Vampires get a second season.
The following reviews were originally posted on Life Between Frames with separate articles for each individual episode. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I have had to consolidate the write-ups into one article, minus screen caps.
Episode 1: Opening Night
I never expected there to be a television show based on the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino vampire tale From Dusk Till Dawn, a movie that had a huge impact on my youth when it was released in 1996. Rodriguez did a very admirable job expanding the film's story into the ten episode first season of the show, which I thoroughly enjoyed. When the season finale ended, I was left wanting more - especially because the season ended where the movie ended. Season two wouldn't be an adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn 2, meaning the show would be entering all new territory with the second season. Although the series had changed plenty of things while telling the story of the original film over the course of those first ten episodes, it was still essentially a remake. Season two would have to be built fresh from the ground up, and thus would be the first all-new From Dusk Till Dawn story we've gotten since the release of From Dusk Till Dawn 3 in January of 2000. They had me hooked.
The first episode of season two was, fittingly, directed by Robert Rodriguez, working from a teleplay by Carlos Coto, an executive producer on the show who had written two season one episodes ('Mistress' and 'The Take'). As the show re-introduces us to its surviving characters, it's also putting a lot of focus on the mythology and functionality of the Culebras, the vampiric snake creatures at the center of the franchise. If you thought the Culebras were primarily confined to that Mayan temple turned strip club the Titty Twister, this episode is out to prove that assumption to be very wrong, as it turns out that the areas of Mexico and Texas the characters are in are crawling with these creatures.
Bank robbing brothers Seth (D.J. Cotrona) and Richie (Zane Holtz) Gecko parted ways at the end of the first season, but they're both up to business that's outside the law and both have taken on new partners.
The series' version of Seth has proven to be the "effing bastard" that the film's Seth said he wasn't, as he has gotten teenage Culebra survivor Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport) wrapped up in his life of crime. Months after the bloodbath in the Titty Twister, the pair are trying to scrape by in Mexico while in the need of fake passports so they can travel. There are Culebras at every turn, which Kate sees as an opportunity to gather information - she wants to rescue her adopted brother Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo) from the snake den.
Scott is being held prisoner at the Titty Twister, which still stands and is still populated by vampires, but the shows they put on have gotten lame and nobody's coming around anymore. That's fine by Culebra leader Lord Amancio Malvado (Esai Morales), who wants the club shuttered until he can get his main attraction back. The escaped Culebra goddess Kisa, better known as Santanico Pandemonium.
Santanico (Eiza Gonzalez) is on the road with her love Richie. At first it appears that the pair have settled down into domestic life, with Santanico seeming to have gotten a job as a meat cutter at a meat packing plant. Then it appears that the show might be taking a cue from From Dusk Till Dawn 2 after all, specifically the idea that "Vampires need money, too." Santanico has used this job as cover to get close to the boss, and when she and Richie confront the boss with guns drawn, I thought this was a robbery. But it's not that simple. It's part of a mission Santanico is on to bring down the Culebras. To bring down Malvado.
Yes, we have characters on a collision course here.
As a 45 minute experience in itself, Opening Night wasn't exactly the most satisfying episode, but this was a story that's just laying the foundation for what's to come, setting up the situations for each of the characters. There's so much mythology information being tossed around that it almost reached overload levels for me, but hopefully the season two ride will get less bumpy and more fun now that this exposition is out of the way.
Malvado seems like an intriguing character, a very promising element is introduced near the end of the episode, and I'm invested in the returning characters, so I'm looking forward to seeing where Rodriguez and company are going to take all the plotlines they've set up here.
Episode 2: In a Dark Time
The Gecko brothers are dead. At least, that's what Richie Gecko wants the authorities to think, and Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) has identified the burnt-to-a-crisp corpses - actually dead vampires/Culebras - in the car Richie rolled off a cliff to be the Geckos, buying them some time to do whatever they're doing out in the world without having the police breathing down their necks.
The title of this episode, 'In a Dark Time', comes from a quote that goes "Only in dark times can we see the demons in the shadows", but it's also an accurate description of what Gonzalez is going through these days. He's still reeling from the death of his partner Earl McGraw in the first episode of the previous season, and he's suffering a supernatural case of post-traumatic stress after his near death experience at the Titty Twister strip club/Culebra temple in the later episodes. He's haunted by nightmares and visions of Culebras, and spends his waking hours obsessing over them, a fact he keeps from his wife Margaret (Jamie Tisdale) in an effort to protect her from the horrors he has encountered.
