Wednesday, January 4, 2017

TV Review: From Dusk Till Dawn - Season Three


Vampires get a third 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: Head Games 

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.


Episode 2: La Reina

In the season two finale of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, it looked like Kate Fuller, the character played by Madison Davenport, was dead. For a while. But then in the final moments, Kate was resurrected by some kind of supernatural force, and she didn't come back to life the same. Her body is now inhabited by another spirit, which causes such erratic behavior that she ended up in a mental hospital. Five moons ago, she killed her way out of that hospital to be greeted outside by the mysterious Brasa (Maurice Compte), who escaped from the rubble of the destroyed vampire den/strip club the Titty Twister and now seems to be seeking to eradicate the Culebra species of vampires that had held him captive.

Brasa is said to be a Xibalban, a being from Hell, and he has certainly been raising hell since gaining his freedom. He has even managed to wipe out the ruling class of the Culebras, the Lords, causing any order among the vampires to go out the window. Only Lord Venganza Verdugo (Ana de la Reguera) is left to try to pick up the pieces... and honestly, never a fan of elaborate mythologies, I'm not sad to see the Lords get (mostly) removed from this series. In my day, the only organization vampires had was groups of like-minded individuals, like in The Lost Boys and Near Dark, or when one badass vampire like Dracula had some brainwashed minions. I don't need anything more complicated than that.

Someone not so glad that vampires are running loose now is Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia), who is working as a "Peace Keeper" with Venganza's counselor Ximena Vasconcelos (Emily Rios). Gonzalez and his wife are estranged while he deals with all this vampire business, and if I were Mrs. Gonzalez and had hopes of being with Freddie again down the line, I would be a bit wary of his relationship with Ximena. These two are starting to seem a bit too close for my liking.

One thing still holding some groups of vampires together is their reverence for Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez), so Brasa and Kate are massacring their way through Santanico's followers, zeroing in on the reluctant goddess herself. As luck would have it, the villains locate Santanico at the same time retired bank robber Seth Gecko (DJ Cotrona) and his vampire brother Richie (Zane Holtz), Santanico's former lover, show up at her place of business seeking her help with the Brasa problem.

Santanico once ruled over the Titty Twister, and now she has traded strippers for fighters, running an underground vampire cage fighting establishment. This allows for some fisticuff action in the episode before the monster mayhem breaks out - like Brasa was working with the demonic Skull Keeper in the previous episode, he and Kate have a one-off monstrous associate in this episode as well. Just like the Skull Keeper, this creature is short-lived but is pretty cool during the screen time it does have. An Olmeca, a legendary Xibalban warrior, it's played by Shad Gaspard and is just a bruiser, muscle working for Brasa and Kate, able to tear off heads and crush skulls with the greatest of ease.

Robert Rodriguez, director of the 1996 film that this series is based on, directed the premiere episodes of both the first and second seasons, but for this third season he held back and waited to direct the second episode. As expected, Rodriguez brings a nice energy with him, and his episode delivers some good violence and bloodshed while the script by Diego Gutierrez (writer of previous episodes 'Blood Runs Thick', 'Pandemonium', 'Bring Me the Head of Santanico Pandemonium', and 'Santa Sangre') keeps things flowing forward at a good pace.

The highlights of 'La Reina' are the reunions, the band getting back together as Seth and Richie recruit Santanico into the fight (with the villains ultimately forcing her to get involved to some degree), and the brothers realizing that Kate isn't dead, but also isn't really Kate. The character is far from being the teenybopper preacher's daughter we were first introduced to, and I'm intrigued to find out where her plotline is going. I have some hope that the real Kate will somehow return, but the fact that she died before this evil being took over her body would seem to make that quite complicated.

With the main villains of the season seemingly established, the third season of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is off to a really great start. I'm invested in finding out its answers and looking forward to more action.


