From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), while not entirely successful or a huge flop at the box office, has become a cult classic, and from the film has spawned two direct-to-video films (a sequel and a prequel) and currently-running a TV series.
Santanico Pandemonium has appeared in all but the second of the FDTDs, but perhaps her most well-known appearance is her initial encounter with the main characters. In the 1996 film, Santanico (Salma Hayek) is the starring dancer at a dive bar and strip club just over the Meixcan border, The Titty Twister (look, I didn’t make it up, guys, just go with it).
Initially, things go smoothly. Santanico is beautiful, and her dancing is mesmerizing. She’s got this gorgeous feathered headdress and a big snake, and she dances seductively on-stage, catching the attention of everyone in the bar—and everyone watching the film, to be sure.
But then one of the characters cuts himself, and Santanico is overcome by the sight of blood. She quickly changes, her long black hair gone and her face covered by scaly, serpentine skin; her eyes narrow into snake-like slits, her ears lengthen and point, and her teeth become fangs. This is the signal to the other vampires in the bar that it’s time to change, and suddenly there are vampires everywhere.
Later versions of the character, including the From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (Ara Celi) explore how she became a vampire and ended up in the strip club as a dancer. The third film introduces us to Esmeralda, Santanico Pandemonium in disguise. We learn that she is a half-human, half-vampire hybrid and that she is a princess–her mother is the fearsome priestess Quixtla and her father is the local hangman. She discovers the truth of her heritage after being kidnapped–the kidnappers stop at the whorehouse owned by Quixtla, and in the ensuing battle Quixtla is killed and Santanico takes her place at what will eventually become the strip club.
The series changes this back story. Santanico (Eliza Gonzalez) was used by her tribe for blood offerings, and she was made a vampire when she attempted to escape this fate. She was imprisoned, and during this time she became the leader of her own tribe, and eventually she became the queen vampire at a bar built over the temple site.
In every incarnation, Santanico is both beautiful and frightening, and her sexuality is both a mask and a part of her monstrosity. Her Mexican heritage marks her as Other already, and she is further marked by her work in a place like the Titty Twister. Santanico is the monstrous feminine, in all its beauty and its horror.