When Margaret discovers his Culebra research, she is disturbed but still helps him decipher it with the works of Professor Aiden Tanner, a man who was also at the Titty Twister. It all has to do with astrology and mathematics, and it leads Gonzalez to a mass grave of illegal immigrants who have all been bitten on the neck and had symbols carved into their foreheads before they were buried alive. I'm not sure where the Gonzalez storyline is going, but I am sure it's going to take him through more and more unpleasant scenarios.
A lot of this episode centers on Gonzalez, but it also advances the stories of the remaining Culebras at the Titty Twister, which has been shut down while vampire leader Lord Amancio Malvado (Esai Morales) has his lackeys search for missing main attraction Santantico Pandemonium. Through writers Carlos Coto, who wrote the season one episodes 'Mistress' (which was helmed by the same director as 'In a Dark Time', The Blair Witch Project's Eduardo Sánchez) and 'The Take', as well as the premiere episode of season two, 'Opening Night', and Álvaro Rodríguez, who wrote the season one episode 'Place of Dead Roads' and the prequel to the 1996 film version of From Dusk Till Dawn, From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter, the series continues to dig deeper into Culebra mythology, here introducing a new prophecy. As it turns out, the snake-like vampires wanted the Geckos to steal $30 million in bearer bonds and bring them to the Titty Twister last season not for the monetary value but because a prophecy is written out across the paper - a prophecy of a thirst quenching storm of blood.
The Culebras don't even know how to figure out their own prophecies for themselves. They need the help of Professor Aiden Tanner, known in the clubs as Sex Machine (Jake Busey), and so he has to be retrieved from the maze-like bowels of the temple by teenage vampire Scott Fuller (Brandon Soo Hoo) and Culebra cartel leader Carlos Madrigal (Wilmer Valderrama).
Valderrama spent eight seasons and two hundred episodes playing the goofball Fez on That '70s Show, he'll always be known for that character, but with his performance as Carlos he is truly leaving Fez far behind. Carlos has just endured a hell of an experience in the labyrinth of the mind, he emerges from it looking like Rasputin the Mad Monk, and even after a shave and a haircut he has a whole new, strange, creepy edge. He doesn't have fangs anymore, though. He tore those out.
I don't generally like stories that throw heaps of mythology at me. I prefer things that are a little more simplistic and grounded. Like the story of the original From Dusk Till Dawn - bank robbers make a run from Mexico, take some hostages on the way, stop at a strip club for a rendezvous and discover that the place is a vampire death trap. Simple, straightforward, no talk of vampire history of prophecies. That works for me. I understand they have to expand these elements to sustain a television series, but this mythology stuff is going over my head.
Even the expert Tanner/Sex Machine can't give the Culebras the answer they seek. Something called a Savini Codex, named within the reality of the show after the man who created it and in our reality after the special effects legend Tom Savini, who played Sex Machine in the '96 film, is required to crack the mysteries of the prophecy. Eh, whatever. I'll just go along for the ride.
Meanwhile, Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona) is doing what a Gecko does best, pulling off a heist. He does so with the help of teenage Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport), Scott's sister by adoption and the only surviving, non-bloodsucking member of her family. Characters on the periphery of this heist include tattoo artist/passport forger Sonja Lam (Briana Evigan) and friendly Culebra Rafa Infante (Patrick Davis). Sonja has the hots for Seth and Rafa for Kate, but the relationships are off to a shaky start. In fact, it's certain that things aren't going anywhere between Rafa and Kate. I thought Rafa might be sticking around a little longer, but that's not going to be happening. I do know that Sonja will be back for future episodes, and I'm looking forward to seeing where things go with her. A fan of Evigan's from movies like Sorority Row, Burning Bright, and Mother's Day, I like that she has entered the world of From Dusk Till Dawn.