Episode 3: Protect and Serve

Directed by Juan of the Dead's Alejandro Brugués, 'Protect and Serve' is essentially the season three sequel to his season two episode 'Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine', in which the vampire Sex Machine (Jake Busey) invaded the home of Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia), a Texas Ranger who has since been appointed Peacekeeper in the Culebra vampire world. Sex Machine's actions ruined Gonzalez's marriage. His wife is now keeping her distance from him and won't even let him visit their infant child - a fact that has Gonzalez, understandably, pretty upset, but also makes sense. If your husband was constantly surrounded by vampires, would you want to risk your child's safety by letting him come around?

With the Culebra ruling class having been wiped out by this season's main villain, the vampire world is going out of control, which is how Gonzalez and Sex Machine end up crossing paths again. Yes, Gonzalez is reunited with Sex Machine before he's reunited with his family. That is a pretty sad state of affairs.

The vampire/pervy professor, who is known to his students as Professor Aiden Tanner, has been luring college kids into a lifestyle of hedonism and bloodsucking. And yet the fact that Tanner/Sex Machine is creating an army of hormonal vampire youths isn't the primary issue the Peacekeeper has to deal with here. There's another threat out there, another Xibalban demon that was being held captive in the vampire den/strip club Titty Twister and was released when the place was destroyed last season, the event that has set up a monster-of-the-week approach to this season. An approach that I am really liking, it's nice to get a fresh monstrous villain in each episode.

This particular villain, though, I have to say I'm kind of on his side. Played by Micah Fitzgerald, he is called El Caporal and appears to be a regular ranch hand until you see the hideous bottom half of his face and the scorpion-like stinger tail he has. Long ago, the Culebras were servants in Xibalba / Hell and were treated like cattle. Like bulls are castrated, vampires got similar treatment from the higher-ups - the vampire version of being castrated is to have their venom glands removed so they can't turn others into vampires. El Caporal has been carrying on the tradition, capturing vampires and removing their venom glands.

Although our heroes on this show have been working more closely with the Culebras lately, I still haven't been won over enough by the vampires to think that this is a bad idea. These are among the most troublesome monsters in the horror genre, so sure, remove those glands and stop the spread of vampirism. That's exactly the sort of thing that needs to be done to Sex Machine. Why try to stop El Caporal?

I don't know why he does, but Gonzalez teams up with Sex Machine to bring El Caporal's "vampire castration" spree to an end.

Meanwhile, Busey isn't the only Sex Machine in this episode. Brugués was also given the honor of being the director tasked with introducing horror genre legend Tom Savini into the show. The master special artist played the original iteration of Sex Machine that was featured in the 1996 film that this series was based on, and now he has been added to the cast of the series as legendary Culebra demon hunter Ilhuicamina, the One Who Shoots Arrows at the Sky. He's the one who captured most of the Xibalbans who were imprisoned at the Titty Twister. Now he's retired, going by the name Burt and running a gas station / marijuana dispensary. Twenty years after getting turned into a vampire in the movie, Savini puts the fangs back in for the TV show, and it's great to see him interacting with these characters. Here's hoping that Burt is a whole lot of ass-kicking ahead of him. He's already proving quite helpful, spurring on the revelation of the back story on the entity that has taken over the body of former heroine now villainess Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport) and her connection to the Xibalbans.

'Protect and Serve' was written by Ian Sobel and Matt Morgan, a duo that previously wrote multiple season one and two episodes - 'Self-Contained', 'Boxman', 'The Best Little Horror House in Texas', and 'There Will Be Blood'. It's a fun episode, even though it presents a villain that I didn't really see as a villain, so that was sort of a waste of time... Regardless, I enjoyed it and it brought in Burt, so I remain positive while moving on to the next episode.


Episode 4: Fanglorious

The snake-like vampire creatures the Culebras were once servants in Xibalba (a.k.a. Hell), ruled over by a Queen Amaru. When the Culebras escaped to our realm, Amaru pursued them, and soon found herself in over her head. She was killed by the vampires, who feasted on her flesh but saved her blood. Amaru's blood made contact with a wound on the dead body of Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport) in the season two finale of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, allowing the Queen of Hell to take over the teenager's corpse.

