After Quentin Tarantino nabbed the Best Original Screenplay Oscar and a slew of other nominations for his acclaimed 1994 hit Pulp Fiction, not too many people would have anticipated him following that up by writing and co-starring in a gory vampire movie. However, that’s just what happened when he joined forces with Desperado director Robert Rodriguez on 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn, a distinctly different take on the horror movie with the screenwriter’s unique personality very much in evidence throughout.
Starting out as a fairly grounded, dialogue-heavy thriller in the established Tarantino style, From Dusk Till Dawn sees bank-robbing brothers Seth and Richard Gecko (George Clooney and Tarantino himself) abduct the family of recently retired preacher Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) to help them sneak over the border into Mexico. However, once they reach their destination things take a highly unexpected turn, as the criminals and their captives find themselves trapped in a seedy bar with a ravenous pack of vampires.
Did you know the following facts about the bloody blockbuster, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year?
20. Writing the film’s screenplay was Tarantino’s first professional writing job
By the time From Dusk Till Dawn came out, Quentin Tarantino already had four produced screenplays to his name.
You might think, then, that From Dusk Till Dawn was Tarantino’s fifth effort as screenwriter – but in reality, it was his first.
Tarantino was hired to write the script back in 1990, and it was his first professional assignment as a screenwriter.
The story for From Dusk Till Dawn was not dreamed up by Tarantino himself, but make-up FX artist Robert Kurtzman.
- Credit: AMC
Kurtzman is a founder member of prolific make-up FX company KNB, and had worked on such horror hits as Evil Dead 2 and Nightmare on Elm Street 5.
Originally Kurtzman had intended to make his directorial debut on the film – but instead, he simply contributed the make-up FX.
19. It was almost a Tales from the Crypt movie
From Dusk Till Dawn came close to being made as a Tales from the Crypt movie.
The TV horror series (inspired by the notorious EC Comics of the 1950s) branched out into the big screen in the mid-90s, beginning with 1995’s Demon Knight.
After Demon Knight proved a modest success, The Tales from the Crypt producers considered making From Dusk Till Dawn as the second part of a planned trilogy.
However, the producers had to choose between Tarantino’s script and another vampire script entitled Bordello of Blood.
They chose to make Bordello of Blood instead – which proved to be a critical and commercial disaster.
Bordello of Blood flopped so hard, that all plans for a third Tales from the Crypt movie were promptly scrapped.
18. Salma Hayek’s Santanico Pandemonium was written as a white woman called Blonde Death
From Dusk Till Dawn features Salma Hayek as the seductive and deadly vampire stripper Santanico Pandemonium.
Hayek’s appearance in the film has become so iconic, it’s easy to forget that she’s on screen barely ten minutes.
- Credit: AP
The character Hayek portrayed was a bit different from how Quentin Tarantino originally wrote her, however.
In the first draft of the screenplay, Santanico was a white woman named Blonde Death.
When Rodriguez suggested casting Hayek, the role was rewritten accordingly. Her extravagant name was borrowed from a 1975 Mexican horror movie.
From Dusk Till Dawn marked Hayek’s third collaboration with director Robert Rodriguez, following 1994 TV movie Roadracers and 1995 action hit Desperado.
17. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were worried that Juliette Lewis was too good for the role of Kate
Taking fourth billing in From Dusk Till Dawn’s opening credits is Juliette Lewis as Kate Fuller.
Lewis was 22 at the time, and had already appeared once in a movie with a Quentin Tarantino connection.
In 1994, Lewis starred alongside Woody Harrelson in the controversial Natural Born Killers, loosely based on an original Tarantino script.
While Tarantino and Rodriguez were delighted with Lewis’ casting, both men admitted they had concerns when they learned she was interested in playing Kate, daughter of Harvey Keitel’s Jacob.
However, the filmmakers weren’t worried about Lewis herself, so much as the strength of the material they were giving her.
They considered Lewis one of the best actresses of her generation, and feared that playing such a simple teenage girl role might be a bit beneath Lewis, who had been Oscar-nominated for Cape Fear aged 18.
16. Michael Parks’ Earl McGraw became a recurring character in Tarantino/Rodriguez movies
The opening sequence of From Dusk Till Dawn features Michael Parks as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw.
This is a brief cameo, and – spoiler warning – the character doesn’t make it out of the scene alive.
However, Tarantino and Rodriguez were so enamoured with Parks’ turn in the role that they brought him back in later films.
Parks would first reprise the role of Earl McGraw in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol 1. (He also played another, unrelated role in Kill Bill Vol 2.)
