Thursday, October 22, 2020

Missed Opportunities For The Women In FROM DUSK TIL DAWN

As part of our Halloween vampire month, the merry crew of misfits at Myopia Movies decided to do From Dusk Til Dawn, a Quentin Tarantino hybrid of Natural Born Killers and a Mexican vampire movie. Here's the episode itself. The following discussion elaborates on some thoughts I had during the podcast. Spoilers for the canonical film coming...

Although I hadn't seen the movie before, I'd seen some discussion online that made vampire stripper Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) seem much more important than she turned out to be in the film. At least one person claimed the vampires at the strip club Titty Twister were a matriarchal society that preys on the vices of men, the television series based on the film develops this whole mythology about the vampires and other evil supernatural forces, and Pandemonium herself even had a prequel movie dedicated to her origin. However, Pandemonium and the other major vampire characters get killed off three-fourths of the way through the movie and the rest of the film consists of the surviving humans trying to survive against the zombie-horde of vampire reinforcements gathered outside.

Meanwhile, although we see preacher's daughter Kate Fuller (Juliette Lewis) grow from being this nice, timid girl who can't bring herself to stake a corpse to being a hard-core vampire fighter willing to kill her vampirized adopted brother Scott (Ernest Liu), the film ends with her out of nowhere asking to stay with the other survivor, bank robber Seth Gecko (George Clooney) in Mexico. To his credit, he turns her down, saying he's not that bad, and flat-out tells her to go home. He goes off to retirement in El Rey with the proceeds from his last robbery, while it's implied Kate takes the money that Seth gives her and returns to the United States in the family RV.

Put these two together and there's some serious missed opportunities for both Santanico and Kate.

*Kate and Scott are on a road trip with their father Jacob (Harvey Keitel), a pastor who is losing his faith after the prolonged and ugly death of his wife in a car accident. Although Kate does love her father and brother, she's also a teenage girl who's realistically going to want more independence from her family. This would especially be the case if her father and brother default to relying on her to fulfill her late mother's responsibilities. We see her going swimming by herself at the hotel pool rather than hanging out with the folks and perhaps we could throw in that she really doesn't want to be on the trip in the first place. If we see friction before the Fullers get taken hostage by the Gecko brothers, well, that's a thread that can be followed.

*Seth's brother Richie (Quentin Tarantino), who broke him out of prison before the story begins, is mentally unstable and sexually perverse. He kills several people unnecessarily, rapes a bank teller he and his brother had taken hostage before killing her, and he clearly lusts after Kate. He hallucinates that she'd propositioned him and later he leers at her (particularly her feet). Seth uses the possibility he might try to rape Kate to intimidate her father, but he has enough moral sense that when Jacob tells him that he'll kill Richie if he touches Kate, Seth's response is "fair enough." Kate manages to deflect an early attempt by Richie to perv on her, but she has to be aware he's dangerous beyond the fact he's a twitchy kidnapper. Even though she likely doesn't know about the bank teller, the man reeks of creepy.

*Kate's alienation from her family can be combined with improving Santanico's role if, rather than being killed by Seth during the vampires' opening attack that kills most of the Titty Twister's patrons and all but a few of the original vampires, Santanico leads the survivors in a retreat deeper into the club (which the credits reveal is actually the top of an enormous Aztec-style temple). The vampire reinforcements massing outside break in earlier, forcing the human survivors to retreat in the same direction. Santanico, seeing Kate as the lone woman among the survivors, tries to cultivate her as a traitor. At this point Richie is dead, but since she knew he was Seth's brother (got his memories by drinking his blood?), she might know about his creeping on Kate. 

She could use this as a lever to get her to betray the others and join Santanico's matriarchal vampire society that preys on immoral men rather than living in fear of them. Christopher Moore's vampire trilogy, although it's primarily comic, very seriously touches on the same theme with the character Jody. She comes to enjoy being a vampire because she realizes that as a woman she'd lived in a low-level state of fear her entire life before becoming a vampire--now she can effortlessly annihilate any man who bothers her. Although Kate is too nice and too Christian (despite his perversity, she warns Richie about an attacking vampire and later uses her cross necklace to kill another) to fall for it, she might be tempted. This would especially be the case if the human survivors include another male character who'd behaved sexually aggressively toward her. Per TVTropes in the television version the sleazy Sex Machine (Tom Savini) hit on her, so he might be an option.

(To get this to work, the film would have to depict those killed by vampires as staying dead rather than rising again as new vampires as the canonical film does. Perhaps only Santanico, being the vampire queen, can make new vampires. You could also emphasize the Christ-perverting nature of the vampires by emphasizing becoming a vampire as a parody of Communion--like in Interview With A Vampire, "drink from me and live forever." As a Christian, Kate might take particular offense at that.)

*Although she might have offered to join Seth in Mexico because her whole family is dead and she's vulnerable in a foreign country without a strong protector (when the Geckos bring the Fullers into the club, the comically-gross hype man says some very ungentlemanly things), as I said earlier that came out of nowhere. It would make more sense if she had some idea--even if it's a completely wrongheaded one--that Seth would be interested in having her around. That Kate has any friendly feeling toward Seth could be chalked up to Stockholm Syndrome (he's a gentleman in comparison to his sicko brother and has some, in TVTropes terms, Pet The Dog moments), his notion that vampires existing means there must be a God and therefore her father has spiritual power as a preacher she might interpret as a conversion to (or at least interest in) Christianity, the two are the last ones standing against the vampires, and she might further sympathize with him upon seeing the demonic Santanico's infamous threat to enslave him, but what's going on with Seth?

*Well here's an idea. When Santanico threatens to enslave Seth and make him "lick the dog shit from my boot heel," his response in the canonical film is to tell her he's been married before. Perhaps he has a daughter Kate's age and when Richie starts getting pervy, he tells Richie that he wouldn't act that way toward his niece (Seth's daughter) and shouldn't act that way toward Kate. Given how Seth had been in prison for years before Richie broke him out (and was likely divorced before that, given how he compares marriage to slavery), he probably hasn't seen his daughter in some time and might start using Kate as a substitute.

(Per the almighty TVTropes, in the TV series when Kate tells her father that Sex Machine hit on her, Seth pulls a gun on him as well. I would expect a father to be protective of his daughter, but why does a career criminal like Seth care?)

This could especially apply once Jacob is vampirized, since now her actual father is out of the way. Psychologically there's also something called Lima Syndrome, where a captor starts to feel sorry for their prisoner and that can be a factor too. The fact the robbers and the hostages both have a common enemy in the vampires likely helps.

*This all comes to a head in the final battle where the humans realize dawn is near and try to make a break for the exit, fighting both the vampires between them and the sun and a counterattack by Santanico and her minions. One by one the human survivors fall until only Seth and Kate are left to face Santanico and the last vampires. Santanico makes another recruitment pitch aimed at Kate, who when faced with the alternative of simply being killed, is tempted again, but it's Seth who convinces her it's better to die fighting. Then Seth's criminal friend Carlos arrives, smashing open the doors and frying the vampires en masse with the sun. Santanico, stronger than her minions, manages to make one last attack on Kate and Seth, but together they finish her off and meet with Carlos in the parking lot. After all this, it makes a lot more sense that Kate would want to stay with Seth, but Seth knows how bad an idea this is and sends her home.

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