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Plot: criminals and hostages end up in bar somewhere on the Mexican border….

There’s no contesting that the ‘90s were pretty dark and abysmal time for the horror genre. Much of it had devolved into thrillers, self-aware or otherwise, on the one hand and comedy on the other. Hollywood had attempted to revive the classic gothic with Frankenstein Unbound (1990), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Interview With the Vampire (1994) and Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) had resurrected (but not necessarily improved) the tired and tiring slasher for an entire new generation. Mexico always had been a steady haven for horror and earned its place in cult cinema history thanks to a handful of titles in the golden age. Who better to bring the Mexican spirit to America than the country’s promising export with the help from Hollywood’s hottest young new talent? From Dusk Till Dawn, or one of the best horror films of the ‘90s, may not reinvent the wheel but it puts a fresh spin on an old formula. What more could you possibly want? Occasionally the Hollywood machine gets something right.

What was From Dusk Till Dawn if not two friends getting together and throwing one hell of a kegger? These two friends just happened to be Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. As the legend goes, Tarantino had offered the script to special effects man Robert Kurtzman to direct but he declined. This prompted Tarantino to hand it to Rodriguez and he gladly accepted. Kurtzman in turn lend his talents to the effects with his Kurtzman, Nicotero & Berger EFX Group. The time was right. Rodriguez had just legitimized himself in the face of the Hollywood bigwigs, first by making El Mariachi (1992) by the skin of his teeth on a very modest budget of $7,000 and he had admirably evinced that he could handle a sizable budget with the remake Desperado (1995) the year before. Presumably something of a diversion in between serious projects Rodriguez and Tarantino threw this curveball in between Desperado (1995) and The Faculty (1998) as well as the 1970s crime epic valentine Pulp Fiction (1994) and the blaxploitation tribute Jackie Brown (1997), respectively. Not only was From Dusk Till Dawn Tarantino’s first paid writing gig (he also executive produced and acted to help his friend Rob out), it’s also somewhat of an anomaly in the filmographies of both as Tarantino and Rodriguez haven’t made a horror before or since. A decade later both would reunite for Grindhouse (2007) but that was more of a valentine to ‘60s/’70s drive-in exploitation rather than a straight-up horror. Eli Roth has done more for exploitation horror than Rodriguez or Tarantino ever did. All quabbles and reservations aside, the spirit of Juan López Moctezuma proudly lives on in From Dusk Till Dawn.

After robbing a bank in Kansas and escaping jail, Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his slightly psychotic and deeply unwell brother Richard (Quentin Tarantino) hold up Benny's World of Liquor where they add store clerk Pete Bottoms (John Hawkes) and Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) to their ever-growing list of casualties. The two are pursued by FBI Agent Stanley Chase (John Saxon) and after leaving the liquor store in flaming ruin the two head to the Mexican border with their hostage bank teller Gloria Hill (Brenda Hillhouse) in tow. They pull in at the Dew Drop Motel in Texas where they bump into the Fuller family. Jacob (Harvey Keitel) has taken his adopted son Scott (Ernest Liu) and daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) on a vacation. Jacob is a minister in the midst of a crisis of faith after the death of his wife. Seth and Richie commandeer Jacob's RV to smuggle them across the border at gunpoint and order to take them to their rendez-vous. The minister is to take them to the Titty Twister bar where the brothers will meet their contact Carlos (Cheech Marin) at dawn providing them shelter at El Rey. Carlos figures that a bar doubling as a stripclub/brothel will offer all the necessary entertainment.

The Titty Twister proudly exclaims to be open from “dusk till dawn” and if Chet Pussy (Cheech Marin) is to be believed they have every kind of girl for every kind of customer. The intrepid gang first meet resistance from bartender Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) who insists that they don’t fit their strict “bikers and truckers only” policy. Jacob is able to negotiate their entry on a technicality. Before long they are introduced to the bar’s main attraction, the devilishly beautiful Satánico Pandemónium (Salma Hayek) whose dance of seduction instantly beguiles and enslaves Richie. When the bar employees reveal themselves to be a reptilian breed of vampires known as culebra the group find allies in tough bikers Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and Frost (Fred Williamson). They are able to hold their own against the first wave, but the things have a nasty habit of resurrecting their previously claimed human victims. As the vampires re-emerge and start to claw down the group must stay alive to reach the liberating rays of daylight.