Another cast member I'm very glad to have in here is Danny Trejo. Trejo had been in all three of the From Dusk Till Dawn films, so I was disappointed that he missed out on the first season of the series. He finally made his FDTD TV debut as The Regulator, a seemingly ancient Culebra enforcer who was awoken from a state of dormancy by Malvdo near the end of 'Opening Night' and sent on the trail of the Geckos and Santanico Pandemonium. With his scenes in this episode, The Regulator is shaping up to be one badass character, making the arrival of Trejo worth the wait.
The mythology and prophecies are bogging down my enjoyment a bit, but this show is still providing enough cool moments and interesting angles to keep me entertained.
Episode 3: Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine
Quentin Tarantino's films tend to be packed with pop culture references of one sort of another, and that's a fact that extends into the television series that Robert Rodriguez developed from their 1996 collaboration From Dusk Till Dawn. Not only are the characters of Seth (D.J. Cotrona) and Richie (Zane Holtz) Gecko regularly referencing movies, but several of the season two episode titles are From Dusk Till Dawn twists on the titles of cult classic films. Which is how you get a title like 'Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine', even though the Sex Machine character (played by Jake Busey) does not actually reach a height of fifty feet in the teleplay written by Marcel Rodriguez, who previously wrote the season one episodes 'Let's Get Ramblin'' and 'La Conquista', in addition to working on the Robert Rodriguez films Machete Kills and The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl.
Some episodes of this show are helmed by directors familiar to genre fans. The list includes Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project), Dwight H. Little (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers), and Fede Alvarez (the 2013 version of Evil Dead). The director of this episode, Alejandro Brugués, also had some genre cred going in, having directed the Cuban zombie movie Juan of the Dead and the "E is for Equilibrium" segment of The ABCs of Death 2.
Seth and Richie seem to have gotten their referencing ways from their Uncle Eddie, who owns a TV repair shop. Richie gives their uncle a visit in this episode, a quick stop during the latest stage of the mission he and his love Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez) are on to bring down the empire of Culebra vampire leader Lord Amancio Malvado (Esai Morales), the man who forced Santanico to dance at the Titty Twister strip club for centuries. Eddie is played by Jeff Fahey, just the latest awesome cast addition in this season, following in the footsteps of actors like Briana Evigan as tattoo artist/passport forger Sonja Lam, who also shows up in this episode to force Seth go to cold turkey from the heroin oblivion he's been in so far this season, and Danny Trejo as Culebra enforcer The Regulator, who cameos during one of Seth's detox hallucinations.
While Richie and Santanico put on the facade of being human traffickers, kidnapping female illegal immigrants and forcing them to dance on video in an effort to lure in Malvado, the attack of the title is being conducted by the shape-shifting vampire Sex Machine on the home of Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia), his wife Margaret (Jamie Tisdale), and their infant child. Sex Machine, formerly known as college professor Aidan Tanner, is seeking something Gonzalez took from his home during his investigation into the Culebras.
When Jake Busey first showed up on this show as Tanner, I was glad to see him playing against type as a professorial character, as I tend to be put off by the presence of Busey in a lot of work. I tend to find him off-puttingly over-the-top. Tanner was eventually revealed to be a lech, then became a vampire, and by this point, Busey is delivering exactly the performance I was worried he would, hamming it up as he attacks people while wearing fangs and snake vampire makeup. It's typical Busey, but it's kind of fun, even while making me cringe a bit.
'Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine' was actually my favorite episode of season two so far, because the action and violence involves characters who are focused on a clear and specific task, and no one's prattling on about Culebra legends and prophecies. It's nice and simple.
As established with the previous episode, 'Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine', some of the titles of From Dusk Till Dawn season two episodes are twists on the names of cult favorite movies. This time we get a horrific twist on The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas with an episode written by Matt Morgan and Ian Sobel, who wrote the season one episode 'Boxman' together. Morgan also wrote the episode 'Self-Contained', which was directed by 'Horror House' helmer Joe Menendez.
'Horror House' begins with a scene that looks like it's set around the same "turn of the 20th century" time period as From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter, which was a prequel to the original From Dusk Till Dawn movie. But while The Hangman's Daughter had the Titty Twister strip club/vampire den going by the name La Tetilla del Diablo at that time, here the business is called The Twister Saloon. Keeping in continuity with the films is not part of the TV show's agenda. This is a complete reworking of things.
