Vampires get a third season.
Six moons ago, in a season two episode of El Rey Network's television series expansion of the concepts introduced in the 1996 Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino film From Dusk Till Dawn, the Titty Twister was destroyed. A very important location for the series (and the films before it) up to that point, the Titty Twister was a Mayan temple that served as a den for the snake-vampire creatures the Culebras, it housed supernatural forces, and it was disguised as a strip club to lure in victims that the Culebras would kill and drain of blood.
The destruction of the Titty Twister wasn't just the loss of a familiar location. It appears that this third season of the show will be dealing with the repercussions of that loss, because when that place blew up it unleashed evil things into the world. With this revelation, season three captures my attention and draws me back in almost immediately, even though I had been somewhat let down by season two.
While season one had basically been a ten episode adaptation of the original movie, it also added to the mythology of the vampire creatures, and season two dug even deeper into that mythology. In-depth mythology isn't one of my favorite things, but the main issue I had with the second season is that it set up big stakes that it didn't pay off. The characters talked like it was building up to something potentially apocalyptic, but in the end it was all about the vampires scoring a tanker truck full of blood.
Directed by Dwight H. Little, who has several From Dusk Till Dawn episodes under his belt at this point (his previous contributions were 'Place of Dead Roads', 'The Take', and 'Bring Me the Head of Santanico Pandemonium') but will always primarily be known to me for directing Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, and written by Carlos Coto, writer of previous episodes 'Mistress', 'The Take', 'Opening Night', 'In a Dark Time', and 'Bizarre Tales', the season three premiere continues digging into the Culebra mythology. Having brought down corrupt Culebra Lord Amancio Malvado in season two, brothers and former bank robbers Seth (D.J. Cotrona) and Richie (Zane Holtz) Gecko are summoned to a sanctuary called the Temple of the Nine Moons, where they meet with the remaining Culebra Lords who for thousands of moons have ruled over what we know as Mexico and Texas but what they call the First Realm. Most notably, the brothers confer with Lord Venganza Verdugo (Ana de la Reguera), whose counselor Ximena Vasconcelos (Emily Rios) informs them that they are to serve the Lords as collectors - to go around and collect payments from the various Culebra businesses in the area.
Seth isn't fond of the Culebras, but since Richie has been turned into one he has to play nice with them. And he does, serving as a collector for six moons before trouble arises in the form of an even greater danger than the vampires. Lord Venganza comes to realize that the Culebras and Geckos are being targeted by Calavera, the Skull Keeper.
Played by Joseph Gatt, Calavera is a demon with a look that reminds me of Mumma-Ra from the old Thundercats cartoon (and Seth refers to him as Skeletor, the villain from the Masters of the Universe cartoon). When sent after someone's enemies, Calavera will destroy those enemies from within. He tears people's skulls out, but that doesn't kill them, that allows him to take control of them - these skull-less saps will then go forward in the world as puppets for Calavera, doing his bidding. To their skull he whispers what he wants them to do, and wherever they are they will do it. As Ximena explains, "Once he has your skull, he owns your mind." If he destroys the skull, the meat puppet will drop dead.
Calavera wants the Culebras dead, and there is no indication by sight who around them might be a Calavera puppet.
I love stories about paranoia among a group of people, so Calavera and his powers are an awesome addition to this show as far as I'm concerned. You can do a story where a group of people are paranoid because they don't know which among them has been turned into a vampire, and now From Dusk Till Dawn is putting a twist on that idea by having a group of vampires (and some human associates) acting paranoid because they don't know which of their vampire buddies might have been turned by Calavera. Okay, season three. It's only the first episode back and you already have me enthralled.
A classic horror tale of paranoia is John Carpenter's 1982 version of The Thing, where men at an outpost in Antarctica need to figure out which among them have been replicated by an alien lifeform. In one of the most famous scenes, the characters gather together for a very eventful blood test. Seth figures out his own way to "blood test" the vampires around him to see if they're Calavera puppets. A regular Culebra can survive a gunshot to the head. Not only will a shot to the head kill a Calavera puppet, but their head will also be obliterated in an explosion of blood, since they don't have a skull. And so, amusingly, Seth decides that shooting all of his vampire cohorts in the head is the way to weed out the Calaveras. This test scene is a fun moment that doesn't last nearly long enough.
While I would have gladly watched an entire season about the Culebras going to war with Calavera, it doesn't look like that's what the show has in store for season three. There are other villains out there for the Culebras and Geckos to take on, and it looks like the biggest threat will be Maurice Compte as another Titty Twister escapee named Brasa, who we don't learn much about in this episode, but who proves quite capable at killing vampires, no weapons required other than his own hands. Whatever he has in store for our motley crew of heroes, I am eagerly looking forward to the battle. If season three maintains the quality of 'Head Games', the disappointment of season two will quickly be forgiven and forgotten.