George Clooney had played a guest role on the CBS hospital sitcom E/R (1984) and just finished his 6-year run as Doug Ross on the NBC medical drama ER (1994-2009). About ten years before Clooney had been in the horror spoofs Return to Horror High (1987) and Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988). Juliette Lewis was the prerequisite Hollywood alternative chick. Her star was rising due to her roles in Cape Fear (1991), Natural Born Killers (1994), The Basketball Diaries (1995), and Strange Days (1995). Harvey Keitel was and is a living legend and has played many iconic roles. Keitel has worked with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Jane Campion, and Abel Ferrara appearing in, among many others, Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), the comedy Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Bad Lieutenant (1992), and The Piano (1993). To top things off, the all-star cast is anchored by pulp cinema pillars Fred Williamson, John Saxon and Tom Savini and Rodriguez regulars Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo. This being a Tarantino script every line Clooney (and every other main character, Fullers excepted) utters is filled with rapid-fire expletives and random profanity. And then there’s her, Salma Hayek.

Salma Hayek as Satánico Pandemónium

No coverage of From Dusk Till Dawn is complete without mentioning, obligatory or otherwise, Salma Hayek. Are we terribly dating ourselves by calling Salma a hot tamale? Hayek’s electrifying performance was a sure-shot to international superstardom, if her sizzling role as the love interest in Desperado (1995) hadn’t done so already. Only Laura Cerón from ER (1994-2009) came close to matching la Hayek. In these times before Eva Longoria, Ana Ortiz, and Selena Gomez; Hayek was Mexico’s biggest export.

What other way to describe Salma other than the best of Bella Cortez, Tina Romero, and Maribel Guardia, combined? Rodriguez obviously was keenly aware of the fact and has Hayek writhing and slithering around suggestively in nothing but a tiny burgundy bikini and feathery headdress while handling a large Albino Burmese Python Reticulus. Tarantino on the other hand uses the opportunity to indulge his well-known foot fetish. First, by ogling Lewis and getting down and dirty with Hayek. If Salma’s scorching dance routine doesn’t get your pulse racing you’re either dead, barren or both. In age-old Hollywood tradition the extras get topless but the main attraction doesn’t. Hayek has a scant few lines but delivers each and every of them with wide-eyed, lipsmacking glee. It makes you long for Ukrainian belly dancer Diana Bastet to re-enact (and expand) the Satánico Pandemónium routine with costume and all. Salma’s delectable shapes and forms turned heads a quarter century ago and continue to do so to this day. In a now legendary 2021 Red Table Talk interview the 55-year-old candidly admitted hers only gotten more sumptuous and bigger with age. As a woman of such enormously gigantic proportions, the price of beauty comes with all the expected physical ailments.

Regardless of how you might feel about Tarantino and his post-modern witticisms From Dusk Till Dawn remains a formidable genre exercise on its own merit. Whether it’s the heist/action of the first hour or the suvival/vampire horror of the last 48 minutes the shift remains as brilliantly executed, seamless in transition and unexpected as when it first premiered. For cult cinema lovers there’s a lot to see if you know where to look. Judging from Hayek’s sultry dance Rodriguez apparently has seen Black Eva (1976). The batscene was clearly inspired by Hammer’s The Kiss Of the Vampire (1963). Once the surviving vampire killers emerge they bear some semblance to those of Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974). The vampires are modeled after the Deadites from Army Of Darkness (1992). Frost’s slaying and ultimate demise echoes one of the earlier Derek enemy kills in Bad Taste (1987).

