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From Dusk Till Dawn, the cult classic genre mash-up directed by Robert Rodriguez, written by Quentin Tarantino and starring George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Tarantino and a bunch of B-movie icons turns 25 in January. To celebrate its silver anniversary, let’s dive into some of the behind-the-scenes facts on the making and legacy of From Dusk Till Dawn.
From Dusk Till Dawn Was Quentin Tarantino’s First Paid Writing Assignment
Quentin Tarantino’s origin story as a movie-obsessed video store clerk who almost overnight became the hottest filmmaker in Hollywood is pretty well known. However, Reservoir Dogs isn’t the script that gave him the ability to dive full on into his career as a writer-director - that distinction goes to From Dusk Till Dawn.
Robert Kurtzman, the special effects and makeup artist who was part of the founding group for KNB EFX Group, conceived the story and wrote a treatment. When it came to actually writing the script, though, a producer pointed him in the direction of a young writer who was making some noise with his scripts Natural Born Killers and True Romance. Kurtzman hired Tarantino to write the script for $1,500, which allowed him to quit his job as a video clerk.
Tarantino did have one condition. As part of the deal for him to write the script, KNB would help him with makeup on Reservoir Dogs (i.e. the infamous ear scene). Tarantino would continue to use KNB for many of his films.
George Clooney’s Flame Tattoo Was Inspired By A New Zealand Movie
Seth Gecko was George Clooney’s first leading role in a film after becoming a TV star on ER. One of the defining characteristics of Seth Gecko is his flame tattoo that runs up his arm and around his neck. The film helped to make similar looking tattoos popular, but Clooney, or Tarantino or Rodriguez for that matter, is not the originator of the idea.
According to Clooney, he first saw the tattoo in the 1994 New Zealand movie Once Were Warriors, which follows a family descendant from Maori warriors and stars Temuera Morrison, or as he is better known to most U.S. audiences, Boba Fett.
Still, Clooney says that he occasionally sees people sporting the design and they reference From Dusk Till Dawn. One such instance, he said, happened at the Oscar nominee luncheon in 2006, when a member of Three Six Mafia - who were nominated (and eventually won) for “Hard Out Here for a Pimp” in Best Original Song - wanted to show Clooney his ink.
Salma Hayek’s Dance Was Done In A Trance Because Of Her Fear Of Snakes
Actors have different processes to get into their roles. Apparently for Salma Hayek, preparing for her role as Santanico Pandemonium required a bit of hypnosis.
When asked to be in the film by Tarantino, he revealed that the dance scene would include an 11-foot snake, which would be a bit of a problem for Hayek considering her fear of snakes. Hayek said she told Tarantino that she couldn’t dance with a snake because of that, who, according to Hayek, said that Madonna would be up for it if she wasn’t. So Hayek came up with a strategy to overcome her fear for the scene.
As she details in an interview with IGN:
... [T]o have to put on a bikini and dance with a snake that’s 11 feet long and make it organic? I went to the extent that I created a relationship with this snake. I mean in my mind it had to have a meaning so that I could go into a trance. I had to go to hypnosis. It was months of preparation for that one dance.
Hayek said at the time that it was one of the most challenging things that she has done as an actress.
Fred Williamson Has Three Rules For Being In A Movie, But He Broke Them For From Dusk Till Dawn
Fred Williamson is a former NFL player who, during his playing career, was nicknamed “The Hammer.” He would then go on to become a major star and producer of blaxploitation movies.
Williamson says that he has three rules when selecting a movie, needing at least two out of three to be in a movie: 1) he can’t be killed in the movie; 2) he has to win all the fights; and 3) he gets the girl at the end of the movie.
However, spoiler alert if you haven’t seen From Dusk Till Dawn, Williamson’s character Frost ultimately satisfies none of those rules, considering he eventually becomes one of the undead. But according to Williamson, in an interview with the Phoenix News Times, after killing a whole bunch of vampires he believed he effectively satisfied his fans and then when he is ultimately killed after turning to a vampire, he said “I went down as an ugly thing and not as ‘The Hammer.’”
