From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

Review by Mike Finkelstein

Much as in the film of the same name, we open with two brothers, Seth and Richie Gecko, who are on the run from the law. They're criminals, bank robbers of the highest order, who've recently had a bad run of luck and are trying to hide out from the law after laying down a little too much carnage during a robbery gone bad. Richie, being just a tad unhinged (for reasons we'll get to in a second), ends up killing the one hostage the boys have taken (who was pretty much the only insurance they had if the long arm of the law caught up to them). This leads Seth to kidnap a road-tripping family (father Jacob Fuller, daughter Kate and son Scott) and take them down to Mexico to wait for the law to back off.

What Seth doesn't know is that Richie has been in contact, mentally, the gorgeous Santanico Pandemonium. She, along with just about everyone else they're about to meet up with when they arrive in Mexico at the Titty Twister, is a Mesoamerican vampire (a detail we'll cover soon), and the boys are in for one hell of a scary ride as their story unfolds.

Billed as an expanded remake of the original movie (ignoring just about everything that's detailed in the later two direct-to-video sequel/prequels), From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series takes that "expanded" note and seriously runs with it. Anyone expecting anything similar to the original movie may end up disappointed by just how far out this movie travels, but it actually works to the service of the series that the creators were willing to follow new creative thoughts instead of simply saying "hey, let's remake From Dusk Till Dawn exactly as it was just 10 hours longer."

The first difference, and the biggest thing that may throw traditional vampire loves off, is that these are Mesoamerican-themed vampires. That means they're undead snake people. Let's be honest, the vampires in the original From Dusk Till Dawn weren't a normal pack of vamps -- they were gross and demonic and just about as un-sexy as you could get. Still, making the vampires into weird undead snake-human hybrids is certain a strange, bold decision that's about as far from normal vampires as you could get while still saying "hey, they have fangs and drink blood so they're vampires."

I'm not going to try and bill myself as a scholar of Mesoamerican mythology so I can't speak to how well the snake-people play with that context. What I will note is that the original film had nods to that culture as well (remember, the end scene shows the Titty Twister was built on an ancient Aztec pyramid). It's really odd when you first see these vampires in action in the series, but then it just gets worked into the mythos and it eventually just works. Context is everything.

It helps that the cast is game to play around within their roles and the expanded universe they have to work with. The worst that can be said about D.J. Cotrona is that he's no George Clooney. When the man is on his game (which he was, having a weird, fun time in the original film), Clooney can knock a performance out of the park. He's a hard act to follow but, after a few episodes, Cotrona finds a way to breathe his own life into the roles, moving past trying to be "Clooney for the Small Screen" (which, as per any number of television roles he inhabited, was still Clooney) and just playing Seth Gecko.

On the flip side we have Zane Holts as Richie Gecko. The best that can be said about Holtz is that he's no Quentin Tarantino. Now, I'm not trying to knock Tarantino here. The man is a gifted director and storyteller who can take tropes and ideas from all the movies and media he's ever consumed and make something fresh out of it. Quentin is not, and never will be, a good actor, though. That freed Holtz up to make the role anything he wanted it to be. Richie is still just as unhinged in the series as he was in the movie, but Holtz also gave him deeper menace, more intelligence, and honest charisma, making Richie into someone that felt like he could stand as an equal to Seth Gecko and not just be the brother that always has to be taken care of. Here you understand why Seth works with Richie and why they're an inseparable pair.

As the core two actors that will be in every episode, every major scene, Zane and D.J. provide a solid backbone for the series. Other actors tend to have less to work with, but the do tend to find ways to inhabit their roles and get their good moments. Jesse Garcia puts in admirable work as Ranger Gonzales, fleshing out a continually underwritten role. The Ranger is like Elmer Fudd, always chasing after bad guys but easily lead astray. He's not a great character, but Garcia make him work as best as you can. Similarly, Madison Davenport does what she can with Kate Fuller. Kate is constantly the damsel in distress (even in third season when she finally makes her big heel-turn), but the fact that you don't ever actually want her to die speaks more to the performance than the character.

Sadly, the vampires are never as interesting as the humans. The worst is Eiza Gonzalez as Santanico Pandemonium. Santanico was a one-scene role in the original movie, a hot stripper who turns into a nasty monster before getting offed. Fleshing her out to make her more than just eye-candy and/or gore is a great idea, but Gonzalez is woefully unable to rise to part. She always seems flat, there because she looks pretty and not because she provides genuine menace or emotion. As the series goes on, you understand why she shows up less and less. The rest of the vampires, for one reason or another, are similarly flat or uninteresting. It's rare for any of them to be scary, or menacing, or even fun to watch -- when one of them appears again, half the time you end up thinking, "who was this again?" before they fade into the background to appear and confuse you once more.

It's hard, then, to say that From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series actually works as a whole. I quite enjoyed it for the few performances I liked and all the weird vampire effects and gore. It certainly had it strong moments, but on a whole it never quite reached the balls-out crazy glory of the original film, nor did it quite gel together when it went in other directions. It was good without ever truly being great and, with so many new shows and movies coming out all the time, that makes it hard to recommend to anyone not immediate hooked by "Mesoamerican Snake-Vampires". If that concept alone interests you, give From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series a look.

Season-by-Season Thoughts

The first season of the series more-or-less retells the movie. It doesn't wrap up the same way, and the journey to the ending takes a lot of narrative detours before getting everyone to the Titty Twister and letting the vampires come out to play. What works for fans of the original movie is seeing all the things that are similar and then watching the series head off in drastically different directions. Plus the fact that these are snake-vampires stays pretty interesting for a long while. The first season has a lot of fun exploring this new version of the world and figuring out how these vampires work. It's a bit of a mess and if all you really want is to see the plot of the original From Dusk Till Dawn, you're probably better off watching that movie.

By grace of the fact that there was never a proper follow-up to the original film (Texas Blood Money is a really just a sequel in name-only), season two of the series has more room to breathe and explore new narrative directions. Seth and Richie are separated, each traveling in their own direction, trying to find their own place in the world without the other one. it's an interesting place to start the season but it doesn't come as much of a surprise when they end up back together fighting against even bigger, tastier vampires. There's more exploration of the vampire society but, narratively, this season is a bit of a mess. Details run together after you've watched the season and you end up thinking "what exactly happened again?" It's definitely the weakest season of the series, fun on an episode-by-episode basis but less interesting if you want a tidy series you can watch all at once.

However, the third (and so far) final season of the series is a solid step up over the previous. Seth and Richie are back together, working as the lords of the region (effectively they're in charge of the vampire criminal underworld). It's a good gig for them, but then a new villain makes themselves known: the dark demonic goddess Amaru. She wants to bring vampires, humans, and all the other creatures on Earth under her heel (just like they used to be once, long ago, in the bad old days). This season works because it's so focused -- the brothers have to join forces with the vampires (and any other allies they can find) to stop this grave threat and save the world. Sure it's a bit of a narrative push to get these two semi-evil, self-centered criminals to work on the side of "good", but the show makes it relatively believable. The show is still messy, but it's a glorious, focused mess and fun to watch. The season ends on a high note and, if it doesn't come back, it's a solid, satisfying way to go.