The return of Amaru has coincided with the destruction of the Titty Twister vampire den/Mayan temple/strip club, where many Xibalban demons were kept captive in a supernatural labyrinth within the temple. The demons have escaped and they still serve Amaru, taking on the Culebras and building toward the ultimate goal of opening a door to Xibalba, unleashing Hell on Earth.

As explained by demon hunter Burt (Tom Savini) and his vampiric former gal pal Ximena Vasconcelos (Emily Rios) in the final moments of the previous episode, 'Protect and Serve', that is the villain plot that is driving From Dusk Till Dawn season three forward. Works for me, and sounds nice and apocalyptic. Then again, there was a point when the plot of season two sounded nice and apocalyptic, but it only built up to vampires stealing a tanker truck full of blood. Yes, I'm still grumbling about that.

As interested as I am to see where the Amaru story goes, 'Fanglorious', the fourth episode in the ten episode season, had a few other elements that hooked me even more than that, like a returning cast member, a new character, a cast addition, and an uncredited cameo.

The returning cast member brings with him that new addition and an explanation for the episode's title. Amaru has found Kate's adopted brother Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo), finally showing up in this season. The vampiric Scott is now playing in a band called Fanglorious, and one of his bandmates is played by Daniel Zovatto of It Follows and Don't Breathe. I always like it when Zovatto turn up in another genre project. He was on a couple episodes of the second season of Fear the Walking Dead, but his role didn't amount to much. I have a feeling he isn't going to become a From Dusk Till Dawn regular, either, but it was nice to have him stop by.

A Fanglorious concert is not an event I would like to attend, because it's dangerously unhygienic. Scott slashes open his palm with a knife, then that knife is passed through the crowd so audience members can slash their palms open as well, all sharing the same blade. Then Scott walks through the audience, pressing his bleeding palm against their bleeding palms. No, thank you.

Scott is actually looking for a victim that way. He can see people's secrets by mingling their blood with his. The worst person in the crowd will become dinner for him and his vampire bandmates.

When Amaru finds Scott, she nearly kills him with whatever supernatural power she has. They're separated before she can do everything she intended to do to him, but their brief interaction does offer tantalizing clues that the situation with Kate may not be as hopeless as it seems.

With Scott in the custody of our heroes - former bank robber Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona), his vampire brother Richie (Zane Holtz), and Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) - a trio of hellish mercenaries who look like The Road Warrior rejects are sent to track down and retrieve him. These three are our villains of the week, using their arrows, blades, strength, fighting skills, and chameleon cloaking ability to infiltrate the Culebra compound.

These three, the Jaguar Warriors, pale in comparison with season three demons that have come before, like the Skull Keeper, but they're capable ass-kickers, even giving Richie the Predator "Stick around" treatment and killing a Culebra guard that IMDb tells me was an uncredited Kurly Tlapoyawa, the star of The Stink of Flesh.

The new character that caught my attention was Doctor Dakota Block, who isn't exactly a new character in the strictest sense. Playing Dakota, Nicky Whelan is actually replacing Marley Shelton in the role, as she was a character in both Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof sections of the Grindhouse double feature.

Doctor Dakota Block is the daughter of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, a character who was played by Michael Parks in the 1996 From Dusk Till Dawn film, Kill Bill, and Planet Terror. McGraw was then played by Don Johnson in this series, and his character was killed off way back in the pilot. Dakota doesn't have much screen time in this episode, appearing just long enough to get me wondering what she'll be doing on this show.

The Jaguar Warriors not being monstrous makes them a bit of a letdown, but 'Fanglorious' is a fast, action-packed episode, well written by series veteran Marcel Rodriguez (who previously wrote the episodes 'Let's Get Ramblin'', 'La Conquista', 'Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine', and 'The Last Temptation of Richard Gecko'), and directed by series newcomer Eagle Egilsson, a helmer with a lot of TV credits to his name, including episodes of Arrow, Gotham, Nikita, and three different CSI shows. Egilsson perfectly matched the style of the show with his episode and did a great job presenting the action.


