The From Dusk Till Dawn series has been on my Netflix list for at least a year, but I’ve kept putting it off, mainly because every time I’ve had the time and inclination to binge on Netflix there’s been another series I wanted to watch more. When I finally got around to it earlier this week, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I knew it was about the Gecko brothers, so it couldn’t really be a sequel (since Richie died in the movie), but it also obviously had vampires, which meant it didn’t quite make sense as a prequel. It somehow never occurred to me that Rodriguez was rebooting his own movie as a series, but that’s what he did.
The first three-quarters of season one follow the movie so closely that you can pretty much plot each episode directly to a scene in the movie. There are a few changes and lots of additions, but the overall story is basically the same. Episode 1 is the shootout with Earl McGraw and Pete at the liquor store, Episode 2 focuses on the Gecko brothers in the car and introduces the Fuller family, Episode 3 is Big Kahuna burgers and the murdered bank teller, and so on. The main plot divergence doesn’t happen until the end of episode 7, which features Santanico Pandemonium’s dance and the big vampire reveal at the Titty Twister, and even then there are a lot of similarities and references to the movie.
Obviously, you don’t expand an hour and change of a movie into seven 45-minute episodes without adding some new stuff. There are some flashbacks (like the bank robbery that the Geckos were making their getaway from) and “lost scenes” (Seth’s burger run was more exciting than you’d guess from the movie, and introduced us to his wife), but most of the extra time is spent on new subplots. Most of the new material builds on things from the movie, but there is one completely new major character: Freddie Gonzalez, Earl McGraw’s partner. He’s involved in the liquor store shootout and spends most of the series trying to catch up with the Gecko brothers and avenge Earl and solve a series of ritual murders that he thinks Richie committed.
Carlos (one of Cheech’s array of characters in the original movie) gets a greatly expanded role in the series that mostly serves to build up the mythology of the (as it turns out, not really) vampires and make a lot more sense of the ancient temple-to-titty bar conversion. The mythology is further developed through the visions Richie keeps getting, which also manage to make his creepy behavior and hallucinations a little less sex-murderer-y. All of this new mythology works to turn the last few episodes into a whole mythic “journey to the underworld” thing that’s every bit as cool as half an hour of vampire-killing carnage (not that there isn’t still plenty of vampire-killing carnage). On the Fuller family side of things, we find out that the death of Jacob’s wife was more complicated than we thought.
The cast is mostly made up of people I didn’t know or who looked vaguely familiar. The guy playing Seth Gecko doesn’t live up to Clooney, but he does the best he can and you get used to him pretty quickly. The actor playing Richie is unsurprisingly better at it than Tarantino, coming across as an actual creepy, nerdy, hardened criminal instead of, well, Quentin Tarantino trying to play a creepy, nerdy, hardened criminal. He also looks more believably like he could be Seth Gecko’s brother (whether it’s George Clooney or the other guy). The girl who plays Kate is much more believable as the teenage preacher’s daughter than Juliette Lewis, but doesn’t really pull off the transformation to vampire killer as well. The rest of the unknowns do a respectable job; there are a few (mostly minor) characters that are pale imitations, but they’re trying to fill roles originally played by people like John Hawkes and Danny Trejo, so you can’t really blame the actors.
Of the recognizable actors, Don Johnson makes a valiant effort as Earl McGraw, but there’s no escaping the shadow of Michael Parks. Robert Patrick does a great job in the Harvey Keitel role early on, but never quite makes the transformation from faithless preacher to mean motherfuckin’ servant of God. Last but not least, Wilmer Valderrama is surprisingly menacing yet stylish as Carlos and (sort of) plays a border guard, but didn’t repeat Cheech’s hat trick by also playing the pussy rant guy. Also the pussy rant was considerably toned down, despite the series containing plenty of violence, a few f-bombs, and nudity. Since the show was created for Rodriguez’s El Ray cable network but also marketed as a Netflix original, they were probably dealing with some weird guidelines for what they were and weren’t allowed to do.
You may notice that so far I haven’t mentioned Sex Machine, the dick-gun wearing biker played by Tom Savini in the movie. Sex Machine is a character in the series and I would like nothing more than to tell you all about him. I can’t, though, because even telling you who played him would be an unforgivable spoiler for something you’ve really got to experience for yourself. If you’ve seen the series, you know what I’m talking about.
When people describe the From Dusk Till Dawn movie, they usually say something like, “It’s an hour of a Quentin Tarantino movie and then it turns into a crazy vampire killfest.” Some say it in a tone of annoyance, confusion, and general distaste. Others say it with the kind of excitement that makes it clear that it’s the most awesome thing ever. I fall into the latter (correct) group, so obviously I enjoyed the hell out of a series that takes the basic premise and adds a layer of well-done legendary secret history that makes even some of the sillier parts of the movie make perfect sense. Those of you who loved the movie as much as I did will probably enjoy the series, though some might prefer the “it doesn’t matter if it makes sense, as long as it’s cool” approach of the film to all the extra context provided by the show. If you didn’t like the movie, I honestly can’t guess what you’ll think of the series because your mind is completely alien to me.
Last I heard, there’s a second season of the series coming sometime this year. Given the way Season 1 ended, I’m not really sure what to expect but I’m willing to give it a try. Probably as soon as it hits Netflix this time around.