Color, 1996, 108m. / Directed by Robert Rodriguez / Starring George Clooney, Harvey Keitel / Buena Vista (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) / DD5.1

A pure popcorn movie if there ever was one, From Dusk Till Dawn is so eager to impress the audience by any means necessary that its numerous flaws can be overlooked, even long after the novelty of Quentin Tarantino's hipster schtick has passed into the ether. Part high octane hostage film and part rip-roaring horror, this is at least a more successful genre hybrid than director Robert Rodriguez's later misfire, The Faculty, and Dimension's long awaited special edition DVD proved to be well worth the wait.

Two hardened criminal brothers, Seth (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Quentin Tarantino), are embarking on a crime spree across the American Southwest after escaping from prison. Richard's psychotic tendencies prove to be the thorn in Seth's side, particularly when hostages wind up unnecessarily dead, and things take a turn for the bizarre when they decide to cross the border to Mexico by hijacking a camper driven by fallen preacher Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) and his two children, Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu). Seth has arranged a rendezvous point at a stripper joint called the Titty Twister, where the two convicts and their captives stop to kick back and enjoy a few drinks. Unfortunately fate has a very nasty surprise in store for them, and soon the patrons are fighting for their lives in a gun-blazing, blood-splattering showdown. The schizophrenic structure of From Dusk Till Dawn throws the story for such a loop than the film never quite regains its footing; as a very early script by Tarantino, this was apparently dusted off and shot as is. All of the actors do their best-- even Tarantino himself, who's almost impossible to watch (or listen to) as an actor but at least proves convincing as a complete menace to society. Lewis has the most thankless job, simpering on the sidelines and engaging in the film's most serious misstep, a ludicrous and appallingly sexist final scene that could only have sprung from a woefully infantile imagination. The highly touted special effects pretty much save the second half of the film, with an avalanche of fluid and latex hurled at the screen enough to make one wonder how on earth this movie escaped with an R rating. Definitely put your brain in neutral for this one, and just enjoy it on a visceral level. And bonus points for Salma Hayek's short but intensely memorable role, featuring one of the sexiest non-nude stripteases ever committed to film.

For their Collector's Edition DVD, Dimension rehashed the same passable 1.85:1 transfer from the previous laserdisc and DVD editions. It looks fine if unspectacular, but home theatre owners won't be happy by the obviously dated levels of detail and colour saturation. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is more successful, with bullet blasts, shrieks, and pounding music swirling around the room nonstop during the second half. However, the real reason to grab this disc is Full Tilt Boogie, a feature length documentary shot behind the scenes. Sort of a careening plunge into the world of indie action filming, this features no jaw-dropping insights but instead paints a breezy, sometimes tense portrait of working off the cuff with a diverse cast and crew. (Note: the first pressing switches the labels on the two discs.) The laserdisc extras are also included here, such as running commentary with Tarantino and Rodriguez (alternately informative and extremely annoying), deleted scenes (including some splashy gore trimmed at the MPAA's "request"), the theatrical trailer, and a standard Dimension featurette produced for the theatrical release.

Color, 1988, 94m. / Directed by John Carpenter / Starring Roddy Piper, Meg Foster / Image (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35) (16:9) / DD2.0

Roddy Piper (yes, the wrestler) stars as Nada (as in "nothing," get it?), a homeless drifter who goes from job to job and winds up in a construction position in an unnamed large city. A group of radicals keep breaking in on the TV signals and warning of an evil conspiracy that's been brainwashing the general public, but everyone tends to ignore it. After a series of government attacks on one faction holing out in a local church, Nada uncovers a pair of sunglasses which reveal that the world is not quite as he thought. All advertising and written material contains subliminal messages, such as "Marry and Reproduce," "No Individual Thought," and "This Is Your God" (printed on money). Even worse, it appears all the wealthy people are - surprise! - ugly skeletal-faced aliens in disguise. Pretty soon Nada is suiting up for battle, and the fun begins.

Generally dismissed as one of Carpenter's goofier films (along with Big Trouble in Little China), They Live has some serious things to say about right-wing suppression and the growing apathy near the end of the millennium. Piper's role seems tailor-made for Carpenter buddy in crime Kurt Russell (including such lines as the immortal "I've come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubble gum"), but Piper fills the action hero shoes pretty well. He got a lot of bad press at the time, but after we've endured such action wannabes as Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, he looks like Laurence Olivier in comparison. In fact, it's surprising how well this film has aged over the past decade, though it does suffer from a few flaws. Piper's idiotic fight scene with Keith David seems thrown in for no good reason at all and drags on way past the breaking point; it seems including solely for the purpose of pleasing wrestling fans. Also, the final sequence is a serious let-down, a knee-jerk jokey finish that wraps the film up on an abrupt, unfinished note. Interestingly, They Live now feels like a dry run for Carpenter's subsequent In the Mouth of Madness, an even more extreme look at the world's seemingly normal sheen being slowly removed to expose a completely different, malicious force lurking underneath (and which also features an unsatisfying ending). As Carpenter has explained, all of his films in one way or another revolve around normal people who become heroes when thrust into situations beyond their control; here, the hero deals with corruption in the aliens and the human beings around him who have sold out for wealth from the invaders. It's one of the most interesting sci-fi conceits of the past few years, and while the execution doesn't always do it justice, there's plenty of food for thought here for the open-minded viewer. The previous Japanese laserdisc version of They Live was incompletely letterboxed (about 1.90:1) and had a colourless, washed-out appearance that failed to do much justice to this satiric sci-fi political actioner. No director takes advantage of the full scope widescreen image more than Carpenter; and this DVD presents the full 2.35 image and features incredibly rich, vibrant colour and deep shadows, along with a fabulous Dolby Digital surround remix. Though it has no extras (the Japanese laser did have a pretty nifty behind-the-scenes featurette, so don't chuck it if you have it), this one was definitely worth the wait.

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