HELLABRATION DELUXE! Thirty-One Days of SHOCKTOBER: Day Ten – 10/10/18

10/10 – 1996: SCREAM/FROM DUSK TILL DAWN

1996…It was a draw for me; too tough to narrow down the list of all the great flicks I had to choose from. I finally managed to whittle it down to two: SCREAM, and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, and even then, I just couldn’t bring myself to choose between them. Both are as important and influential to the genre during this time, yet both are certainly unique: one redefined what fans had thought of the teen slasher genre, while the other took vampire lore to a whole new place unconsidered up to that point.

Legendary director WES CRAVEN had always been an innovator of modern horror, re-establishing himself in several sub-genres over the course of many decades. With LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, he’d done things that most directors in the field never achieve over the course of their entire careers. So when he was looking for the next big thing, he wasn’t even considering sticking with horror, when he crossed paths with a brilliantly subversive script by DAWSON’S CREEK scribe KEVIN WILLIAMSON; a nicely-nasty little number called “SCARY MOVIE”, which was soon to beretitled…SCREAM.

Snarky, self-reverential, almost to the point of being a bit too “nudge-winky” at times, nevertheless, SCREAM never once forgot to bring the laughs, the scares AND the gore in ample supply.  A slasher of teens begins to decimate the youth population of the little bedroom community of Woodsboro, but if that wasn’t bad enough, said killer seems to be every bit as smart as the “Scooby Gang wanna-be” group of horror-loving kids, who soon realize that their stalker not only knows the ‘rules of horror’ as well as – if not  better than they do, and he’s not only using the playbook to take them out one-by-one, but he (or she?) is even bending and changing the rules! Much like Williamson’s TV creation, the cast couldn’t have been more suited as an ensemble, even though the standout was DREW BARRYMORE, if only for the mere fact that she pulls a “Janet-Leigh-in-PSYCHO” on the audience in the first few moments of the film – a shock that has since become legendary, even though people still remember where the idea came from!

NEVE CAMPBELL, SKEET ULRICH, ROSE MCGOWAN, JAMIE KENNEDY, MATTHEW LILLARD, W. EARL BROWN, LIEV SCHREIBER, COURTNEY COX and DAVID ARQUETTE (who married and divorced over the course of the franchise); JOSEPH WHIPP (who could’ve been playing the same character from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – and probably was!), plus unexpected cameos from LINDA BLAIR and HENRY WINKLER going way out-of-typecasting as an asshole of a principal…It didn’t get any better than this! Plus Craven’s direction, with tongue firmly-in-cheek the entire time, could have you rolling your eyes and chuckling one minute, and yes, SCREAMING the next! This film helped usher in a new age, where the movie and the characters were as smart – if not smarter than the audience that eagerly made SCREAM a box office smash!

Meanwhile, thanks to buddy and sometime collaborator QUENTIN TARANTINO, cinematic ‘one-man-band’ ROBERT RODRIGUEZ was having fun playing “Dr. Frankenstein”, by smashing two unexpected sub-genres together, if not three: serial killers, true crime…and vampires.  FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is the kind of film you never expect…until it bops you upside the head from seemingly out of nowhere!

The notorious Gecko brothers, handsome and sarcastic Seth (GEORGE CLOONEY) and ‘quiet, reserved’ Richard (no less than TARANTINO himself) are cutting a swath of robbery, assault and murder across the Southwest.  The “murder” part of their spree is owed mostly to Richard, who just can’t curb his impulses to kill and rape people. Well, to be a bit more specific, he kills and rapes womennot the men, let’s be clear on that (as Richard would probably say himself.)

Their antics – but especially Richard’s body count – has made it necessary to hotfoot it South of the Border, and maybe lay low somewhere in Mexico, until things die down…If they do. Along the way, as they change vehicles, they hijack an RV and the vacationing family inside it and skip town.

The intent was to just keep on going until they reached their objective, but all that changes when they make a fateful detour to a truck stop on the way.  But not just ANY truck stop: The “TITTY TWISTER.” A blood-and-guts dive that definitely lives up to its name…in more ways than one. And its hours of operation are…well, you know the title.

The bar has some of the most gorgeous dancing girls you ever saw, but they’re all woofers compared to the luscious, insanely beautiful main attraction, a hypnotic dancer who goes by the name of ‘SANTANICO PANDEMONIUM’.  No one into women could possibly resist her, and all men should, as Seth and Richard quickly discover, along with the rest of the hapless ‘Twister’ patrons, when the girls, the bouncers, the bartenders, everyone who ‘works’ there, finally reveal their true faces.  They’re all flesh-and-blood hungry vamps, and less the TWILIGHT variety than the FRIGHT NIGHT kind.

Rodriguez knew exactly what the fans wanted from Quentin’s script, and together, they sure gave it to us…stylish, sensual, sexy and soaked in red. And the Tarantino/Rodriguez combo attracted a cast that was instant boxoffice catnip, right down to the cameos: HARVEY KEITEL, JULIETTE LEWIS, FRED WILLIAMSON, TOM SAVINI; the stunning SALMA HAYEK as “SANTANICO”; everybody’s favorite badass, DANNY TREJO, plus CHEECH MARIN, MICHAEL PARKS, JOHN SAXON, KELLY PRESTON, MARC LAWRENCE; even a special appearance by Robert’s favorite “Hell House band”, TITO AND TARANTULA…Hell, you just knew that if he wasn’t already starring in it, Quentin would have probably directed this one, too!

The “Titty Twister” sequences – especially the gore-soaked fight scenes – are now a thing of legend, (check out Savini’s “special weapon” and the reason why his character’s nickname is “Sex Machine”!) and the closing shot is as breathtaking as any iconic final scene from the best and most unforgettable horror films, (I’d compare it for impact to the last shot of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT; in fact, DAWN’S final shot is probably a tad better.)

But for thrills, chills and maximum blood spills, whether you’ve seen these movies a hundred times or not even once…you can’t go wrong with these choices for a monumentally successful Halloween Night of Frights!


Posted by Samuel Glass

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