Tuesday, August 3

Some quick thoughts on Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (shot in 1988/released in 1990)

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In a small desert town reside a populous comprised of ex-bloodsuckers trying to live in relative peace with humans while repressing their true nature. Wearing 100 SPF sunblock and drinking synthetic blood (sound familiar?), the residents resist temptation by directing most mortals away at a tiny gas station (ran by M. Emmet Walsh) along the only road into their sanctuary. But, as always, tensions are escalating within between elder vamps Jefferson (John Ireland) and Count Mardulak (David Carradine). Jefferson is fed up with denying instinct and is secretly assembling a thirsty legion of fresh fangs for a coup d'état against all opposition with "specialized" bullets. The situation boils over when the bookwormish great-grandson of Van Helsing (Bruce Campbell) arrives in an attempt to seal the fate of the entire town.

Anthony Hickox's Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is quite the non-cult classic anomaly. Not given a theatrical release, the film was picked up by once-home video giant Vestron Video for a tape debut and then virtually vanished. Sundown never even had a niche cult following championing for a DVD release; even with the presence of B-flick icons Carradine and Campbell. I figured this horror/comedy/western had to be terrible or something given this lackluster obscurity, so I pegged scoping out the tape as a low priority. In spite of all this, probably spurred by the success of their long awaited re-issue of The Monster Squad, Lionsgate rolled out a special edition disc approaching two years ago. I popped this in last evening just to spot-check and ended up watching the whole damn thing. Sundown has problems, but it's nearly invisible status among horror fans for almost two decades is unjustified.

It's funny how the cover and back synopsis barely make light of the main character, David Harrison, played by a robotic Jim Metzler. Harrison, unaware of its actual use, developed the fake blood and is invited into town to assist in getting the manufacturing facility running to full capacity to met demand. Inevitably, his wife and two young daughters tag along coming into peril as the story unfolds. It's the same family man in otherworldly circumstances crap we've seen over and over. While watching one rapidly gets the sense that with a few tweaks, the entire Harrison character and his who cares? plight could have been totally jettisoned in favor of Bruce Campbell as the lead. As it stands, Harrison's family seems impervious to harm and they're waved off into the sunrise by infinitely more interesting supporting characters. Maybe their car got hit by a bus on the way home?

Otherwise, we get a good dollop of Campbell fresh off Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987). His nerdy, limp-spined character never approaches the badassness depicted on the above cover, but his spastic screams ala Ash show up and are still humorous. The dependable regardless David Carradine was thoroughly in the drunken nadir of his career as the "Count". Deborah Foreman is cute as a pale vixen smitten with Campbell, Maxwell Caulfield looks like the lovechild of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, and it's always a joy seeing M. Emmet Walsh and George 'Buck' Flower work.

Sundown came after Hickox's debut feature, Waxwork (1988), and is a bold 2.35:1 scope widescreen follow-up in hard-to-market concept. It's what initially damned the film and the modern day gangbusters western motif hurts the inventive underpinnings of wooden bullets and when becoming a vampire isn't always the worst fate. Late composer Richard Stone's full-on orchestral romanticized western score is also so tremendously great that it usually overshadows the modesty on-screen. Gorehounds will be disappointed as well with Hickox delivering a yarn pretty much suitable for young ones with no sexual content, a rubbery severed head, shootouts, and mildly lasagna-faced vampires at the climax. Unimportant quibbles though. Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is worth your time and its neglected state for so long is a real shame. Lionsgate's anamorphic widescreen DVD has a commentary by Hickox and the film's DP, great interviews with Campbell, Carradine, and Walsh (all think warmly of the project), and photo gallery.
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4 comments:

Drunketh said...

Interesting... think I'll check this one out. Thanks, Jay.

Professor Brian O'Blivion said...

Haven't seen it in ages. You've got me wanting to check it out again.

BTW, this is for you.

http://cathode13.blogspot.com/2010/08/really-for-me.html

Buscemi said...

Wow, a Hickox film without Zach Galligan? That's a new one.

The Film Connoisseur said...

What you mention about this one being "invisible" amongst horror fans is right! I wasn't even aware this was Anthony Hicox directing, the dude has done a lot of cheesy horror movies in his life time!

He also used Campble in Waxwork 2: Lost in Time.

I thought this movie was just a new straight to video sci-fi channel crapfest, but now I know..thanks for the heads up, Ill be watching this one soon!

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