Episode 5: Shady Glen

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series writers' assistant and staff writer Sarah Wise earned her first "written by" credit on the series' season two finale 'Santa Sangre', and earned her second one on the episode that brings us to the midway point of season three, 'Shady Glen'. This episode was directed by The Blair Witch Project co-director Eduardo Sánchez, who has contributed to every season of the show so far. During season one, he directed the episode 'Mistress', and for season two he was at the helm of 'In a Dark Time' and 'The Last Temptation of Richard Gecko'.

Season three of the series based on the 1996 Robert Rodriguez / Quentin Tarantino film From Dusk Till Dawn has been a "monster of the week" season so far, unleashing some kind of different hellish beast for our heroes to deal with and dispatch every episode, and with their episode Wise and Sánchez deliver a creature that at first seemed more suited to the Tremors TV show. In fact, when Xibalban Queen Amaru (Madison Davenport) and her sun god assistant Brasa (Maurice Compte) first unleashed a swarm of insects on the suburban community of Shady Glen, I was having flashbacks to the 'The Sounds of Silence' episode of Tremors, which centered on a mutant insect that was a combination of cicadas, termites, and maggots. And as Amaru and Brasa's insects filled the air, I wasn't impressed by the CGI used to bring them to the screen. It looked very goofy.

Thankfully, this episode isn't just about pest extermination. The insect infestation is a precursor to an outbreak of cannibalism that soon has the civilian residents of Shady Glen tearing out mouthfuls of each other's flesh.

Bugs, cannibals, and denizens of Hell aren't even all the threats our heroes - former bank robber Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona), his vampire brother Richie (Zane Holtz), Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia), and Richie's fellow vampires Scott Fuller (Brandon Soo Hoo), Ximena Vasconcelos (Emily Rios), and Sex Machine (Jake Busey) - have to contend with, either. Dakota Block (Nicky Whelan as a version of a character played by Marley Shelton in the Rodriguez / Tarantino movie Grindhouse) is also out to bring the Geckos to justice for murdering her father in the pilot episode of the series, and her mission drops her right into the middle of the Shady Glen mess. That's not good for her or the Geckos, but it is a break for the afflicted, since she's a doctor.

'Shady Glen' features bloodshed, fights, and crumbling alliances, but overall I didn't find this episode to be very entertaining or interesting. You might expect a halfway episode of a short season to get you excited for what's ahead, but this episode definitely did not meet that expectation for me.

I had a couple issues with the story and the storytelling as well. This episode confirmed my suspicions about Gonzalez and Ximena, and I am not enthusiastic about that relationship going in a romantic direction, especially when Gonzalez is married to a woman who is trying her best to keep their child safe, even if that means not having contact with him. He is very bitter about her safety measures, so he's going to hook up with a vampire.

There's also something that happens with Tom Savini's demon hunter character Burt that was handled in a very sloppy way. I hope a future episode will fill in the gaps, but the way things play out within 'Shady Glen' is not very good.

This episode didn't draw me in, but I have hope for the second half of the season being an action-packed, fun ride toward an awesome finale.


Episode 6: Straitjacket

We are now officially in the second half of the third season of From Dusk Till Dawn, the series that builds on concepts first introduced in the 1996 film written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez, and the start of the second half comes from a creative team new to the show - 'Straitjacket' was directed by Rebecca Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez's younger sister who many fans may remember as the star of his 1991 short Bedhead, and was written by Fernanda Coppel, who joined the series as a story editor this season and earned her first "written by" credit on this episode.

The Rodriguez / Coppel collaboration earns its title from the fact that it's set almost completely within the confines of the abandoned Nicotero State Hospital, a location named in honor of special effects artist Greg Nicotero, who was part of the KNB FX group with Robert Kurtzman, who came up with the original idea for From Dusk Till Dawn. In this hospital, bank robber turned vampire Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz) wakes up in a straitjacket after being abducted by Queen of Hell Amaru (Madison Davenport) at the end of the previous episode. Richie manages to get out of that straitjacket and get a call out to his brother Seth (D.J. Cotrona)... and in doing that, he plays right into Amaru's hand.