No matter what the year is, it's certain that vampire leader Lord Amancio Malvado (Esai Morales) and his lackey Carlos Madrigal (Wilmer Valderrama) have always had a rivalry over which of them the Twister's star attraction Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez) truly belongs to. Of course, Santanico has her own opinion about. She doesn't want anything to do with either of them, and the opening sequence of this episode is a flashback she's having that drives her forward on her modern day mission to bring down Malvado, the man who forced her to dance at the Twister for centuries and would rape her between shows.
Santanico is aided in her mission by Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz), a man who became a vampire to be with her, but isn't turning out to be the greatest boyfriend. While Santanico wants to destroy Malvado's empire, Richie has his own ideas - he wants to rule that empire himself. When the couple argues over their different approaches, it turns into physical altercation... And I don't care if your girlfriend is a powerful vampire or not, you don't hit her when you get upset with her. That's a major douche move, Richie.
Santanico and Richie are surrounded by douchebags as they attempt to lure in Malvado by pretending to be human traffickers and putting on a glamorous presentation of the immigrant women they have kidnapped, the favorite of the bunch being Alicia Sanz as Paloma Gutierrez. Santanico knows what her former captives like: Carlos is in attendance for the presentation, and definitely takes an interest in Paloma.
Another former Titty Twister captive is teenage Scott Fuller (Brandon Soo Hoo), who returns to his Texas hometown to do what teenagers do - party with friends, booze it up, and get laid. Unfortunately, being a vampire now means that he has a very different sort of performance issue when the opportunity to have sex presents itself. When you vamp out, kill your prospective lover, and need your adoptive sister (Madison Davenport as Kate Fuller) to help you dispose of the body, your night out has been a fail.
Interestingly, Kate is experiencing visions of Rafa Infante (Patrick Davis), the vampire boy who seemed to take a romantic interest in her a couple episodes ago, before he died in the sunlight. I really see no reason why Rafa should be appearing to Kate after his death, but it just goes to prove that everyone on this show is at least slightly nuts.
While the "girls for sale" presentation and the stuff with the Fuller siblings takes up the bulk of 'The Best Little Horror House in Texas', the most entertaining aspect of the episode for me was a storyline that gets just a handful of minutes - career criminal Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona) and tattoo artist/passport forger Sonja Lam (Briana Evigan) seeking the help of Seth's uncle "Fast" Eddie (Jeff Fahey) so Seth can repay Sonja the debt he owes her after ruining her livelihood by bringing the heat down on her place of business.
I don't care what happens with Scott Fuller, he could get staked in his next scene and I wouldn't mind at all, and the most interesting thing about the presentation storyline is its final moments, but - while there's not much to it and it's probably of little consequence in the big picture - the stuff with Seth, Sonja, and Eddie was interesting and fun.
Episode 5: Bondage
Directed by Joe Menendez, who directed the previous episode of the From Dusk Till Dawn series, 'The Best Little Horror House in Texas', and the season one episode 'Self-Contained', the fifth episode of the series' second season doesn't have a movie reference for a title like the last two episodes did (the one before 'Horror House' was 'Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine'), but it does have a very appropriate title. Written by actress/television producer Luisa Leschin, whose writing credits include the Are We There Yet? TV show, Everybody Hates Chris, and George Lopez, 'Bondage' is an episode that features more than one character getting tied up.
First there's Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez), who has been captured by fellow Culebra vampire Carlos Madrigal (Wilmer Valderrama), who wants her to accept her role as a goddess to all Culebras. And to be the Queen to his King. Instead, Santanico wants to bring the whole Culebra empire down. So Carlos has her tied up and placed in a freezer - the revelation of a new weakness for the snake-like vampires. They don't handle the cold very well. Apparently that comes with having a reptile side; they're cold blooded.
Another Culebra who ends up captured and bound is the recently vampirized teenager Scott Fuller (Brandon Soo Hoo), who is chained up by Culebra-hunting Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) after attacking his sister Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport). Gonzalez doesn't stop at just chaining Scott to a post, though. He also rigs up a staking device to the teen's chest while interrogating him about the Culebra higher-ups, threatening to put a stake through his heart if he doesn't answer the questions to the Ranger's satisfaction. This device is pretty cool-looking in a homemade way; it looks like something Jigsaw from the Saw franchise would come up with if his traps were designed for vampires rather than humans.