He would then play the role again in both of the 2007 Grindhouse films: Rodriguez’ Planet Terror, and Tarantino’s Death Proof.
Parks would go on to appear in the Kevin Smith films Red State and Tusk, before sadly passing away in 2017 aged 77.
15. The role of Seth Gecko was first offered to John Travolta
From Dusk Till Dawn gave George Clooney one of his first major movie roles as hardened bank robber Seth Gecko.
After more than a decade in the business, Clooney’s star was on the rise at the time after he found stardom on TV’s ER.
However, Clooney was not the first actor offered the lead in From Dusk Till Dawn.
Tarantino originally pursued John Travolta for Seth back in the early 90s; at the time, the screenwriter was still considering directing From Dusk Till Dawn himself as his follow-up to Reservoir Dogs.
However, Travolta wasn’t interested in making a vampire movie, and told Tarantino he’d much rather play Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.
The rest is history; Tarantino made Pulp Fiction as his second feature, and he would later offer the part of Seth to Clooney after directing him in an episode of ER.
14. Salma Hayek had to undergo hypnosis to conquer her fear of snakes
Salma Hayek’s iconic dance scene in From Dusk Till Dawn sees her gyrate on stage with an albino Burmese python slung over her shoulders.
There was just one problem: Hayek suffered from a crippling fear of snakes.
To conquer her ophidiophobia, Hayek says she underwent “months” of preparation, including hypnotherapy sessions.
The actress also did intensive research on snakes in order to build “a relationship” with the animal she so feared.
Perhaps surprisingly, one thing Hayek did not do to prepare for the scene was rehearse with a dance choreographer.
- Credit: Fred Prouser / Reuters
This was at the insistence of director Robert Rodriguez himself, who told Hayek to simply feel the music and go with her instincts.
Years later, the director would give much the same instruction to Jessica Alba during the filming of a similar dance scene in Sin City.
13. Ernest Liu’s T-shirt is a nod to John Carpenter’s movie Assault on Precinct 13
From Dusk Till Dawn co-stars Ernest Liu as Scott Fuller, son of Harvey Keitel’s Jacob and brother of Juliette Lewis’ Kate.
Throughout the movie, Scott wears a T-shirt that reads ‘Precinct 13’ – which is a not-too-subtle nod to a key film which influenced From Dusk Till Dawn.
The film in question is Assault on Precinct 13, a low-budget 1976 action thriller from director John Carpenter.
Not unlike From Dusk Till Dawn, Assault on Precinct 13 sees two groups of people from opposite sides of the law forced to team up and fight a common enemy.
The film proved hugely influential, and helped launch Carpenter as a major director. It was remade in 2005 with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne.
Ernest Liu made his acting debut in From Dusk Till Dawn, and he’s never made another feature film since, although he has appeared in some TV shows and short films.
12. George Clooney’s mugshot was later re-used in Out of Sight
Early on in From Dusk Till Dawn, we see a report from a TV news anchor played by the late Kelly Preston.
This sensational news report details the crimes of Seth and Richard Gecko, and briefly shows mugshots of Clooney and Tarantino’s characters.
The Seth Gecko mugshot would be used again in another George Clooney movie two years later: Out of Sight.
The 1998 crime thriller from director Steven Soderbergh is widely credited with saving Clooney’s career after Batman & Robin; it also helped launch Jennifer Lopez.
On a side note, this isn’t the only Tarantino connection in Out of Sight; the film also sees Michael Keaton reprise the role of FBI agent Ray Nicolette, which the actor first played in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.
Out of Sight and Jackie Brown are both adapted from the writing of acclaimed novelist Elmore Leonard.
11. The film spawned two direct-to-video sequels, which introduced the character of Edgar McGraw
From Dusk Till Dawn spawned two low-budget follow-up films which were made specifically for the home video market.
These were 1999’s From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money and 2000’s From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter.
Both films were technically prequels. The only actor from the original to appear in both was Danny Trejo, although Michael Parks also took a role in The Hangman’s Daughter.
These sequels are generally disregarded by all but the most diehard of fans, yet they did introduce one character who would return in later Tarantino/Rodriguez films.
Texas Blood Money introduces James Parks (real-life son of Michael Parks) as Deputy Edgar McGraw (son of Ranger Earl McGraw).
Parks Jr. would reprise this role alongside his father in Kill Bill Vol 1, Planet Terror and Death Proof.
10. There was also a spin-off TV series which ran for 30 episodes
In 2014, after years of success as an independent filmmaker, Robert Rodriguez decided to branch out into television.
