I just got this on Blu-Ray giving me chance to revisit this fantastic film from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. This film blew me away when I first saw it because it really brilliantly takes a crime thriller and turns it into a vampire film. Quentin Tarantino has written some fantastic dialogue for this film.
The Gecko brothers are bad men who are on the run from the law after holding up a bank and killing cops, rangers and civilians and taking a bank teller hostage. They are in a liquor store holding two girls hostage while the clerk pretends to another ranger that they are not there. Seth (George Clooney) wants everything to go quietly and smoothly but thanks to Richie (Quentin Tarantino) the ranger and clerk and end up dead, Richie gets shot in the hand and the liquor store is blasted to bits. Seth brings up the meaning of the phrase ‘low profile’ but it’s clearly wasted on Richie.
They go to a run-down motel where they try to figure out a way to get across the border to Mexico. Seth arranges a safe place across the border with a guy called Carlos but he still hasn’t figured out a way to get there. He leaves Richie alone with the hostage while he goes to buy food which turns out to be a very big mistake because when he returns the hostage is dead and her body mutilated. Seth loses his patience with Ritchie and pins him to the wall but then realises his brother is too demented to be reached and just hugs him.
Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) is on the road in his RV accompanied by his daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) and adopted son Scott (Ernest Liu). Jacob is a former Minister who has just quit his position as after falling out of love with God. They have been on the road a while and Jacob really wants to sleep in real bed so they stop at the same sleazy motel as the Gecko brothers. Seth sees their RV and it gives him a plan. The brothers trick their way into Jacob’s room and force him at gunpoint to agree to take them across the border in their RV. The journey to the border is very tense Jacob can’t trust Seth, Seth can’t trust Jacob and he certainly can’t trust Richie. When they come the border a border guard (Cheech Marin) inspects the van but the family convince the guard they are alone in the van.
Once over the border there is massive release of tension because Seth thinks they are now all free and clear. He tells Jacob to drive to their rendezvous, a sleazy rowdy biker bar near the border called the Titty Twister. The place has a huge neon sign outside with the name and a cartoon demonstration of exactly what the name means. Outside the bar is doorman Chet Pussy (Cheech Marin) encouraging punters to enter with the range of pussy the bar features. When Seth goes to pass Chet to get to the door Chet stops him and return Seth beats him to the ground and leads the way into the bar. Richie takes a sneaky chance to kick Chet violently as he passes.
When they enter the Titty Twister what they see is like a hellraiser’s idea of paradise with booze, rock music and semi-naked dancing girls on the tables and in alcoves in the wall and random meaningless fights amongst the patrons. Seth goes to the bar and tries to intimidate the barman Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) into serving them but it really doesn’t work. Fortunately Jacob manages to calm down the tension and they get their drinks, grab a table and settle down to drink and wait for dawn.
Everyone starts to settle down and relax, particularly Scott and Richie. Razor Charlie then introduces the main act of the night on the stage and he gets away with telling them straight she is a demonic high priestess of Satan. On comes Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) with a yellow boa constrictor draped over her body. She doesn’t so much dance as stride around like hungry cat and stare at the meat in front of her. She walks across the tables to the one where the Geckos and Fullers are sitting. She lifts Richie’s beer and pours it down her leg to her foot in Richie’s mouth. When the music ends she basks in the applause of the spellbound crowd.
Chet meanwhile has entered the bar and spoken to Razor Charlie and the bar’s bouncer and they come over to the table to call out the Geckos as the ones that beat up Chet outside. Richie and Seth are ready for trouble with their guns drawn and they shoot the three men ‘dead’. That’s when Santanico and her girls all vamp out and attack the customers and she herself goes for Richie, biting a chunk out of his neck. There is widespread slaughter, especially with three ‘dead’ men come back to life and rejoin the battle. The house band have also vamped out are playing human bodies as instruments. Very soon there is only Seth, the Fullers and two other customers left alive, a Vietnam veteran called Frost (Fred Williamson) and Sex Machine (Tom Savini) who packs a spring-loaded revolver in his codpiece.
They kill off the vampires in the bar (except the band who disappear in a flash of smoke) but get worried about the sound of flapping wings outside. First they realise that they have deal with the corpses before they come back to life. Kate and Sex machine go around staking the bodies with table legs. Sex machine gets bit by one before he kills it but he hides his bite from the others. Richie come back to life and Frost is about to take him out but Seth stops him. Then Richie vamps out and Seth stakes him while the others hold him.
They have a few moments of calm so Seth takes charge of trying to figure out what’s going and what they can do about it. Jacob points out that everything they know about vampires comes from old horror films. Seth talks about weapons and says if he still had his faith that Jacob himself would be their most valuable weapon so if Jacob can get over his anger with God they’d be a lot better off.
Frost starts telling them about his experiences in Vietnam but while he talks we see Sex Machine is struggling to hide his transformation from the others. He eventually vamps out and attacks, biting a chunk out of Jacobs’s arm. After some struggle he bites Frost who picks him up and throws him out a window. This is not a mistake as Frost has immediately vamped out and just let hundreds of vampires in bat form into the bar. Seth Kate and Scott escape to a store room while Jacob ends up trapped behind the bar counter.
Jacob finds his faith and creates a makeshift cross out of a baseball bat through the loading mechanism of a shotgun and clears a path with both the cross and the gun through the mass of vampires to the storeroom. The storeroom is full of stuff taken from the trucks of the bar’s previous victims. They go through the boxes and get themselves armed and ready for a showdown. Scott has water guns and condoms full of water blessed by Jacob. Kate has found an auto-loading crossbow. Seth has made himself a stake fixed on a jackhammer. Before they leave the storeroom Jacob makes the others promise to kill him as soon as he vamps out and while has no problem believing Seth he pushes for a sincere promise from Kate and Scott.
They attack the vampires and just about manage to stay alive, killing many of them. Then the inevitable happens and Jacob vamps out. Scott hesitates for a moment and Jacobs bites him before Scott takes out half of Jacob’s head with a condom and Kate finishes him with a crossbow bolt. Scott gets seized by a mob of vampires who begin feeding on him and he begs Kate to kill him. She shoots him and it kills both him and vampires feeding on him.
Now it’s down to just Kate and Seth who are getting low on ammo. Then the sun rises and Seth sees the vampires trying to avoid the shafts of light. Carlos (Cheech Marin) arrives outside the door and calls out for Seth who tells him to blast the door open. As the sun comes in many vampires are roasted immediately and many more get killed by reflections of the sun off a large disco ball on the ceiling.
The first thing Seth does is punch Carlos but Carlos explains that he had only ever passed the place and had never been in it. Seth gives Kate some money and apologises for what happened to her family and tells her to go home. He leaves with Carlos while Kate drives off in the RV. The camera then pulls back to a wide shot of the back the Titty Twister which is actually the top of an Aztec temple and there is a large pit full of hundreds of bikes and trucks of all the victims of the place.
Seeing this film again has actually increased my liking for it. I’ve seen other attempts to merge the crime thriller genre with the horror genre but none have done it as well as this film. The action is violent and when it really begins in the second half it is almost relentless. The performances were great all round even from Quentin Tarantino who I really believed as a violent insane sex offender with a short fuse.