The interrogation is not very thorough, however, because being immune to the Culebra venom gives Gonzalez an ability the average person wouldn't have - by making like blood brothers with Scott, he can see into Scott's memories rather than having to rely on his word. That's how Gonzalez discovers the prophecy of the blood storm that the Culebras are hoping to bring about, setting the stage for him to focus on stopping this prophecy from coming true in future episodes.
Santanico's lover Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz), who Carlos is intensely jealous of, is also briefly held captive by a scumbag human trafficker, but there is no bondage for him, and he quickly escapes with the aid of his shotgun-wielding brother Seth (D.J. Cotrona).
Yes, after four episodes of being on separate tracks, the Gecko brothers are finally reunited in 'Bondage', and seeing these brothers side-by-side again is a very welcome sight after we followed their shared adventures through the entire first season (and the 1996 film this series is based on).
Together, the Geckos pursue that shipment of captured illegal immigrant women Richie and Santanico planned to follow to Culebra leader Lord Amancio Malvado (Esai Morales), operator of the Titty Twister strip club/Culebra temple where Santanico was held prisoner for centuries... And this is a path that takes them to another establishment run by Malvado.
While this episode does feature some cool character interactions and wonderfully bloody violence, a lot of it feels like it's just assembling puzzle pieces, going through the story motions necessary to get us to a more interesting level in the next episode. Things definitely do need to shift into a new gear now, because as 'Bondage' comes to an end this season has officially reached the halfway point. Five episodes down, five episodes to go.
I'm excited and intrigued to see where things are going to go in the second half of the season, as we're likely building up to some sort of large battle, much like what took place at the Titty Twister in the last four episodes of season one. Although this season has to live up to that onslaught of action in some way, I hope it's not just going to be a retread. It shouldn't have our heroes getting trapped at another Malvado business and having to spend multiple episodes fighting off a siege of vampires. They need to do something that's different but just as awesome and satisfying. I'm not sure what that might be, but I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with.
And how Danny Trejo's character The Regulator plays into it.
By the sixth episode of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series' second season, series executive producer Carlos Coto had received writing or co-writing credits on four episodes - season one episodes 'Mistress' and 'The Take' and season two episodes 'Opening Night' and 'In a Dark Time'. With season two's episode six, 'Bizarre Tales', Coto receives another writing credit, and a very special additional one: 'Bizarre Tales' marks his directorial debut. Written and directed by Carlos Coto, these 'Bizarre Tales' were all his.
The majority of the episode's story is a follow-up on the discover Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) made back in the 'In a Dark Time' episode, the bodies of illegal immigrants that had a strange symbol carved into their flesh before they were buried alive. He knows these murders had something to do with the vampiric creatures called Culebras, and he's aided in his investigation by teenager Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport), who's out to stop her homicidal, recently vampirized brother Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo).
As it turns out, Gonzalez's mentor Earl McGraw worked a similar case in 1987, so while Gonzalez has flashbacks of interactions with McGraw, as played by Don Johnson, that are actually clips from season one episodes 'Place of Dead Roads' and 'Let's Get Ramblin'', those flashbacks are also intercut with new footage of '80s Earl working the case, with Don Johnson being replaced in the role by his look-alike son Jesse Johnson. Jesse Johnson is actually the third person to play Earl McGraw, as the character was previously played by Michael Parks in the 1996 From Dusk Till Dawn film, the Kill Bill volumes, and both films that made up Grindhouse.
Following McGraw's trail leads Gonzalez and Kate to Culebra Lord Celestino Oculto (Hemky Madera), a very interesting character with Coffin Joe-esque fingernails. Oculto has been around for a very long, he has been burying people alive for a thousand years, and in the 20th century he became a writer for horror magazines, including one called Bizarre Tales. Oculto is more intriguing to me than any other villain this show has going on, so of course it seems pretty certain than he's a one episode character.
'Bizarre Tales' also takes us a few steps closer to the Culebras fulfilling a prophecy of a storm of blood, although a map to a specific location is required to get that storm started. The map is written out across $30 million in bearer bonds that Gecko brothers Seth (D.J. Cotrona) and Richie (Zane Holtz) stole for Culebra leader Carlos Madrigal (Wilmer Valderrama) in season one, but the Culebras don't have all of the bonds - Seth tried to give four of them to his ex-wife in the 'Mistress' and 'Let's Get Ramblin'' episodes of season one, and those bonds ended up in the possession of Gonzalez.