The ever-ambitious Rodriguez launched his own TV station, the El Rey Network, broadcast in the US and Latin America.
As a flagship show for the station, Rodriguez decided to relaunch From Dusk Till Dawn as a TV series. (The show was also sold to Netflix.)
The all-new cast included Robert Patrick (who previously starred in From Dusk Till Dawn 2) as Jacob, DJ Cotrona as Seth, Zane Holz as Richie, Don Johnson as Earl McGraw and Eiza González as Santanico Pandemonium.
This time around, two actors from the original movie returned: the ever-present Danny Trejo, and Tom Savini.
From Dusk Till Dawn: the Series started out replaying the events of the movie, then moved into new territory in later episodes.
The show was largely well received by critics and fans, and wound up running for 30 episodes between 2014 and 2016.
9. George Clooney’s line “No thanks, I already had a wife” was ad-libbed
One of the most memorable dialogue exchanges in From Dusk Till Dawn comes when Salma Hayek’s Santanico Pandemonium threatens George Clooney’s Seth Gecko with a life of servitude.
Assuming reptilian form, she hisses, “Welcome to slavery,” to which he replies, “no thanks, I already had a wife.”
This line was not written by Quentin Tarantino; Clooney ad-libbed it on set as a joke.
Originally, director Robert Rodriguez had not intended to keep the line in the final cut of the movie.
However, before editing was complete, studio Miramax put out the theatrical trailer – in which the line was included.
Because of this, Rodriguez decided the line had to stay in, because it always annoys him when moments from the trailer aren’t in the movie itself.
Clooney’s ad-lib was a sardonic comment on media interest in his love life; in reality he had not long since divorced, and at the time had sworn off ever marrying again, until he finally tied the knot with Amal Alamuddin in 2014.
8. Cheech Marin plays three different roles in the movie
Actor Cheech Marin became a big name in the 70s and 80s as one half of comedy double act Cheech & Chong.
Marin first collaborated with director Robert Rodriguez on Desperado – and they got on well enough for the actor to be invited back.
However, Marin doesn’t just take one role in From Dusk Till Dawn; he plays three different characters.
We first see Marin as the guard at the Mexican border who enters the Fullers’ RV in search of the Geckos.
Next, and perhaps most memorably, he appears as the leering announcer roaring obscenities into the microphone outside the vampire bar. (We won’t repeat the bar’s name here; you’ll understand why if you’ve seen the movie.)
Finally, Marin appears in the film’s closing scene as Carlos, Seth Gecko’s connection in the Mexican underworld.
7. ZZ Top wrote She’s Just Killing Me especially for the film – but Tarantino didn’t know that at first
In common with the earlier films of Tarantino and Rodriguez, From Dusk Till Dawn features a killer soundtrack.
One of the standout songs which we hear in From Dusk Till Dawn is She’s Just Killing Me by ZZ Top.
Robert Rodriguez approached the iconic rock trio, as (like the band) he’s a native of Texas, and felt their music had just the right vibe for the film.
- Credit: PRNewsFoto/RCA Records
However, Quentin Tarantino had initially assumed Rodriguez had obtained the rights to one of the band’s existing songs.
It wasn’t until he heard the song playing with the movie that Tarantino realised ZZ Top had written the song especially for From Dusk Till Dawn.
Tarantino twigged when ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons sings, “Miss Santanico Pandemonium,” a direct reference to Salma Hayek’s character.
The From Dusk Till Dawn soundtrack does feature another older ZZ Top track, Mexican Blackbird, plus tracks by The Blasters, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Tito & Tarantula (the latter being the band who appear in the film).
6. A lot of really gross monster FX didn’t make the final cut
From Dusk Till Dawn stands apart from a lot of vampire movies in that there’s not much romantic about its undead creatures: they’re just hideous, blood-thirty demons.
Once the vampires reveal their true nature and the bloodbath begins, some of the gore that ensues is extremely over-the-top.
The filmmakers decided to give their vampires green blood over fears that the level of bloodshed on show would be too much for their desired R-rating.
However, they shot a whole lot more truly disgusting footage which was deemed too excessive for an R-rated film.
This included a vampire (briefly seen in the movie) with a large, ravenous mouth in its stomach, with which it bites off a man’s head.
Another really quite repulsive moment that was censored involved a vampire covered in acne, which – brace yourself now – squeezed its zits and sprayed its victims with acidic juice.
5. Sex Machine’s gun had previously appeared in Desperado
From Dusk Till Dawn features Tom Savini as the macho, whip-wielding biker known as Sex Machine.