From Dusk Till Dawn Went To Battle Against Hollywood Unions
Rodriguez and Tarantino have a long history with Hollywood unions. Most of Rodriguez’s early films were done with non-union crews, while Tarantino is not a member of the Writer’s Guild of America (he is a member of the Director’s Guild, however). From Dusk Till Dawn was another non-union production for Rodriguez, but that almost led to some problems.
In a report from Variety, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) was not thrilled that an $18 million budgeted movie was shooting in Los Angeles with a non-union crew. IATSE attempted to bring the crew into the union, but were rebuked in their efforts by Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender, saying it would add $300,000 to their budget, a number IATSE refuted.
Tensions between the two sides continued throughout production, though ultimately no action was taken by IATSE and, as shown in the making-of documentary Full Tilt Boogie, Miramax eventually agreed to provide healthcare to crew members.
Fire and Other Natural Disasters Hit The Set
The first five weeks of shooting for From Dusk Till Dawn was the bar fight that takes up the second half of the movie and was done on a soundstage in Los Angeles. But once they picked up stakes and headed on location, things got a bit more complicated.
A desert outside Barstow, Calif., was where the facade of The Titty Twister bar was built. While filming one of the final scenes when the bar explodes, the explosion worked a little too well, as Tom Bellissimo, pyrotechnical/mechanical effects designer, told the Full Tilt Boogie filmmakers.
We knew there was a chance of it catching fire, as a matter of fact we knew there would be fire. We just didn’t think it’d be this much fire. That happens. Sometimes the magic works perfectly and sometimes it doesn’t work perfectly.
The crew was prepared to work around the fire and continue shooting, but sometimes it just isn’t your day. Just a little bit later a dust storm hit and production had to be called off for the day.
Mother Nature had one more trick up its sleeve for the production. On the martini shot (the last shot of production) it began to rain, forcing the crew to wait as they needed sunlight to match their previous work. As a co-producer joked in the documentary, they were just “waiting for the frogs it hit.”
From Dusk Till Dawn Was Banned In Ireland
From Dusk Till Dawn’s violence was a critical point in nearly all of the negative reviews that the film garnered, even with the green blood. However, Ireland went so far as to ban the film altogether.
Film censor Sheamus Smith called the From Dusk Till Dawn’s violence “irresponsible and totally gratuitous,” adding “Somebody has to say ‘stop’ to this extraordinary violence on the screen.” According to an article in The Irish Times, the country had recently experienced the Dunblane and Port Arthur massacres.
From Dusk Till Dawn’s ban in Ireland would eventually be lifted in 2004 for release on video.
From Dusk Till Dawn Is Part Of Tarantino’s Shared Universe
All of Tarantino’s films are connected, as he himself has confirmed in interviews, and From Dusk Till Dawn is no exception, even though he did not direct it.
As Tarantino describes it, his films operate in two different realities - the “real world,” i.e. Pulp Fiction, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; the other is the films those characters would go see, like the Kill Bill movies. From Dusk Till Dawn falls into the second category.
Because of that, From Dusk Till Dawn features Tarantino easter eggs like Big Kahuna Burger, as well as Michael Parks’ Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, who appears again in the Kill Bill movies and Grindhouse. Details from Robert Rodriguez's films were also obviously included, connecting them as well.
Rodriguez Calls From Dusk Till Dawn As A Quasi Double Feature
Speaking of Grindhouse, the 2007 event film from Rodriguez and Tarantino was created as a double feature, like how films would often be paired at drive-in movie theaters in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The duo first played around with the idea of a double feature though with From Dusk Till Dawn.
Rodriguez and Tarantino often say that the film is an unofficial double feature, with the first half the kind of crime story that Tarantino was known for at that point, while the brawl with the vampires Rodriguez’s half of the equation.
From Dusk Till Dawn turns 25 on Jan. 19. It is available to watch on streaming, VOD and of course if you own the DVD or Blu-ray.