It’s not uncommon these days to see a movie made into a TV series, but I don’t ever recall a movie getting remade as a first season by the director of that very movie. This is exactly what Robert Rodriguez did with his 1996 vampire flick, From Dusk Till Dawn.
When I first heard of this a couple of years I was actually all for it, but now that I have seen the first season remake I’m still on the fence about whether I want to follow it into further seasons. Most of my problems with this “remake” stem specifically from the last few episodes where the survivors are forced deeper into the temple. I assumed we would see some really cool and freaky monster vampire things trying to kill them at every turn, but what we actually got was a mind fuck scenario that seriously disappointed me.
The ’96 movie, in my opinion, is perfect from start to finish with the right actors picked to perfection for their roles. For me George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino are the quintessential Gecko brothers, Clooney (Seth) playing brother’s keeper to Tarantino’s (Richie) psychopathic killer-rapist.
A quick refresher on the movie, the first half plays out like an action suspense flick where the Gecko brothers having robbed a bank are in the process of seeking “sanctuary” over the Mexican border to El Rey. Part of this plan involves making a deal with Carlos (Cheech Marin) and meeting him at this remote bar/strip club in the middle of nowhere called, The Titty Twister. It’s their arrival at this bar that triggers an abrupt shift in the movie’s tone, now it becomes a horror action flick where the Gecko brothers, their hostages, the Fuller family, and a few bikers who were already there, must fight to survive till morning against the ancient Aztec vampires that run the bar and use it as a lure for bikers, truckers and all types of low-lifes that would frequent such an establishment.
Anyone who’s seen the movie knows it’s chock full of vampire creatures that have many monstrous forms, one of which involves a vampirized Tom Savini getting his thinker torn off and becoming this really insane looking “were-rat” that proceeds to then try and kill Clooney.
Unfortunately, Rodriguez streamlines the mythology of these vampires for the TV version, giving them all a serpentine motif, in attitude and somewhat in appearance. On one level this makes sense, but this also means that final act FX free-for-all the movie had is no longer present. Don’t get me wrong that final act in the Titty Twister, when all the vampires show their true colors, lock down the bar and basically massacre every one in sight still happens, it just doesn’t involve the kind of “vampiric freakshow” the movie had.
Touching on the Gecko brothers themselves first, Seth is now played by D.J. Cotrona who does a pretty good job channeling George Clooney. I liked his portrayal, but the new Richie now played by Zane Holtz is a whole new animal. He’s not the psychopath Tarantino made him for the movie; he’s a well-trained tactician who’s a whiz at breaking into bank vaults and what seemingly psychopathic behavior he does exhibit is caused by outside influences. Another big change from the movie, Richie is psychic and Santanico Pandemonium, played by Selma Hayek in the movie and Eiza Gonzalez in the series, has been manipulating him from the beginning, calling him, influencing him to kill, moving him and Seth towards their fate at the Titty Twister, for there is a legend in their society about two brothers overcoming . . . something; part of the new plot for this remake is that Santanico is a slave, confined to that temple, and she’s luring the Geckos to her so she can gain her freedom.
Now we move onto the Fuller family, which consists of Jacob (father), Kate (daughter) and Scott (adopted son). In the movie Jacob was played by Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis played Kate and Ernest Lui played Scott. Jacob and his family were on vacation trying to get away from a family tragedy where the mother was killed in a car accident. Jacob used to be a priest but the accident had him questioning his faith now.
In the series Jacob is now played by Robert Patrick, whom I’ve been a fan of since his Terminator 2 (1991) debut, and here he makes a pretty good Jacob. The general sub-plot of having his wife killed in a car accident and it shaking his faith is carried over, but added for the series is the fact that he’s on the run from the police because they believe he was at fault for that accident and his kids don’t know anything about this, though Kate eventually learns why, but not the whole story, which is revealed at the very end.
Jacob’s fate in the movie was to become a vampire and then killed. In the series, he’s bitten but is mercy killed before he transforms.
The character of Kate is younger than her movie counterpart; she’s now at the same age as Scott, which is roughly a teenager. This change didn’t quite settle well with me since Lewis played the adult Kate to perfection and can’t really understand why her TV counterpart was clocked backwards. Madison Davenport plays her in the series and does a fine job, but I prefer movie Kate. Adopted son, Scott, looks to be the same age in both the movie and the series, only difference being Scott in the series (Brandon Soo Hoo) is thinner than movie Scott.
The character of seasoned Texas Ranger, Earl McGraw, is played to memorable perfection by Michael Parks in the movie, which is saying a lot since his character has only one scene in the beginning and is then executed by Richie. This character and Parks’ performance was so popular Tarantino and Rodriguez resurrected him in Kill Bill, Vol 1 (2003), Death Proof (2007) and Planet Terror (2007). I took his Kill Bill and Death Proof appearances to be prequels to his fate in From Dusk Till Dawn but his appearance in Planet Terror kind of erases his Dusk continuity totally because it’s an end of the world flick.
In the Dusk series, Don Johnson now plays Earl and I liked his take. Parks’s version is still the best but Johnson made it his own. TV Earl meets the same fate as Movie Earl, but this time he’s not shot in the head, but in the body, making it a slow death and longer screen time for Johnson, plus choice flashbacks later on in the series keep the character relevant for the entire season.