His casting was a big nod to fans of the horror genre; for on top of being an actor, Savini is also one of the most revered make-up FX artists in horror history, with credits including Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th.
Nor is Savini the only major horror FX artist seen on camera: the long-haired guy whose beer he steals is Greg Nicotero, a former protege of Savini who went on to co-found FX company KNB with Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman (the latter of whom, you’ll recall, wrote the story for From Dusk Till Dawn).
Savini’s scenes also include a big nod to fans of director Robert Rodriguez, as the character of Sex Machine gets his name from the unique firearm he wears as a codpiece.
This most unusual gun had previously made a brief appearance in Rodriguez’ previous film Desperado.
Nor would this be the last time it appeared in a Rodriguez movie, as it also popped up (so to speak) in Machete Kills.
Third time around, the eye-opening firearm was worn by Sofia Vergara, who also donned a similarly armed bra.
4. Seth and Richie’s first hostage was Tarantino’s real-life acting teacher
From Dusk Till Dawn sees George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino’s Gecko brothers abduct the family of Harvey Keitel’s Jacob Fuller.
However, when we first meet the brothers, they have another hostage: a bank teller named Gloria Hill.
Gloria is portrayed by Brenda Hillhouse – a largely unknown actress who has a special relationship with screenwriter and actor Tarantino.
In real life, Hillhouse – pictured below with Melissa Joan Hart and Susan Kaplan – was Tarantino’s acting teacher.
- Credit: Rachel Murray/Getty Images
At the time, Tarantino was still keenly pursuing acting as well as writing and directing – but he never got the same plaudits for his performances, and to the relief of some fans and critics he has mostly stayed behind the camera since the late 90s.
To date, From Dusk Till Dawn is Hillhouse’s last credit: she previously took minor roles in such TV shows as Happy Days, Dallas and Hill Street Blues, as well as appearing in Pulp Fiction and the Tarantino-directed episode of E.R.
3. George Clooney’s tattoo was inspired by the movie Once Were Warriors
If there’s one thing that really ties From Dusk Till Dawn to the 90s, it has to be Seth Gecko’s tribal tattoo.
The mighty work of body art, which spreads all the way up Seth’s left arm to his neck, helped popularise the tribal tattoo style at the time.
It was George Clooney’s idea that Seth should wear this ink – and he took inspiration from another celebrated movie of the era.
Clooney got the idea for the tattoo from Once Were Warriors, the 1994 New Zealand drama centred on a family descended from Maori warriors.
Once Were Warriors was a big critical success, and helped build the reputation of New Zealand’s film industry worldwide.
Once Were Warriors also helped launch the careers of director Lee Tamahori (who went on to make Bond movie Die Another Day) and actor Temuera Morrison (who appeared in the Star Wars prequels and Aquaman).
2. It’s the worst-reviewed film that Quentin Tarantino ever wrote (but it still wasn’t a critical flop)
Up to the release of From Dusk Till Dawn, it felt like Quentin Tarantino couldn’t put a foot wrong with the critics.
However, many were left bewildered by the Pulp Fiction Oscar-winner’s first foray into horror territory in collaboration with director Robert Rodriguez.
The Hollywood Reporter said the film “fails to live up to the promise of its opening reels”; The Washington Post called it a “tired, humourless pastiche”; and the San Francisco Chronicle felt that, as a team, Rodriguez and Tarantino “reinforce each other’s worst tendencies and misconceptions.”
On reviews aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, From Dusk Till Dawn scores 62% fresh; a respectable rating, but the lowest of any film made from a Tarantino script. (This is not counting Natural Born Killers, on which Tarantino only took story credit as his original screenplay was heavily re-written.)
- Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
For Robert Rodriguez, From Dusk Till Dawn’s Rotten Tomatoes 62% rating is pretty much slap in the middle, as he’s had many films with higher and lower scores.
Tarantino gets his top ratings for both Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, which both score 92%. Meanwhile, Rodriguez gets his highest score for Spy Kids (93%) and his lowest for The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl (19%).
1. The production was almost derailed by the crew going on strike
When From Dusk Till Dawn went into production in 1995, it was the cause of some controversy in the blue-collar end of the Hollywood community.
Although it was a major movie with a reported budget of around $19 million, From Dusk Till Dawn was a non-union production.
This meant that crew members on the movie could be paid less than the union standard, without the same benefits.
Considering what a high-profile production it was, many felt the crew were being taking advantage of.
Tensions ran high on set for a time, and there was a threat of strike action – but eventually, the matter was settled when studio Miramax agreed to provide healthcare coverage to all crew members on the production.