Amaru casts a spell on Richie, brainwashing him, making him a danger to the rescue party Seth assembles to save him from the asylum. Especially once they're trapped in the place with him.

'Straitjacket' plays a lot like a slasher movie. Characters wander the dark corridors of the hospital, then Richie will appear from the shadows and attack them with a blade or a drill... or drive a car into them... The fact that I didn't think most of the characters were truly in jeopardy did cut down on the tension, though. There was no way most of these folks were going to be killed off at this point. They did add in a former patient so they could give someone a bloody death, and Sex Machine (Jake Busey) sustains some damage - I would have been perfectly happy if they had chosen to take him out.

The character who seemed most likely to be expendable to me was vampire Ximena Vasconcelos (Emily Rios), who has entered into a troubled love triangle with Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia), whose wife has gone into hiding with their infant child because her husband is always dealing with vampires. Ximena feels worse about sleeping with a married man than he feels about sleeping with her (he doesn't seem to feel bad about it at all), and the show could remove her from the equation to resolve the issue and further complicate Gonzalez's emotional state. I was concerned about Ximena.

There's not much to 'Straitjacket', but Rodriguez brought the story to the screen with some nice visual touches and proved very capable of shooting action. There is a great fight between Richie and sword-wielding vampire Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo) that had me thinking of The Raid. Or a TV version thereof.

Unlike the previous episodes of the season, there was no new monster introduced in this episode. The "monster of the week" this time was basically Richie, and he handled the job well.

This episode leaves the character in an interesting place, and may have given them a renewed purpose in their battle against Amaru. I feel better about seeing what may be ahead in the season at the end of 'Straitjacket' than I have after watching the two preceding episodes.


Episode 7: La Llorona

Diego Gutierrez is a prime example of someone working their way up in the entertainment business. He got his start in television as an assistant on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, eventually getting to write an episode. He continued to work in television over the years, working in the writers' room on various shows, earning producing credits. He became a co-executive producer on the TV series based on the 1996 Robert Rodriguez / Quentin Tarantino film From Dusk Till Dawn and has written several episodes over its three seasons - 'Blood Runs Thick', 'Pandemonium', 'Bring Me the Head of Santanico Pandemonium', 'Santa Sangre', 'La Reina', and now 'La Llorona'. And on 'La Llorona', he took another step up, making this episode his directorial debut.

Gutierrez's episode finds vampires Sex Machine (Jake Busey), Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo), and Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz), along with Richie's human brother Seth (D.J. Cotrona), discover a cult of the snake-like vampires the Culebras who serve the villain of the season, Queen of Hell Amaru (Madison Davenport). As part of their service to their Queen and Amaru's soul gatherer Itzpa, the cultists sacrifice fellow vampires.

While the guys deal with that situation, this show continues to do great damage to the character of Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia). I could understand him when he was out to avenge the murder of his mentor and relentlessly pursuing the Geckos in season one. I thought it was cool when he turned out to be a vampire-killing badass. I could feel for him when his wife went into hiding with their baby because there are always vampires lurking around. But I am not fond of what's going on with him in season three. Rather than focus on removing himself from these vampire shenanigans for good (even though they consider him the Peacekeeper), rather than remaining dedicated to reuniting with his wife, the guy is conducting himself like a total horndog. He fell for vampire Ximena Vasconcelos (Emily Rios). She was killed off in the previous episode, 'Straitjacket', so now Gonzalez is hurting over Ximena's death... but that hasn't stopped him from hooking up with another woman, with 'La Llarona' catching up with Gonzalez while he's in bed with Solaya, played by Fernanda Andrade. And like when we saw him in bed with Ximena, he's ready and raring to go multiple times. I'm not liking this guy at all anymore, and by the end of the episode he does something so idiotic that my distaste for him gets even more intense.

Gonzalez has issues with Richie due to the events of the previous episode, in which they were both taken over by an evil force, but demon-hunting vampire Burt (Tom Savini) is able to lure him back into the Amaru battling efforts in time for him to participate in some of this episode's action. Gonzalez just can't quit these vampires.

