The theory of genre is the method by which any expressive media is categorized. The skeptic reader will immediately recognize this statement as one which warrants closer scrutiny. Where do these categories come from? By what method are they defined? It becomes increasingly clear that the concept of the genre is abstract, and that the pursuit of clarity – the analysis of the genre – seemingly layers abstraction upon abstraction. In Daniel Chandler’s “The Problem with Definition” we are encouraged to both accept and challenge the abstract nature of the genre – “specific genres tend to be easy to recognize intuitively but difficult to define”. The most prudent way to understand any definition is by the construct and analysis of any (often many) relevant example. By example we say a relevant work. As such, we choose Quentin Tarantino’s 1996 film “From Dusk till Dawn”. We wish to say, for the moment, that this particularly example is a Vampire film. By the analysis of this example, we will show that genres force us to draw parallels with boundaries of what we “know” or “feel” to be true, while at the same time redefining those boundaries.
The Vampire film has been a staple of the movie genre since its inception and has changed as much as the movie genre itself. This is due partly to the veiled and mixed origins of vampire-lore. While there have been several adaptations of the Vampire film, the most notable have been based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with the vampire either depicted as highly romanticized or as a subhuman blood thirsty creature. Other prominent qualities include a centralized character – the vampire slayer – who usually auspiciously dispatches the vampire and various religious undertones.
Of the two common portrayals of vampires, From Dusk till Dawn employs the latter. The vampires use “The Titty Twister” as their den - a run down bar situated a top an old Aztec pyramid (adding further complication to vampire-lore). As for the slayers, there are four Seth, Jacob, Kate, and a young boy named Scott. They engage in an epic struggle for their lives and slay the vampires in the end. But are there any religious undertones? Yes, Jacob – a priest who begins to doubt his faith after the loss of his wife – is required to bless some water in order to help keep the vicious monsters at bay. It would seem that the criteria for the Vampire film genre have been fulfilled and that, presently, our original supposition stands in contradiction. However, From Dusk till Dawn has characteristics of a narrative as well. In fact the first vampires do not appear on screen until roughly two-thirds of the movie. Most of the film is spent developing the characters through dialogue (a style of story-telling that Tarantino is well known for). Seth is no angel either – the informed reader knows that Seth and his brother, having robbed a bank and murdered several people (one of whom is a Sheriff), are on the lam. The two have made plans to meet friends in
in order to secure their freedom. They kidnap Jacob and his children in order to achieve this objective. Unbeknownst to them, they have chosen the feeding grounds of the undead to host their meeting. Mexico
Apparently, the movie inexplicably transitions from a narrative to a horror/vampire film, two genres which can, for the most part, be considered to be adjoint. The original claim, however, holds and the illustrative purpose of this analysis has been fulfilled. The intangible nature of genre serves not to confound our thoughts, but to guide them. As
’s essay says, “traditionally genres tended to be regarded as fixed forms, but the contemporary emphasis is that both the form and function of the genre is dynamic”. We venture so far here as to say that genre is as dynamic and intangible as thought. Upon watching From Dusk till Dawn we know how the story should be told, but from the manner in which it is told we get an entirely new entity – that is to say, our boundary on the Vampire film is expanded. As for the question of exactly what genre the film “From Dusk till Dawn” actually is, we leave it to the reader to answer. Chandler