Gonzalez and Kate aren't the only ones who stand in the Culebras' way. The Gecko brothers and their female associates Santancino Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez) and Sonja Lam (Briana Evigan) are busy planning a strike against the vampires... but Sonja might not be trustworthy enough to be a part of it.
'Bizarre Tales' got off to a shaky start for me, as the first scene centers on one of my least favorite characters, Sex Machine, played by Jake Busey. It's silly and involves a joke about the character losing and regrowing his manhood, but thankfully Sex Machine exits the episode after this. Then it segues into Gonzalez and Kate doing police procedure stuff (with a vampire twist), and that's never my favorite sort of thing to watch. But the episode got more entertaining as it went along, with the highlight being the scenes with Celestino Oculto.
Storylines progressed nicely in this episode, and while it doesn't look like season two is going to follow season one's example of packing the last four episodes with action, I'm invested in seeing where this is all leading.
After a couple episodes away from the season two trend of naming episodes after familiar films, From Dusk Till Dawn returns to that trend with 'Bring Me the Head of Santanico Pandemonium', a play on the title of the 1974 Sam Peckinpah film Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. This episode marks the return of director Dwight H. Little to the series; he had previously directed the 'Place of Dead Roads' and 'The Take' episodes of season one (and before that, he was known for directing films like Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Marked for Death, and Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid).
Written by Diego Gutierrez, writer of the season one episodes 'Blood Runs Thick' and 'Pandemonium', the seventh episode of From Dusk Till Dawn's second season finds Gecko brothers Seth (D.J. Cotrona) and Richie (Zane Holtz) and their associates Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez), Sonja Lam (Briana Evigan), and the Geckos' Uncle Eddie (Jeff Fahey) plagued by paranoia and in-fighting while plotting a strike against vampire Lord Amancio Malvado (Esai Morales) that will function as both a heist and a hit.
Santanico wants Malvado dead because he kept her captive for centuries, never mind the fact that killing him will help thwart the fulfilling of a vampire prophecy that will result in a storm of blood.
What this episode feels like more than anything is like the show is just spinning its wheels, delaying, hesitant to take the next step in the story. It's interesting that Little was handed such an episode to direct, as that's also how I felt about his season one episode 'Place of Dead Roads'. My description of that episode was "Vampires keep you hanging on", as it was just filling time before the big action kicked in with the next episode (the Gutierrez-written 'Pandemonium').
Episodes like this are frustrating to me, I just want them to get to the point already. The build-up to the Malvado hit/heist does not need to be this complicated. 'Bring Me the Head of Santanico Pandemonium' also exemplifies one of my biggest issues with TV shows vs. movies - when problems between characters are dragged out over episodes and we have to listen to them air the same grievances again and again. I get it, Seth doesn't trust Santanico. How many times do I have to hear him reiterate this?
On a positive note concerning people talking about Santanico Pandemonium, it was a nice touch that TV repair shop owner/VHS collector recognized the fact that the name Santanico Pandemonium, given to the character by Quentin Tarantino when he wrote the 1996 film this series is based on, was inspired by the 1975 Mexican "nunsploitation" horror film Satanico Pandemonium: La Sexorcista.
For the most part, 'Bring Me the Head of Santanico Pandemonium' comes off as being a filler episode, but by the time it ends it has advanced the story, removed a couple characters from it, and delivered a touching emotional scene, so it does have some merit. I may have only enjoyed a portion of its 46 minutes, but we keep on truckin'.
Episode 8: The Last Temptation of Richard Gecko
We've reached the final three episodes of the second season of the television series based on the 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn, and with The Blair Witch Project director Eduardo Sánchez back behind the camera (he previously directed the season one episode 'Mistress' and the season two episode 'In a Dark Time'), working from a script by From Dusk Till Dawn veterans Álvaro Rodríguez (he wrote the episodes 'Place of Dead Roads' and 'In a Dark Time', as well as the film From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter) and Marcel Rodriguez (the episodes 'Let's Get Ramblin'', 'La Conquista', and 'Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine'), season two finally appears to be getting to the climactic action.
