Review by Tristan Bishop
I have a feeling Robert Rodriguez might be a vampire himself. Let alone how he doesn’t seem to age (he looks a good twenty years younger than 45), he doesn’t even seem to sleep. The last 12 months have seen him direct Machete Kills and the forthcoming Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, not forgetting shorts like Two Scoops, and he has now launched his own El Ray Network in the US, an English language channel targeting a Latino audience. The first original programming to air on El Rey is the TV series adaptation of Rodriguez’s own From Dusk Til Dawn, several episodes of which (including the first) he also directed himself. See what I mean? It’s almost as if he’s giving us a big hint by using his first TV show to revisit the vampire myths from the 1996 original. As El Ray is only currently airing in the US, Netflix have picked up the rights to the series in Europe, and so I was able to take a peek at the debut episode which aired this week.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect here – having had a quick catch-up with the From Dusk Til Dawn sequels (Texas Blood Money and The Hangman’s Daughter, shot back-to-back for a direct to video release back in 1999) just in case I was missing anything, I soon realised I probably shouldn’t have bothered, as what is presented here is basically the first ten minutes of the original From Dusk Til Dawn stretched out to 45 minutes in length. If by some miracle you’ve gotten this far in life without having seen the original film, here’s a brief recap. The Gecko Brothers, Seth and Richie (played in the original film by George Clooney and scriptwriter Quentin Tarantino, here portrayed by DJ Cotrona and Zane Holtz) are on the run after pulling off a bank robbery which left several dead. They pull up at a liquor store somewhere in Texas on their way to the Mexican border. Unfortunately things get heated rather quickly. Richie tries to hit on a young woman in the store but soon freaks out and gets nasty. Richie has a bit of a problem with reality, you see, and sees and hears things that aren’t there, which combined with a quick temper and itchy trigger finger make him a bit of a liability. Things get even more complicated when Texas rangers Earl McGraw (Miami Vice star Don Johnson) and Freddie Gonzales (Jesse Garcia) stop by for a bottle of hooch, and the whole situation turns into a stand-off.
That’s pretty much it for the first episode, bar a slightly icky intro set in a jungle (presumably in the distant past) where a young lady comes to a sticky end in a snake pit, which makes one wonder how the series is going to work: is it just going to be a straight retelling of the main plot of the original film? Without wanting to spoiler the original, that’s going to be quite difficult to pull off over the course of ten 45 minute episodes – especially as the film is famous for switching up from a crime thriller into something else entirely halfway through. One can only assume that what Rodriguez is attempting is a much more complex piece, with various back stories explored along the way. (The snakes at the start are surely something to do with the origin of Satanico Pandemonium, the character originally played by Salma Hayek – but that’s purely conjecture. )
What we do know for certain is that Rodriguez hasn’t toned much down for the small screen, with plenty of bad language, gunplay and blood on offer (and the promise of lots more to come!), and he directs with the expected steady hand throughout. It’s great to see Don Johnson playing McGraw, too – a great character who not only appears in the original film (played by the great Michael Parks) but also in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003) and both parts of Grindhouse (2007), even if those already familiar with the story realise he probably won’t be in it much. The Gecko brothers come off fine, even if they do look like cut-price imitations of their big screen brethren, and there’s been a little tweaking with Richie’s character – those hallucinations are hinted to be something other than paranoid delusions, which could be an intriguing development, or could be an excuse to show lots of ‘scary’ demonic nonsense in the run-up to the big pay-off. In the end it’s really too soon to tell, but at the very least Rodriguez doesn’t appear to have gone the easy route and gone for a True Blood knock-off set in the Dusk Til Dawn universe. In fact this could turn out to be a real labour of love, exploring one of his most popular works in much greater detail, and I for one will certainly be watching a few more episodes to find out.