Aside from Salma Hayek’s Santanico Pandomenium, which gets a lot more screen time and an origin (a second origin I should point since she also got one in the second direct-to-video sequel, 1999’s From Dusk Till Dawn 3: Hangman’s Daughter) there were some other memorable supporting characters in the movie, too. Cheech Marin played three, the aforementioned, Carlos, that shows up at the very end, a border guard, and the Titty Twister’s “greeter.” I don’t ever recall him, or anyone, giving out his name for the bar’s “greeter”, but on IMDB his character is credited as Chet Pussy. Tom Savini and Fred Williamson had small roles, too. Savini played a hardcore biker called, Sex Machine, and Williamson was the Vietnam vet, Frost.
Danny Trejo also made a memorable performance as the bar tender. He shows up again as a vampire in From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999). Sam Medina plays his character in the series briefly for two episodes.
Chet, Sex Machine and Frost are also revived for the series but rather impressively, with only Sex Machine rising up as character integral to the film for a little while. Jake Busey plays him but the change-up here is that Busey is a college professor who specializes in Aztec lore and at night he enjoys putting on leather, equipping his junk with that gun, just like the movie version, and hanging out at dangerous bars. TV version Sex Machine comes off more as a fetishist. It didn’t work for me and TV Chet’s pimping dialogue isn’t even remotely as blue, or as memorable, as Movie Chet’s was. Frost’s TV counterpart is now an Afghanistan vet and they encounter him in the “supply room” in the temple where’s he’s been holing up for some time. It’s a small role designed to give the other characters some warning about what this mind-fuck of a temple can do to you.
When it comes to new characters there are two that are the primary focus. One may be a re-working of a character from the movie. It’s hard to tell, but they do share the same name. As I mentioned before Cheech Marin played three in the movie, one of who was Carlos, the guy Seth and Richie were meeting at the Titty Twister. TV Carlos is played by Wilmer Valderrama (Fez from That 70s Show) and he’s a vampire who pretty much sets Seth and Richie on their journey to the Twister, he’s also a slave. In this series the vampires have a hierarchy, Carlos and Santanico may have control of the Twister and what goes on in it but they answer to higher ups, which are revealed in the series. So, you might call TV Carlos head lackey, and most of what he does is because he’s been in a one-way relationship with Santanico, for she does not entirely reciprocate his feelings.
The second new character is Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia). That’s right, in this version Earl McGraw has a partner, a younger ranger, who’s also so close to him he may be considered family. When Earl is killed at the convenience store Gonzalez promises he’ll follow the Gecko brothers to Hell, if he must, to bring them to justice.
Rodriguez called the movie a short story and this season one remake the novel version and because of that the TV show does a lot of flashbacking to show us how Gonzalez and McGraw met, how Santanico became a vampire, how she and Carlos met centuries before, the car accident that took Jacob’s wife, Seth and Ritchie as children and the abusive childhood they had with their father, among others.
Despite all the sub-plots, character moments (we even meet Seth’s ex-wife) and new mythos for the vampires interspersed throughout, the novel version is fairly faithful to getting the characters from the same point A to point B to point C we saw in the movie. The major set pieces are still present, just with extra meat albeit in some cases meat that tastes a little different. There was a high body count among the main characters in the movie with only Seth and Kate ending up alive at the end, but only two of the other cast members end up dead by the end of season one (Jacob and Sex Machine) with Scott and Richie being turned into vampires, and both being very much “alive” and kicking by the end of the season one credits.
Back on September 16th eOne Entertainment released the complete Season One on separate DVD and Blu-ray editions.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.78:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 (English) DTS-HD Master Audio/5.1 (English) Dolby Digital Stereo Surround—English SDH only subtitles.
The 10 episodes are spread out over three discs with the extra features all on Disc #3. Audio commentaries from various members of the cast and crew are present on the Pilot, Blood Runs Thick, Place of Dead Roads, Pandemonium, La Conquista and TheTake.
Other extras are as follows . . .
- Full Length Trailer
- Best Kills Video
- On Set: Episode 1 Day 1
- On Set: The Making ofFrom Dusk Till Dawn (23:08):
- On Set: Brought to You by General Motors
- On Set: Brought to You by Dos Equis
- Character Bio Featurettes(5:03)
- General Motors Commercial Featuring Seth Gecko
- Dos Equis Commercial Featuring Carlos Madrigal
- Big Kahuna Commercial
- What’s In the Briefcase Spot
- SXSW Featurette
- Q&A From Premiere at Alamo Drafthouse with Robert Rodriguez and Cast(33:59)
At a glance there looks to be a lot of extras, but most are simply ads and commercials for the show. The only quality extras are the commentaries, The Making Of From Dusk Till Dawn (this was also run on the El Rey Network right before the Pilot’s premiere), the Character Bio Featurettes and the Alamo Drafthouse Q&A. Frankly, the rest you could skip. Rodriguez mentions in the Q&A his writers have ideas that go into a 5th season, so this show is probably going to be on for a while.