Two brothers, Seth and Richard "Richie" Gecko, having just robbed a bank, stop at a liquor store to pick up a map. When the arrival of Texas RangerEarl McGraw threatens their getaway, they kill him and the cashier, burning down the store in the process. During the gunfight, Richie is shot in the hand. Fleeing a combined force of FBI and local police, they head towards Mexico where a contact has arranged a safehouse for them. Along the way they stop at a motel and unload a bank teller whom they are holding hostage. While Seth goes out to buy some food, Richie brutally rapes and murders the teller. Seth, who pictures himself as a professional thief, becomes furious over Richie's reckless behavior.
Meanwhile, Jacob Fuller, a pastor who is experiencing a crisis of faith, arrives at the same motel with his daughter Kate and his son Scott. The Geckos kidnap the family and order Jacob to take them across the border in his RV. After a tense inspection by a border guard, the group crosses into Mexico. They stop at the "Titty Twister", an isolated strip club and brothel where the Geckos have arranged to meet their contact Carlos at dawn. Seth and Richie beat up the doorman, Chet Pussy, when he tries to deny the group entry.
Although the bartender initially refuses to serve them, he relents after Jacob successfully argues that he is a trucker, but Seth remains annoyed by the disrespect. They take a table, and Seth encourages everyone to drink as the strip show begins. Richie takes special notice of the club's star performer, Santánico Pandemónium, during an extended solo performance, after which Chet Pussy and some others confront the group. When Richie is stabbed in his already wounded hand, Santánico transforms into a horrific vampire and attacks him, bleeding him to death.
Chaos ensues as the employees, the strippers, and the house band all transform. One of the dancers locks the door, and the vampires feed on the bar patrons. Seth, the Fullers, and a few other customers fight back with crosses and wooden stakes until they gain control of the bar-room. When Richie rises as a vampire, Seth reluctantly kills his brother. Seth and the Fullers quickly make an alliance with two other survivors, Sex Machine and Frost. Seth convinces the group that Jacob is their best weapon – if he rediscovers his faith.
Unknown to the others, Sex Machine has already been bitten, and he transforms as they listen to Frost tell a Vietnam war story; he feeds on both Frost and Jacob. When he is tossed through a boarded up window, a large number of bat-form vampires enter. Seth and the Fullers retreat to a storeroom and improvise anti-vampire weapons from equipment left by past victims. The four stage their final assault on the vampires, their weapons proving effective in destroying many of the creatures. During the battle, Kate kills Sex Machine, and Jacob transforms after he slays the vampiric Frost; however, Scott is hesitant to kill him and gets bitten. After Scott dispatches his father, Kate follows Scott's wishes and kills both him and his attackers.
As the sun rises, only Seth and Kate remain alive, surrounded and low on ammunition. As sunlight breaks through the bullet holes in the bar walls and burns the vampires, Seth tells Kate shoot out more holes, which allows them to survive until Carlos and his guards show up. They blast open the doors, and the sunlight reflects on the bar's disco ball, killing the rest of the creatures. Seth and Kate flee as the Titty Twister explodes behind them. Safely outside, Seth confronts a bewildered Carlos. Angry over the deaths of Richie, Jacob, and Scott, Seth demands that Carlos lower his 30% take for his stay in El Rey, to which Carlos reluctantly agrees. Kate offers to accompany Seth, but he declines and gives her some cash before they go their separate ways.
After Kate drives the RV away, the camera pans back to reveal that the bar was the top chamber of an Aztec temple, with years of items, namely trucks, from past victims littering its grounds. One can see artifacts from dead conquistadors, too.
From Dusk till Dawn had its world premiere on January 17, 1996. On its first week, the film grossed $10,240,805 in the United States making it the highest grossing film of the week. The next week, the film fell to third highest in the box office where it grossed $4,851,921 being beaten by Mr. Holland's Opus and Bed of Roses.From Dusk till Dawn earned a total of $25,836,616 on its theatrical release.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 63% of 46 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 6/10. The site's consensus reads: "A pulpy crime drama/vampire film hybrid, From Dusk Till Dawn is an uneven but often deliriously enjoyable B-movie." Metacritic rated it 52/100 based on fourteen reviews.
Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars and described it as "a skillful meat-and-potatoes action extravaganza with some added neat touches". In her review forThe New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "The latter part of From Dusk till Dawn is so relentless that it's as if a spigot has been turned on and then broken. Though some of the tricks are entertainingly staged, the film loses its clever edge when its action heats up so gruesomely and exploitatively that there's no time for talk".Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Rodriguez and Tarantino have taken the let-'em-eat-trash cynicism of modern corporate moviemaking and repackaged it as junk-conscious 'attitude.' In From Dusk till Dawn, they put on such a show of cooking up popcorn that they make pandering to the audience seem hip". However, in his review for the Washington Post, Desson Howe wrote, "The movie, which treats you with contempt for even watching it, is a monument to its own lack of imagination. It's a triumph of vile over content; mindless nihilism posing as hipness". Cinefantastique magazine's Steve Biodrowski wrote, "Whereas one might reasonably have expected that the combo of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would yield a critical mass of nuclear proportions, instead of an atomic fireball's worth of entertainment, we get a long fuse, quite a bit of fizzle, and a rather minor blast". In his review for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle called the film, "an ugly, unpleasant criminals-on-the-lam film that midway turns into a boring and completely repellent vampire 'comedy.' If it's not one of the worst films of 1996 it will have been one miserable year". In Marc Savlov's review for the Austin Chronicle, he wrote, "Fans of Merchant-Ivory will do well to steer clear of Rodriguez's newest opus, but both action and horror film fans have cause for celebration after what seems like a particularly long splatter-drought. This is horror with a wink and a nod to drive-in theatres and sweaty back seats. This is how it's done".
On March 17, 2014, a television series inspired by the film premiered on the El Rey, produced and directed by Rodriguez. The show will explore and expand on the characters and story from the film, providing a wider scope and richer Aztec mythology.