Amaru is inhabiting the body of a character who has been in the series since season one, teenager Kate Fuller. Our heroes get the idea that they might be able to force the spirit Amaru out and bring Kate back, but to do so they need to capture Amaru... and for the Queen of the underworld, she proves incredibly easy to capture. Amaru seems to be less of a threat here than a lingering evil in Richie and the arrival of Itzpa, the latest "monster of the week".

Despite having a very strong start, this season has been going downhill for a while, and I have some problems with 'La Llorona': The fact that it doesn't address the poor storytelling involving Burt in 'Straitjacket'. How quickly Gonzalez is going from woman to woman. How ineffectual the cultists are. I'm also having a problem with this season as a whole - there is a severe lack of Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez). I have to assume that the shooting schedule overlapped with that of the Edgar Wright movie Gonzalez will be appearing in, Baby Driver.

The good? I still enjoy watching most of these characters interact with each other, and Itzpa is pretty cool - both when she's in monster mode with her venom dripping claws, and when she takes on the appearance of a normal woman to taunt and try to manipulate characters.

There's not much to grasp onto in 'La Llorona', especially when an act of pure stupidity is used as the catalyst for the last minutes. However, it does take us a couple interesting steps forward in the journey to the finale, and I have hope that season three will wrap up in a more satisfying way than the second did.


Episode 8: Rio Sangre

Just last episode, I was lamenting the fact that Eiza Gonzalez's Santanico Pandemonium, formerly a goddess to Culebra vampires, has barely had any presence in the third season of From Dusk Till Dawn up to this point. Now here she is, making her triumphant return. While I assume Gonzalez was missing from the season because she was busy filming Edgar Wright's movie Baby Driver, it is explained that Santanico has been missing because she was busy gathering together the scattered body parts of the villainous vampire Carlos Madrigal (Wilmer Valderrama), a character who was defeated and chopped to pieces in the season two finale 'Santa Sangre'.

In 'Rio Sangre', Santanico stitches together Carlos's various parts and revives him with blood, sort of making him a combination of a Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula - no matter how Christopher Lee's Dracula was defeated in those old Hammer movies, they'd always find some way to bring him back, just like they've done with Carlos here. I can't exactly say I've missed Carlos this season, but it has felt a bit awkward not having him around, he was such a large presence in the previous seasons.

I can't say I trust Carlos, either, but Santanico is convinced he'll be a strong ally in the fight against Queen of Hell Amaru (Madison Davenport), who wants to unleash Hell on Earth. Carlos has been spending some time in Hell between the end of the season two and his resurrection here, so he knows just how bad Hell on Earth would be.

Carlos's plan to defeat Amaru is also something straight out of a movie featuring an iconic horror figure, in this case Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The plan to defeat Freddy in that film involved locating the supernatural dream stalker's earthly remains, which were hidden away after he was killed in an act of mob justice, and splashing holy water on them. Similarly, Amaru was killed by the Culebra ruling class, the Lords, and her remains hidden away by Lord Venganza Verdugo (Ana de la Reguera). While Amaru's spirit inhabits the body of a character we used to know as Kate Fuller, her bones are still in Venganza's possession, and through those bones she can be defeated.

Venganza is in hiding in a Mexico prison that houses both humans and Culebras, so Carlos leads a select group of our heroes there - Santanico, career criminal Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona), his vampire brother Richie (Zane Holtz), vampire Scott Fuller (Brandon Soo Hoo). They're followed by a villain who seems quite appropriate for the setting, since you're always hearing about prison tattoos. He is Geno Segers as General Tatuaje, a fellow covered in ink (even his name means "tattoo") that he can transfer to someone else by touch, and when his tattoos leak over onto that other person, he takes over their mind. He can control a whole army this way, and does end up doing that, taking over the minds of several prisoners and sparking a riot.

The prison infiltration shenanigans make for some fun caper moments, with the climactic riot providing some cool fisticuff action. One person who I have been very impressed with in the fight sequences this season is Brandon Soo Hoo, who pulls off the choreography like a pro. This kid could become an action star if he wants to.