Like the episodes 'Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine', 'The Best Little Horror House in Texas', and 'Bring Me the Head of Santanico Pandemonium' before it, this episode takes its title from a popular film, in this case Martin Scorsese's controversial 1988 movie The Last Temptation of Christ. As it plays out, you may start to think the decision to give this episode that title was solely based on the fact that career criminal turned vampire Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz) is, ever so briefly, crucified in it. Some irreverent blasphemy likely to offend certain members of the audience. But hold on, there's more to it than that.
Before we get to the crucifixion, however, the story is partially dealing with a prophecy in the mythology of the snake-like vampire creatures the Culebras. They have all the information they've been seeking for this entire season, they know exactly how to fulfill the prophecy of a thirst quenching storm of blood. How dangerous will it be if they fulfill that prophecy? Well, that's something that they haven't really been too clear on. In fact, one of our protagonists - Madison Davenport as teenage Kate Fuller, whose brother Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo) has recently become a vampire - is so convinced that it's not such a bad thing that she has even gotten actively involved in helping make it happen.
So involved that she even takes part in the sacrifice of an innocent person to get things to the next step. That's not really something I can condone one of our heroes doing. Whether the prophecy is a world ender or a dud, that was a bad move, Kate.
Meanwhile, Richie Gecko, his brother Seth (D.J. Cotrona), their female companions Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez) and Sonja Lam (Briana Evigan), and Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) are, at long last, conducting their raid on Jacknife Jed's, an establishment run by vampire leader Lord Amancio Malvado (Esai Morales).
The group has been fortified by the tragic death of the Gecko brothers' Uncle Eddie, which was a sad and disappointing moment in the previous episode, as I was hoping to see actor Jeff Fahey stick around in this series for much longer. Richie had even offered to save Eddie's life by turning him into a vampire. I would have loved to have seen Fahey's Eddie running around as a badass bloodsucker! Oh well.
Given the fact that Richie gets crucified, you know that this heist/hit the Geckos and co. have planned does not go smoothly, but that's something we could be sure of from the beginning. They've got more episodes to fill here.
Characters are getting stuff done, there are twists and turns, and the episode moves along at a breezy pace, so I found 'The Last Temptation of Richard Gecko' to be an enjoyable chapter in this story. Things are starting to come together in a satisfying way.
'There Will Be Blood' is a title that works for this episode on multiple levels. For one thing, From Dusk Till Dawn is a vampire-centric television series, so of course there is going to be blood. It's also, like previous season two titles 'Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine', 'The Best Little Horror House in Texas', 'Bring Me the Head of Santanico Pandemonium', and 'The Last Temptation of Richard Gecko', a movie reference. In this case, the title comes from the 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson film There Will Be Blood, which centered on an oilman in the early 1900s. That's fitting, because this episode revolves around an oil well of sorts, although it's not oil in that ground. It's a thousand souls worth of blood, and the vampires are thirsty for it.
The discovery of the well is the fulfilling of the prophecy that the vampires have been obsessing over all season, and I'm still not clear on how this is a danger that must be thwarted.
The episode begins with a celebrity cameo in a scene set in 1912. Back in the episode 'Bizarre Tales', Don Johnson's son Jesse Johnson appeared as a younger version of his father's character, Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, and this time it's a son helping his father get a gig. Jake Busey is a regular on the show as the character called Sex Machine, and this 1912 sequence centers on an oilman played by his dad, Gary Busey. This oilman tapped into the blood well more than a hundred years ago and became a homicidal madman.
Jump to present day and Jake's Sex Machine and his fellow Culebra vampires have reached the well and set about emptying it into a tanker. Meanwhile, Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez) is continuing on the path to bring down Culebra Lord Amancio Malvado (Esai Morales), a path that brings her in contact with a character who had been gone for a few episodes, Alicia Sanz as Culebra devotee Paloma. Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona) is in a bad situation with traitorous Malvado associate Winchester Greely (Jere Burns). And Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz) may or may not have been corrupted by Malvado and a promise of great power.