Sex Machine transforms into a grotesque behemoth rat-vampire monstrosity similar to the rat-monkey in Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992). Hayek’s transformation into her reptile culebra form pre-dates Mallika Sherawat’s in Hisss (2010) by almost fifteen years and neither for that matter does she vocalize only in hisses and moans. Chet Pussy’s often sampled and legendary pussy monologue remains priceless as ever, as does Chango beer and Sleaze tequila. Equally funny is when during the Titty Twister massacre Tito & Tarantula continue to play music on a severed torso and various body parts. The vampires’ demise by daylight is eerily similar to that of the Gremlins in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) or the shambling corpses in A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), you be the judge. Oh yeah, and where else are you going to see a dive bar/brothel built on a Aztec pyramid/temple consecrated to snake god Quetzalcóatl or Coatlicue? Nowhere, that’s where. It also helps that it’s exceptionally gory. It’s a wonder that Hollywood and the censors allowed it.

It wouldn’t be too far off to call From Dusk Till Dawn the Bad Taste (1987) or Evil Dead II (1987) of the nineties. Is it as crazy as some of Mexico’s best horror of yore? Hell, no but for a mainstream Hollywood production it’s more than a little quirky and even mildly insane. People with no cinematic literacy or knowledge still delude themselves into thinking Tarantino is some prodigious genius that reinvents cinema on the regular. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s no denying Tarantino’s visual mastery, vast knowledge, witty writing and technical craft but every single thing he has ever done is taking the exploitation genre of his preference, and blowing it up with all the bells and whistles that come with a massive Hollywood budget. As these things tend to go From Dusk Till Dawn spawned a pair of direct-to-video follow-ups in the form of the unnecessary sequel From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999), the prequel From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (1999) as well as the series From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series (2014-2016). That most, if not all, couldn’t hold a candle to the original was, sadly, expected but at least they built and expanded upon the mythology and characters it established. As of this writing, it hasn’t been tarnished by a modern-day remake/reimagining – hopefully it will remain that way too.

Plot: federal agents and mercenaries wage war over Civil War gold treasure.

In 1993 Malibu Bay Films mascot Dona Speir uttered the prophetic words, “my work here is done” at the conclusion of Fit to Kill, the closing chapter to Andy Sidaris’ multi-decade spanning LETHAL Ladies franchise, a series he had been dedicated much of his life to at that point, or at least since 1985 (although it was conceived as far back as 1973.) Picking up where his father left off Christian Drew Sidaris produced and directed the two expanded universe episodes Enemy Gold (1993) and The Dallas Connection (1994) with his Skyhawks Films in the two years that followed. What Christian Drew would come to learn was that with great boobs comes great responsibility and that you can’t go replacing beloved platinum blonde duo Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton with just about any random pair of boobs and expect the same results. History would record the two Christian Drew Sidaris directed parallel sequels as retroactively serving to link the 1980s and 1990s periods of Sidaris the elder. Holding it all together and illuminating this rather confusing period in LETHAL Ladies history was the Sybil Danning of the 1990s and newly-minted series icon, the late great Julie Strain.

Whereas his father had spent over a decade experimenting with and honing the formula for his LETHAL Ladies when Christian Drew Sidaris stepped into the breach he didn’t have innovation on his mind. Instead he simply branched out out within the existing universe while largely adhering to the same principles as his father. The original LETHAL Ladies were a series of fun-loving spy/action romps set in and around the lush and verdant islands of Hawaii with the thinnest veneer of story as a pretext for an abundance of explosions, shootouts, and funny one-liners. What little story there was largely existed as a preamble to have a rotating bevy of bosomy belles in candy-colored bikinis bounce around and break out the big guns, both literal and figurative, as soon and as often as humanly possible. Sidaris the younger mostly eschews odious comic relief assassins, gadgets and rigged model miniatures and the Hawaii locales have been replaced by Shreveport and Bossier City, Louisiana masquerading as Texas. During his two year tenure stewarding the series Christian Drew tried his darndest to find the right pair (interpret that any way you want) but he never quite was able to recreate the chemistry between Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton. In two years and as many episodes he would try several but only Julie Strain would remain.

