Bank robbers Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) rob a liquor store, killing cashier Pete Bottoms (John Hawkes) and Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parkes). At an inn where they hide out, Seth returns from a food-run to find out that Richie has raped and murdered a bank clerk they had taken hostage.
Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel), a pastor who has lost his faith after his wife’s death, is on vacation with his son Scott (Ernest Liu) and his daughter Katherine (Juliette Lewis), and are kidnapped by the Geckos, who force them to drive over the border into Mexico. They arrive at the Titty Twister, a strip club in the desert, where they are supposed to meet their contact Carlos (Cheech Marin), who will take them to a sanctuary at El Rey.
During a bar fight, they discover that the bar is run by vampires, who kill most of their customers. Richie is killed by a stripper named Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek). But Seth impales her on a falling chandelier. Seth, Jacob, Scott, a biker named Sex Machine (Tom Savini), and a Vietnam Vet named Frost (Fred Williamson) survive for a while. The rest become vampires, including Richie, and have to be destroyed. An army of vampire bats turns up outside, and the survivors lock the doors, but Sex Machine is bitten and bites Frost and Jacob.
Seth, Kate, and Scott escape to a storeroom, followed by an injured Jacob, who has a shotgun. They concoct weapons out of a wooden stake on a drill, a crossbow, and a super-soaker full of holy water, for which Jacob has to find his religion again to make effective. He makes Scott and Kate promise to kill him when he turns. During the final assault, Sex Machine mutates into a giant rat and is killed. Scott hesitates to kill Jacob when he turns and is bitten but destroys him with holy water.
Scott is overwhelmed with vampires and is shot by Kate in an act of mercy. Sunlight comes through the bullet holes in the walls and the vampires back off. Carlos arrives and his gang blows open the doors, letting in the day, and the vampires perish. Seth leaves with Carlos for Sanctuary and Kate drives away in the RV, leaving the wrecked bar behind, which is the top of a partially buried Aztec temple.
The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Quentin Tarantino from a story by Robert Kurtzman. It received mixed reviews from critics, who thought it well-crafted but too violent, but it was a box-office success and (Surprise!) became a cult film, spawning sequels and a video game. Actually, the fight-scenes were purposely filmed long and ultra-violent so censors would reduce them to what the director wanted. The soundtrack features ZZ Top, Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughan, the Chicano rock-band Tito Tarantula, and the Blasters. The score is by Graeme Revall.
Salma Hayak was afraid to dance with the huge albino Burmese Python, as she was deathly afraid of snakes, but Rodriguez talked her into it by hinting that Madonna was after the part. She spent two months with therapists. Green blood was used for the vampires to get all the blood-flow past the censors. Some of the body parts used were left over from other Tarantino/Rodriguez movies. The growl of the vampire dog came from Robert Rodriguez’s baby, named Rocket. From Dusk till Dawn came from a sign on an all-night drive-in theater. John Travolta decided to do Pulp Fiction instead of this movie and was nominated for an Oscar for it.