Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Once A Bloodsucker, Always A Bloodsucker

It isn’t until now that you’ve been able to really see SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT, which director Anthony Hickox (WAXWORK) made in Moab, Utah in 1988. Vestron unfortunately went down the tubes around that time, and SUNDOWN never received a proper theatrical release. Its VHS release and television showings made mincemeat of cinematographer Levie Isaacks’ work and Hickox’s staging, but getting to see it on Lionsgate’s Special Edition DVD reveals an amusing horror/comedy that has been very badly served by its rights owners to date.

SUNDOWN’s biggest problem is its large cast of characters and disparate storylines. It’s difficult to ascertain who the movie is about, and many plot threads are ultimately not connected as strongly as they should have been. The great Bruce Campbell, just off EVIL DEAD II, is Robert Van Helsing, who arrives in the desert town of Purgatory to find Count Mardulak (David Carradine), the vampire his great-grandfather stalked over a century before. What Van Helsing isn’t prepared for is facing an entire town of vampires, which gathered in Purgatory to keep them away from the tempting taste of human blood.

Also arriving in Purgatory is David Harrison (Jim Metzler), his wife Sarah (DALLAS’ Morgan Brittany) and their two daughters. David has come to rescue the town’s lone industry, which is a factory that manufactures artificial blood for medical use. Of course, it’s also Purgatory’s food supply, and between the plant being on the fritz and an unusually large assembly of people passing through, many townspeople are jonesing for the real red stuff.

Hickox also introduces a third plot thread, which pits Mardulak and his followers against enemy vampires ruled by Jefferson (John Ireland!), who wants to get out of Purgatory and take over the world using the human race as food. All three stories mix together uncomfortably, but the decent cast, occasional wit, lush scenery and Richard Stone’s majestic score make the end justify the means. Campbell is particularly funny in an Ash-like performance, and Carradine seems to be enjoying himself more than in some of the other B-movies he’s starred in.

Also appearing are the delectable Deborah Foreman (VALLEY GIRL), M. Emmet Walsh (BLOOD SIMPLE), Maxwell Caulfield (GREASE 2), Dana Ashbrook (TWIN PEAKS), Elizabeth Gracen, Bert Remsen, Sunshine Parker, Buck Flower, Dabbs Greer and John Hancock, so you can imagine the delightful acting moments that occur. Ignore the pretentious title, as well as any preconceptions you may have gotten through its pervertedly pan-and-scanned tape and TV prints, and you may find that SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT is an appealing little movie ($2.5 million) with laughs and fun.

Michael Felsher moderates director Hickox and director of photography Isaacks in an entertaining audio commentary that doesn’t answer all the questions a fan of this movie may have (so is Vestron’s Dan Ireland related to actor John Ireland or not?), but most. Neither man had seen SUNDOWN since it was made, and they have a good time revisiting it and telling tales. Also included are individual on-screen interviews with Carradine (charming), Campbell (candid as usual, including some juicy Carradine gossip) and Walsh (avuncular). About six minutes of not terribly thrilling stills are included, as well as a handful of Lionsgate trailers. There’s no SUNDOWN trailer, but one may never have existed, since it didn’t get the theatrical release it deserved.

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