Suzi Simpson, Tanquil Lisa Collins and Julie Strain are the main attractions here. Simpson and Collins are the typical Sidaris platinum blonde beach bunnies whereas Strain was not only vertically superior with her towering 6'1½" but she also was entirely stacked with her mouth-watering 40D (90D) bust. Suzi Simpson was Miss District of Columbia Teen USA 1984 and landed a part in a 1984 Pepsi commercial starring Michael Jackson. From there she scored small roles in St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), appeared in the Aerosmith music video ‘Love in an Elevator’ from 1989 as well as Men at Work (1990). She was Playboy's Playmate of the Month for January 1992 and was a regular warm body in many of their home videos. Tanquil "Tai" Lisa Collins was Miss Virginia 1983, was on the cover of Playboy (October 1991) and her alleged affair with senator Charles “Chuck” Robb was subject on an Arny Freytag article "The Governor and the Beauty". As an actress she could be seen in Thunder in Paradise (1994), Baywatch (1995-2000) (for which she wrote several episodes) in 1996 and 1997 and Baywatch Nights (1995-1997) in 1996. Naturally, she figured into the June 1998 "The Babes Of Baywatch" in Playboy. In more recent years Collins has completely reinvented herself and these days is mostly known as a humanitarian and philanthropist.

Kym Malin was a regular in the Andy-verse by this point. She rose to fame with small roles in Die Hard (1988) and Road House (1989) and appeared in Picasso Trigger (1988) and Guns (1990). Stacy Lynn Brown and Angela Wright had no association with Playboy, Penthouse, or Hustler and were purely meant as eyecandy. As beautiful as these women were the series never quite recovered from the loss of Hope Marie Carlton, Liv Lindeland and Cynthia Brimhall. It wouldn’t be until The Dallas Connection (1994) the following year that Julie K. Smith woud join the cast and establish the next generation of LETHAL Ladies. Julie Strain was the kind of woman born to be in an Sidaris flick, dominated every scene she was in and set the new proportional standard.

In 1864, the Battle of Pleasant Hill. General Quantrell (Don Primrose Jr.) orders twelve of his men to break off behind enemy lines and disrupt the Union supply chain and seize a buillion of gold deep in the woods of Bossier, Texas. The men are attacked and slain by Union soldiers but two men manage to flee with the gold in tow. While one of them is mortally wounded a Confederate Lieutenant (Carl Weatherly) buries the treasure on the root of a big tree, marking it with his knife and writing everything down in his journal. Busy committing his story to paper the soldier is killed by an unseen assailant (Marcus Bagwell). More than a century later, in 1993), federal agents Chris Cannon (Bruce Penhall) and Mark Austin (Mark Barriere) are preparing a raid on a farm used in the drug-running business of Bolivian narcos Carlos Santiago (Rodrigo Obregón, as Rodrigo Obregon). They are interrupted by the arrival of fellow agent Becky Midnite (Suzi Simpson). The three quickly lay out a strategy where Midnite will provide a much-needed distraction whereas Cannon and Austin will gather evidence and apprehend and arrest whoever they can find. In the ensuing fracas the three cause massive collateral damage and when Cannon and Austin are making their arrests The Agency division chief Dickson (Alan Abelew) shows up out of nowhere. He summarily suspends the men for not following agency procedure, failing to produce the correct paperwork and using excessive force during their clandestine operation.

The sudden suspension of the three agents raises the flags of team leader Ava Noble (Tanquil Lisa Collins, as Tai Collins) who cross-examines Dickson over his motivations. Now suddenly overwhelmed by unscheduled leisure time the three decide to make the best of the situation. They agree on a camping trip while they’re in the woods of Bossier, Texas. By sheer luck and happenstance the three unearth the hidden treasure. To the outside world Santiago poses as a debonair entrepreneur with his high-end Cowboy’s club & restaurant in Bossier City, Los Angeles, California. Unknown to but a select few, including hostess Kym (Kym Malin) and Santiago’s concubines (Stacy Lynn Brown, as as Stacey Lyn Brown and Angela Wright) it also functions as the heart of his criminal empire. First the Bolivian crimelord orders his incompetent henchmen Rip (Tom Abbott) and Slash (Ron Browning) to take out the agents but when that fails he’s forced to take more drastic measures. For interfering with his operations and causing him to lose $20 million in street value cocaine Santiago calls upon his good friend Jewell Panther, known professionally as The Amazon (Julie Strain) and described as “as deadly as she is beautiful”, picks her up at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with orders to neutralize the federal threat. As Noble digs deeper into Dickson’s case she discovers far too late that he has ulterior motives and that he was corrupt and a compromised asset all this time. As Santiago grows more desperate and The Agency digs deeper into the case a clash between the two factions becomes an inevitability.