You know, now that I think about it, "Seth Gecko vs. vampires in a Mexico prison" could have been the plot for a cool sequel to the original 1996 film that this series is based on.

Meanwhile, the rest of our heroes - Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia), demon hunter Burt (Tom Savini), vampire Sex Machine (Jake Busey) - are seeking the help of another Ranger, Gary Willet, in locating the underground tunnels that will lead them to Amaru. This B plot wasn't as interesting as the prison stuff, and Burt and Sex Machine didn't accomplish much other than smoking some marijuana, but it was nice to see Robert Knepper joining the show's cast as Willet.

'Rio Sangre' was written by Carlos Coto, who previously wrote the episodes 'Mistress', 'The Take', 'Opening Night', 'In a Dark Time', 'Bizarre Tales', and 'Head Games', and directed by Eagle Egilsson, who directed the episode 'Fanglorious' earlier in the season. These series veterans turned out a decent episode, one that sort of gets the show back to status quo by adding Santanico and Carlos back into the mix, and it wraps up with a great cliffhanger ending that leaves me anxious to see what will happen next. When it comes to episode quality, season three has a been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and this was one of its higher peaks.


Episode 9: Matanzas

We're in the home stretch now. This is the penultimate episode of season three of this television series based on the 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn, and as it begins we're heading toward the final battle.

With his wife and child in hiding so they'll be safe from the Culebras, the snake-like vampires that Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) is constantly being forced to deal with, Gonzalez has spent this season sleeping with any willing woman that crosses his path, and now that his family has been kidnapped by Amaru (Madison Davenport), the Queen of Hell, he appears to be risking the fate of the world to get them back, aiding Amaru in her quest to unleash Hell on Earth. All that stands in Amaru's way is the last of the Culebra ruling class, Ana de la Reguera as Lord Venganza Verdugo. When Venganza has been reduced to ashes, Amaru will be able to do whatever she wants. And Gonzalez is delivering Venganza to Amaru.

Gonzalez's decisions throughout this season have really knocked my opinion of him into the dirt, but not even I can buy that he really means to just let Amaru do what she wants. I mean, he wants to save his wife and child, but how high is their quality of life going to be if the forces of Hell are running rampant?

Meanwhile, the rest of our heroes have gotten prepared for war, building bombs and loading their guns with bullets dipped in vampire venom. There's a ticking clock element to their mission - Amaru will be holding her Hell-opening ritual in seven hours.

As they're heading to battle, there is a nice nod to the original film when the vampire Sex Machine (Jake Busey) offers a gift to demon hunter Burt, who is played by Tom Savini. Savini played Sex Machine in the '96 movie, and wore the gun codpiece that Busey's Sex Machine wears on the show. Sex Machine tries to give Burt a spare gun codpiece, for a moment there appears to be a chance that we'll get to see Savini shooting from his groin again twenty years later... but then Burt discards the codpiece, calling it stupid.

Oh well. At least we do get to see Savini use a whip, like he did in the movie. Plus a sword this time!

The characters converge on the town of the title, Matanzas, an Old West ghost town, where the action commences - and for me, this episode delivered some of the coolest action moments this series has had yet. The Titty Twister slaughter in the back end of season one will probably always be tops, but when a show has a shootout in a ghost town with walking dead gunslingers, its writers have found the way to my heart. In this case, the writer was Marcel Rodriguez, who wrote the previous episodes 'Let's Get Ramblin''. 'La Conquista', 'Attack of the 50-ft. Sex Machine', 'The Last Temptation of Richard Gecko', and 'Fanglorious'.

The physical altercation vampire Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz) gets in with Jaguar Warrior Zolo (Marko Zaror), a beast of a man who would fit right in with the desert-dwelling cannibals of The Hills Have Eyes as well as with the villains of The Road Warrior, who I referenced when he first showed up in 'Fanglorious', is a cool fight, Savini's stuff is great, Richie's human brother Seth (D.J. Cotrona) has a good confrontation with the sun god Brasa (Maurice Compte), but those decaying cowboys are exceptionally awesome. The ending of the gunfight is utterly ridiculous, but we are watching a show about vampires and monsters. A show with gun codpieces.