'There Will Be Blood' was a reunion for director Joe Menendez and writers Matt Morgan and Ian Sobel, as Menendez had previously directed two of the three episodes Morgan and Sobel have written, season one's 'Self-Contained' and season two's 'The Best Little Horror House in Texas'. Menendez didn't direct the Morgan/Sobel season one episode 'Boxman', but did direct the season two episode 'Bondage', which they didn't write. So it all balances out.
As the penultimate episode of a season, I found this to be a bit disappointing and I really wasn't interested in a lot of what was transpiring. From the well being a lackluster pay-off to the prophecy to an out-of-nowhere flashback to 2008 chatter, I was just not enjoying this 45 minute ride. I was glad to see the action in the final few minutes, as it saw the exit of a character I was never really drawn in by. It's something we've been building to for nine episodes, and I'm glad it's done.
I was also slightly baffled by the addition of another character. The eighth episode introduced a female character in skintight biker gear and a hidden face. In this episode, we find out that she's the lover of Carlos Madrigal (Wilmer Valderrama), a lover who has come out of nowhere. Where was she before? At the end of this episode draws near, she shows her face - the character is played by Demi Lovato, who was dating Valderrama at the time. It feels like they just wanted to get Lovato on the show and shoehorned her as Carlos's girlfriend whether it made sense or not.
Well, maybe the character will be cool anyway.
With one more episode to go in season two, I can definitely say that it has not been as satisfying of a viewing experience as season one was. How much less satisfying will depend on what happens next.
Carlos Madrigal (Wilmer Valderrama) hopes to become a very powerful Culebra vampire leader, and he moves very quickly in the life decisions he makes on his way toward that goal. After hundreds of years of pining for Culebra demi-goddess Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez) and hoping to make her his Queen, he has abandoned that idea and chosen another potential Queen within just a couple days, now making the offer to vampire biker Maia (Demi Lovato), a character who just showed up out of nowhere in the last couple episodes. Maia isn't into being a Queen, either, but unlike Santanico she actually is into Carlos.
Carlos has in his possession a tanker filled with a thousand souls worth of blood extracted from a well they've been in since the days when the Culebras were ruling the Mayans. I still have trouble believing that this entire season has only been building up to blood being extracted from a well. This story element was introduced as a prophecy of a storm of blood. It sounds like it would be some kind of apocalyptic event involving supernatural forces and Culebras gods. No. It's a tanker full of blood. Why should we care that vampires have a tanker full of blood?
I'm not saying that the first season of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series (or the 1996 film that inspired the series) was aiming high with its plot, just being about a couple criminal brothers on their run and their hostages fighting hordes of vampires in a strip club that turned out to be a bloodsucker temple, but season two had promised to be shooting for something much larger with all that prophecy mumbo jumbo.
And it's just a tanker full of blood.
Santanico and her human cohorts Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona) and Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) are out to stop Carlos, while newly promoted Culebra Lord Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz) wants to obtain the tanker to feed his "peeps".
So there's a good amount of action packed into this season finale episode, which feels like it's moving at 2x speed compared to some of the episodes that preceded it. The lively pace and tone makes sense given that it was directed by Robert Rodriguez, the series developer as well as director of the 1996 film and several of the show's episodes - the Pilot, season one episodes 'Blood Runs Thick', 'Let's Get Ramblin'', and 'Pandemonium', and season two premiere 'Opening Night'. Rodriguez was working from a teleplay written by 'Blood Runs Thick' / 'Pandemonium' / 'Bring Me the Head of Santanico Pandemonium' writer Diego Gutierrez and Sarah Wise, who earned her first From Dusk Till Dawn writing credit on this episode after being credited as a "writers assistant" on season one.
In its final moments, 'Santa Sangre' (like other season two episodes, it shares a title with a movie) enters a sequence quite reminiscent of the strip club-based action of the '96 movie and season one, and while I didn't think this season should go in that direction, the familiar action is welcome at this point, after I've been underwhelmed by some of the more original things season two had to offer.
This episode ends the season on a fun note. I was disappointed with some aspects of the season, there were times when I was frustrated by the way it was telling its story, other times when I did not care what was going on, but I can't say I didn't like it overall. It wasn't great, but I'd rather watch this than the majority of things on television.
I'm looking forward to season three, which will be airing on El Rey Network this fall, and will be watching it in hopes that it will build up to something better than a tanker full of blood.