Shadowvision: “From Dusk Till Dawn”
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black-and-white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
In past iterations of Shadowvision, I’ve attempted to examine films that would be visually and thematically appropriate to a black-and-white setting. Most of the time, these films fell in line with a specific decade or subgenre, as many filmmakers of the ’70s and ’80s were inspired by filmmakers from decades beforehand. It’s for this reason that I chose to revisit a film this week whose aesthetics would not immediately come to mind such an experiment, whether its the distinctive narrative cues or the jarring blend of practical and digital effects.
That film is FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, Robert Rodriguez’s genre-bending vampire film whose seedy atmosphere and plot twists make the movie more suited for a re-examination after digital film aging rather than a black-and-white conversion. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN has the influences of three major filmmakers seeping through its frames: the yellow-tinted visual ferocity of Robert Rodriguez, referential dialogue from the mind of Quentin Tarantino and a story from modern SFX master Robert Kurtzman. In black-and-white, the curious mix of influences and intentions become rather blatant, which unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb, rather than simmering in confident satisfaction.
In its intended presentation, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is evocative of ’70s action cinema, shot in a semi-saturated hue to bring out hot colors frequently used to visually capture Americana such as the work of Sam Peckinpah or Jack Sterrett. Considering half of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN plays like a road movie and the second half plays as a supernatural siege film, Rodriguez’s style not only adds atmospheric continuity but also unique nostalgia, as if the film is a genre-hybrid of yesteryear with narrative cues from atypical westerns. Perhaps most importantly, the color palette of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is meant to emphasize the parallel between the world of men and vampires, creating a more stark contrast between the fantastic neon-illuminated night sequences and the sweaty reality of the daytime.
In black-and-white however, that contrast essentially disappears, putting both segments of the film on an equal visual playing field in terms of atmosphere. In fact, within the opening minutes of the film, Tarantino’s influence now becomes the first to resonate with the audience, as his French New Wave-inspired dialogue and penchant for immediate yet contained tension feels right at home. Aesthetically, the film does in fact feel more realistic in the drama department, and when the Geckos collide with the Fullers, there’s a greater sense of impending trouble instead of volatility. While this makes the transition towards the latter half of the film tonally seamless, the vibe of the film changes from fun and thrilling to brooding and weighty.
Therefore, Rodriguez’s influence doesn’t register in black-and-white until the group arrives at the Titty Twister, in which the audio cues invite a more raucous tone to the proceedings. From here, the film truly feels like a western, with the black-and-white making each new character introduction feel like an interstitial in this new chapter of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. Furthermore, much of the gorgeous production design is lost, and the lighting of the Titty Twister now looks identical to the lair within a Universal Monster movie. In fact, it’s not until the appearance of Santanico Pandemonium that the intensity of the first act finally wears off, as the sultry and shameless dance feels much more seductive in black-and-white.
And when the vampires finally show face, Kurtzman’s influence does so as well, with the practical SFX shining in black-and-white as if the creature design was taken from THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Effects are also the single worst aspect of the Shadowvision re-examination of the film however, as the rudimentary presentation of the digital is more glaring than in color. Clearly, the digital effects at the time were not as impressive as they are in this day and age, but in black-and-white, they’re distracting to a fault; especially in the wake of Kurtzman’s strong practical work in the very same scenes.
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN will always be a fun, colorful film no matter how you view it, yet to perfectly match the Midnight Madness of the intended story, it is better suited for color. It’s a gritty film with a delicate blend of tastes and visions, yet none quite seem to jive in black-and-white outside of the basic tonal continuity. For those who do decide to check it out in black-and-white, make sure you approach it with an open mind and a reverence for its initial state, as those grounded by the Tarantino-heavy first act may not make it to the second or third.
Recommended for Black and White consumption?: No.