I have just one real complaint about this episode, and that's about what happens to Savini/Burt. Savini's Sex Machine was killed in the movie, and he goes out in a very strange way - turning into a giant hairless rat after being decapitated - because director Robert Rodriguez said if you're going to kill off Tom Savini, you have to give him an impressive death. We say goodbye to Burt in the final moments of this episode, and his death isn't all that impressive, made even weaker by the fact that he has the same last words as a character who was killed just moments before.

Aside from that, I thought this was a solid, exciting episode and it has me hyped to see the conclusion to this season's story. This was the fifth episode in the series to be directed by Joe Menendez, who had been at the helm of the episodes 'Self-Contained',  'The Best Little Horror House in Texas', 'Bondage', and 'There Will Be Blood'. It's a good sign that he was also the director of the next episode, the season finale.


Episode 10: Dark Side of the Sun

Having exited the body of Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport) at the end of the previous episode, Queen of Hell Amaru has taken her own form and is now played by Natalie Martinez while she puts her endgame in motion. Amaru is starting to open the gate to Hell, planning to unleash Hell on Earth so she can become the Queen of our world as well. The fact that Amaru left Kate clinging to life rather than finishing her off when she was done with her body might turn out to be her biggest mistake, because Kate has come out of the ordeal with an intense determination to stop the woman who possessed her.

While that's understandable, Kate could try to show a little appreciation as well, because if Amaru hadn't taken over her body at the end of season two, there would be no Kate. She was dead when Amaru's essence entered her body. This possession saved her life!

But regardless, we can't have Hell on Earth, and it's up to our established band of heroes to stop Amaru from making that happen. The majority of this episode is made up of the battle between Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona), his brother Richie (Zane Holtz), Kate, Kate's brother Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo), Sex Machine (Jake Busey), and Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez) and the forces of evil in the desert ghost town of Matanzas.

In addition to releasing demonic creatures from Hell, Amaru also has the ability to control people and vampires from afar. To loosen her control over the vampires in Matanzas, Santanico has to embrace something that she's been trying to distance herself from for a long time - the fact that other vampires see her as a goddess.

Unfortunately, Amaru's power has also taken over a lot of people inside the hospital where Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) has taken his wife Margaret (Jamie Tisdale) after rescuing her and their young child from Amaru's clutches. This is the same hospital where Dr. Dakota McGraw/Block (Nicky Whelan) works, and Dakota and the Gonzalez family have to try to survive the massacre that ensues within the hospital.

Although this series is based on the Robert Rodriguez-directed, Quentin Tarantino-scripted 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn, the Dakota Block character comes from the 2007 Rodriguez/Tarantino collaboration Grindhouse, and a hospital overrun with bloodthirsty maniacs is a familiar scenario to see her in - the same thing happened in the Planet Terror segment of Grindhouse, except there the killers filling the halls were zombies.

'Dark Side of the Sun' came from a creative team with plenty of From Dusk Till Dawn experience. It was directed by Joe Menendez, who previously helmed the episodes 'Self-Contained', 'The Best Little Horror House in Texas', 'Bondage', 'There Will Be Blood', and 'Mantanzas', working from a script by the same writers several of his episodes were written by, Ian Sobel and Matt Morgan. Menendez, Sobel, and Morgan worked together on 'Self-Contained', 'Horror House', and 'There Will Be Blood'. In addition to those, Sobel and Morgan wrote the episodes 'Boxman' and 'Protect and Serve'.

That trio takes the season out in a solid but somewhat underwhelming way, a way that leaves some questions unanswered and some threads dangling. Although there were some sloppy jumps in the storytelling over the course of the season, overall I enjoyed this season a great deal - probably more than season two, but not quite as much as season one. As the finale comes to a close, there are story elements and characters that still need resolution, and while El Rey Network has yet to decide exactly how they're going to proceed with From Dusk Till Dawn (they let the actors' options lapse so they could go off to different projects while the network brainstorms the possibilities), here's hoping they'll be continuing this story soon. I need more From Dusk Till Dawn.

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