Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat – review

Director: Anthony Hickox

Release Date: 1990

Contains spoilers

This is, strangely, an obscure film. You can track it down on VHS, and a DVD version occasionally makes an appearance on E-bay, but it seems vanished from general release. This is strange as, although it is an off the wall comedy, it does work – once you get past the strange premise. It is also a (modern day) western as well as being a vampire comedy.

Welcome to Purgatory, an old Western town that essentially became a ghost town when the bottom fell out of the copper market closing down the nearby mine. The town was bought up by one Count Mardulak (David Caradine) and it became a haven for the undead. A strange choice, a desert town, one might think but the advent of sun block has made life in Purgatory liveable (or undeadable).

The Count has a vision, a life of integration with humans, and to this effect he has set up a synthetic blood processing plant. The only trouble is that its processing capability seems a little limited. He has a vampire engineer, Shane (Maxwell Caulfield), working on it but needs to draft in the human inventor David Harrison (Jim Metzler) to get it up to capacity.

David travels to Purgatory with his wife Sarah (Morgan Brittany) and their kids Juliet (Erin Gourlay) and Grewdolyn (Vanessa Pierson), not knowing that they are walking into a town of vampires – although the youngest, Grewdolyn, is vampire obsessed. David is aware that Sarah and Shane had a relationship years before but is unaware that she had a brief fling with him (whilst Shane was still human) during their marriage.

Throw into the mix a couple of campers, Chaz (Christopher Bradley) and Burgundy (Kathy MacQuarrie Martin), who have witnessed the beheading of their friend when old timer vampire Mort (M Emmet Walsh) got a little angry with him. They are stuck in jail, next to Mort, whilst the townsfolk work out what to do with them.

Also in the mix is Robert Van Helsing (Bruce Campbell), great grandson of the illustrious Abraham Van Helsing, who seems somewhat inept but is determined to find his ancestor’s nemesis (Mardulak). He becomes embroiled with Sandy (Deborah Foreman), a newly turned vampire who falls in love with Robert.

Finally we have the machinations of Ethan Jefferson (John Ireland). Ostensibly Mardulak’s enforcer, he believes the Count’s aims to be misguided and intends to overthrow the new order by revolution. Jefferson has turned a whole army of vampires but knows they do not stand a chance against the older undead in Purgatory. However Shane has designed bullets with wooden tips for him – as effective as a stake through the heart.

With all these cross-threads going on there is little chance of the film bogging down in its storylines. The lore is fairly standard. Wooden stakes through the heart (or wooden bullets) and direct sunlight (unless sun block is worn), as well as decapitation, will kill. The vampires cast no reflection, holy items burn them and they can turn into bats. The bats are done in animatronics.

Carradine is stately as Mardulak and Campbell puts on his nerdish best for Van Helsing. Ireland makes for a great villain and Caufield is suitably slimy as Shane. The film underflows with off beat comedy but maintains a serious level as well and you quickly ignore the more preposterous aspects of the plot. The film feels very much like Hickox’s films produced either side of it, Waxwork and Waxwork 2 – albeit a tad more focused as it didn’t cut across monster genres.

This is a pleasant enough watch, with amusing moments and rousing gun battles (with little regard for how many bullets are chambered until the plot calls for them to run out). Worth a watch, if you can track the VHS down, and definitely in need of a proper DVD release. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


MadeInScotland said...

Are you really a vampire?

Read of my vampire dreams, then come take me.


Derek Tatum said...

I like this movie and Mardulak's redemption at the end. I've always wondered what the hold-up is on a general DVD release.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

czechout - no, I'm not a real vampire, I'm not even a pretend one. Just love vampire movies and books

Derek - totally agree

Anonymous said...

This's an amazing-awesome movie.
Also it's very rare and hard to find.
Could you do a favor to all of vampires fans, PLEASE upload it to YouTube, PLEASE.
Let me know, my e-mail is
Edison Llaguno
From Ecuador

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Edison - I sympathise but, unfortunately, I borrowed a copy to review.

Even if I hadn't I wouldn't even know how to begin putting it on YouTube, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

"Sundown" is coming out on DVD on Sept. 23. Amazon has it for pre-order now.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Jozek, to clarify for readers - it is a region 1 release, no sign of region 2