Tuesday, January 6, 2009

SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT

So, I was browsing the local Best Buy one night, annoyed again at their horribly slim sci-fi and horror DVD selection, when I came across a title that sparked a faint ember of recognition. It was the 1990 horror comedy SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT, directed by Anthony Hickox (WAXWORKS, FULL ECLIPSE), which I remembered renting with some pals a decade and a half ago. That was pretty much all I remembered about it, though.

Because I enjoyed Hickox's early genre films, and I'm a fan of many of SUNDOWN's eclectic cast – which includes David Carradine, John Ireland, M. Emmet Walsh, Dabbs Greer, Deborah Foreman (at her very sexiest) and the always-reliable Bruce Campbell – I picked it up.

The plot is actually remarkably original: Vampire Count Mardulak (Carradine) has gathered others of his kind, and bought up the desert ghost town of Purgatory for them to "live" in. With the aid of large sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and vast quantities of sunblock, the vampire population attempt to pass themselves off as mortal humans. It seems that Mardulak dreams of the day (night) when vampires and humans can "live" together, and to that end, he has built a factory to manufacture a synthetic blood substitute. Unfortunately, some of his followers are determined to stick to their old, bloodthirsty ways, and use the arrival of an engineer and his family – called in to help increase production at the plant – to trigger a rebellion. Campbell plays the hapless descendant of a legendary vampire hunter who shows up in town right in time to get caught up in the vampires' civil war, which involves the use automatic weapons loaded with wooden bullets, and culminates in a moonlit shoot-out.

There's very little horror in this modern-day (well, 90's) Western/comedy, but the cast is excellent, the pace brisk, and the special effects are delightfully Old School, with cool stop-motion bats and some very effective monster make-up. This was the last film produced by Vestron Pictures and ended up going direct-to-VHS, which is how I originally saw it, all those years ago.

The Lionsgate DVD is really quite nice, presenting the movie in the director's intended 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, which really showcases the gorgeous Utah desert scenery. The Dolby audio is bold and clear, and the transfer is pristine. The DVD includes a audio commentary by Hickox and his Director of Photography, as well as on-screen interview segments with David Carradine, Bruce Campbell, and M. Emmet Walsh.

I'm glad I picked it up. If you've never seen it, and you're interested in a moderately fresh take on the vampire theme, you might want to give it a spin.

BUY: Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat