with ammunition, there may still be a way to co-exist with them by domesticating the zombies. Reward, he says, is the key. He demonstrates this much with his star pupil of sorts, a zombie he has nicknamed “Bub” (Sherman Howard).  Dr. Logan has managed to condition Bub not to attack humans like other zombies do, instead teaching him to recognize objects like razors, toothbrushes and books. Bub also demonstrates the ability to use a gun (albeit an unloaded one), which angers Rhodes. Knowing that Rhodes would only react more ferociously, what Logan has kept to himself is where he has been acquiring the majority of his test subjects, as they are almost exclusively the re-animated corpses of dead soldiers. This includes the recently deceased Major Cooper.

Also failing to communicate is Private Miguel Salazar, who is involved in a relationship with Sarah. She knows there’s something wrong with him, but he’s not up to sharing with his fellow soldiers the fact that he’s moments away from cracking under pressure. Eventually, his mental instability leads to the death of two of Rhodes’ men. This mistake leads Rhodes to make the latest in a long line of rash decisions, effectively shutting down the scientific operation. If Rhodes had his way completely, Miguel, whose arm was bitten and subsequently amputated, would be shot on sight. Instead, he remains under the protection of Billy and John (Terry Alexander).

Sarah sees clearly that there is no dealing with Rhodes, and that Dr. Logan may be equally insane, and she, Billy and John all agree that the best thing they can do is fly the helicopter out of the base before someone else gets the same idea. With enemies closing in for the kill from all sides, you know it won’t be that simple.

As with “Dawn of the Dead,” this one also boasts make-up effects by Tom Savini. I’m of the opinion that you can really distinguish a Tom Savini horror film from all the rest. There’s just something delightfully grotesque about his work that makes it stand out. A young, long-haired assistant of Savini’s is also worthy of note, not for the fact that he also appears in the film as a soldier but because of what he’s accomplished since then. Learning from the makeup effects master has been beneficial for Greg Nicotero, who is now the lead special makeup effects artist, executive producer, and occasional director and actor for AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

I can’t imagine the pressure that George Romero must’ve been under to top his previous two zombie films. “Day of the Dead” was something of a box-office bomb in its day, and I understand that the original plans to make a more epic picture had to be scrapped when the budget for the film was reduced by about 50%. In all honesty, if you really have to compare this one with what came before, many would probably put “Day of the Dead” a distant third… although I’d personally rank it 2nd, slightly above “Night of the Living Dead.” However that comparison pans out, the movie is exceptional when judged on its own merits. What really cinches it for me are the improved makeup effects and a dazzlingly creepy performance from Joe Pilato. Captain Rhodes, every bit as unhinged a man as the Governor from “The Walking Dead,” is this trilogy’s greatest living character, and proves that, even in a post-apocalyptic world where the dead return to life to eat your flesh, man is still the thing you should fear the most.