90s film icon Quentin Tarantino joined forces with Desperado director Robert Rodriguez on From Dusk Till Dawn. George Clooney and Tarantino himself play bank-robbing brothers who abduct a preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his children to help them sneak over the border from Texas 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?
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: his two directorial credits Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction (which won him his first Oscar), plus True Romance (directed by Tony Scott) and Natural Born Killers (directed by Oliver Stone, although this script was substantially re-written by Stone and David Veloz).
You might think, then, that From Dusk Till Dawn was Tarantino’s fifth effort as screenwriter – but in reality, it was his debut. Tarantino was hired to write the script back in 1990 by Robert Kurtzman of famed make-up FX company KNB. Kurtzman came up with the story and originally intended to direct the film himself.
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, which proved a modest success. Next, the Tales from the Crypt producers considered making From Dusk Till Dawn as the second part of a planned trilogy.
Alas, the producers passed in favour of another vampire movie entitled Bordello of Blood. This opened in August 1996 (seven months after From Dusk Till Dawn) and proved to be a critical and commercial disaster. In fact, Bordello of Blood flopped so hard that 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
Perhaps the most memorable scene in From Dusk Till Dawn features Salma Hayek as the vampire stripper Santanico Pandemonium. The character was presented a bit differently 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
Juliette Lewis co-stars in From Dusk Till Dawn as Kate Fuller. Aged 22 at the time, Lewis had already appeared in a movie with a Quentin Tarantino connection, Natural Born Killers. 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.
The filmmakers weren’t worried about Lewis herself, but the material they were giving her. They considered Lewis (who had been Oscar-nominated for Cape Fear at age 18) one of the best actresses of her generation and feared that playing such a simple teenage girl was beneath her.
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 (as well as playing another, unrelated role in Kill Bill Vol 2). Parks played McGraw again in the 2007 Grindhouse films, Rodriguez’ Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof, before sadly passing away in 2017.
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. 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.
Perhaps surprisingly, one thing Hayek did not do to prepare for the scene was rehearse with a dance choreographer. 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 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 (a debutante actor who’s never appeared in another film) 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.
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. This Seth Gecko mugshot would be used again in another George Clooney movie two years later: 1998’s Out of Sight.
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, as both films are based on novels by influential cult writer Elmore Leonard.
11. The film spawned two direct-to-video sequels, which introduced the character of Edgar McGraw
From Dusk Till Dawn spawned two direct-to-video sequels: 1999’s From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money and 2000’s From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter. The only actor from the original to appear in the follow-up films (both technically prequels) is Danny Trejo, although Michael Parks also has a key role in The Hangman’s Daughter.
Though generally overlooked, From Dusk Till Dawn 2 introduced a character who would return in later Tarantino/Rodriguez films. James Parks (real-life son of Michael Parks) appears 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 series 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. 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, explaining it always annoys him when moments from the trailer don’t feature in the movie itself.
8. Cheech Marin plays three different roles in the movie
Actor Cheech Marin first worked with Robert Rodriguez on Desperado, and they got on well enough for the actor to be invited back on the director’s next film. However, Marin doesn’t just take one role in From Dusk Till Dawn; he plays three different characters. First, we 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 most Tarantino and Rodriguez movies, From Dusk Till Dawn features a killer soundtrack, and one of the standout songs 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.
However, Quentin Tarantino initially assumed that Rodriguez had obtained the rights to one of the band’s existing songs. He didn’t realise it had been composed and recorded specifically for the film until he heard ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons sing the name of Salma Hayek’s character, “Miss Santanico Pandemonium.”
6. A lot of really gross monster FX didn’t make the final cut
Once the vampires show up, From Dusk Till Dawn gets pretty gory. 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 cut, being 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. The character gets his name from the unique firearm he wears as a codpiece. This was a Robert Rodriguez in-joke, as the bizarre weapon had previously made an appearance in his earlier film Desperado. It would later be seen in Machete Kills.
Savini’s casting was also 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. Nor is Savini the only famed FX artist seen on camera: the long-haired guy whose beer he steals is KNB co-founder Greg Nicotero.
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. This role is taken by Brenda Hillhouse, a largely unknown actress who has a special relationship with screenwriter and actor Tarantino.
In real life, Hillhouse was Tarantino’s acting teacher. 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.
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 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 was inspired by Once Were Warriors, the 1994 New Zealand drama centred on a Maori family, many of whom are covered in tribal ink. A big critical success, Once Were Warriors helped build the reputation of New Zealand’s film industry worldwide, as well as launching the careers of director Lee Tamahori and actor Temuera Morrison.
2. It’s the worst-reviewed film that Quentin Tarantino ever wrote (but it still wasn’t a critical flop)
For the first few years of his career, it felt like Quentin Tarantino couldn’t put a foot wrong with the critics. However, many of those who praised Tarantino’s earlier films were left a bit bewildered by From Dusk Till Dawn. 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 screenplay.
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 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, meaning crew members 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.