If Enemy Gold feels familiar despite not being set in and around Hawaii and featuring none of the classic cast – that’s because Christian Drew recombines several plotpoints and iconic scenes from his father’s original series. Enemy Gold opens with a drug bust gone belly up just like in Savage Beach (1989). An agent of good is in cahoots with the enemy just like Pantera in Picasso Trigger (1988) and the violent tug of war over an ancient gold treasure was used earlier in Savage Beach (1989). The villain is blown up by rocket launcher just like in Picasso Trigger (1988) and Guns (1990). Becky Midnite is prone to wearing tank tops and bootyshorts just as Donna and Taryn in Savage Beach (1989), Picasso Trigger (1988) and Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987). Midnite and Ava Noble are peroxide blondes in the good old Sidaris tradition. Angela Wright, one of the unnamed dancers in the Cowboy’s club, wears the same suspender-hose combo as Cynthia Brimhall in Do or Die (1991). The vacation cabin doubled as a restaurant earlier in Do or Die (1991) and the helicopter killshot was recreated almost verbatim from Do or Die (1991) and Hard Hunted (1992). The prerequisite shower -, hot tub – and dressing scenes are all here and account for much of the nudity. For all intents and purposes Enemy Gold is the lightest redressing of Savage Beach (1989). Christian Drew stays close to his father’s established model but Sidaris the elder’s exercises in spy-action pulp were generally, but not always, funnier and wittier than this.

With Suzi Simpson and Tanquil Lisa Collins manifesting no visible acting talent and Julie K. Smith set to arrive in the next episode all eyes fall on the late great Julie Strain who, quite literally, towers above everybody else. Enemy Gold was Julie’s second go-round as a villain in the Andy-verse – and, unlike the tradition of Sidaris the elder, she would persevere as a villain in The Dallas Connection (1994), the second and last Christian Drew Sidaris production. Likewise would Strain, who played a villain in Fit to Kill, return as an The Agency operative in Day Of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1998) from Sidaris the elder. Something which, lest we be remiss to mention, only Roberta Vasquez preceded her in. Strain is up, front and center in Enemy Gold, eclipsing every other female in the cast and her character is given a seductive campfire dance for absolutely no other reason than capturing Strain’s ample curvature on camera. Nobody watches these things for the story or characters anyway. Everybody in the Andy-verse has a penchant for wearing impractical battle-gear and Jewell Panther – seemingly a recombination of Roberta Vasquez’ Pantera from Picasso Trigger (1988) and Ava Cadell’s assassin Ava from Do or Die (1991) – can be seen strutting around in either lingerie or leather-and-studs worthy of a 1980s metal music video. Most of the time she’s wearing not much at all because why hire somebody like Julie and burden her with trivial things such as clothes? Not that there’s any shortage of boobs.

Sidaris the younger may not have gloriously risen to the occassion by stepping into the limelight and out of his father’s shadow. While Christian Drew kept the bumbling cartoonish henchmen to an absolute minimum he also excised the running gag of remote controlled model planes/helicopters with it. Thankfully the gun-toting, wisecracking, top-dropping action babes were never tampered with and they keep on baring breasts and arms, usually in that order. Rejuvenation was wanted, nay, perhaps needed as old Andy’s formula was started to wear thin and fatigue crept into later episodes. No other series canonized and celebrated the naked female form the way old Andy did (his only closest contemporary probably being Tinto Brass in Italy). Nobody watches an Andy Sidaris flick for the story or the characters and the only depth was, is, and continues to be found in the cleavage of the various ladies. Even in this younger incarnation the Andy-verse remains staunchly Caucasian in every respect. Enemy Gold makes a person nostalgic for the more innocuous times of Malibu Express (1985) when Lynda Weismeier was the most ridiculous of outliers and who had an ass to match. The fixation on proportion wouldn’t become truly problematic until Sidaris the younger dragged his father out of retirement and he duly made his return several years later.