The Vestron video train keeps chugging along, and an unreleased, and seldom spoken of comedy/horror movie is up next. The Tony Hickox (WaxWork) directed Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, starred David Carradine (Kill Bill, Vol. 1) as Count Mardulak, and the inimitable Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead) as his arch-nemesis, and bumbling Vampire Hunter, Robert Van Helsing. This is low-budget fare, as is evidenced by the stop-motion goodness of the flying bats, etc.
I had never seen this film prior to doing this review, and I thought I had seen them all. As it turns out, Vestron green-lit this movie and due to the release, and subsequent flop of another seldom discussed film ‘Earth Girls Are Easy', Sundown was never properly released.
Fast forward 30+ years and the sub-cult status film is getting its proper dues, with this excellent Blu-ray release.
I gotta hand it to Lionsgate, they know how to warm the cockles of a genre lover's heart, and they are always sure to include plenty of extras to help smooth out the rough edges of these direct-to-video releases.
For those of you who were in the dark about this movie (pun intended)
Here's a brief description of this one:
The road to Purgatory is paved with good intentions, and Count Mardulak (David Carradine) wouldn't have it any other way. He's seeking atonement for centuries of human carnage, which is why he's instructed Purgatory's vampire residents to slather on SPF 100 sunblock, pursue daytime activities…and drink only synthetic blood. But some vampires don't agree with Mardulak — they want the real thing — and if that means wooden bullets flying in a vampire civil war, so be it! This wild horror comedy also stars Bruce Campbell, Maxwell Caulfield, M. Emmet Walsh, and John Ireland.
What makes this movie so unique is that, at its heart, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is a western, complete with the Stranger (and his family) living in a one-horse town, a shootout with the good guys vs. the bad guys, but the good, and bad guys are all bloodsuckers.
Some of them, the guys in white I guess, decided long before Sookie Stackhouse thought to snuggle up with Bill and/or the other guy, that they were going to drink synthetic blood and smear sunscreen on themselves to "fit in", and by fit in I mean not murder the living, or explode in sunlight.
That is one of the things I find remarkable about this movie, no one draws a line to True Blood, no one talks about how they were mining this material 20+ years before, but Hickox and crew thought it up, long before HBO got wise to the ways of the undead.
Another thing of note, this film is dripping with camp, and it spends much of its time with a wink and pushing for laughs. In case you didn't realize what kind of movie you were watching, the stop motion animation, and the rogues gallery of characters, deliver their horrific brand of knee-slappers, in addition to the comedic gore.
Severed heads, bitten necks, and wooden bullets, that's right, wooden .45 caliber bullets, are used to force the "Necktarine" drinkers to join the Evil group, or get shot. Oh, yeah, the synthetic blood is called NECKtarine; I think it's funny, so shame on you for not laughing.
Anyway, it was off-putting at first, not all the jokes work, but I gotta give them an A for effort, on this one, they released an original movie, and you can tell they had fun while doing it.
As for the specs, this one was shot in anamorphic widescreen and it takes full advantage of the surroundings. With breathtaking crane shots, the cinematography is stunning and the painted dessert looks stunning and expansive. Presented in1080p/16x9 (2.35:1 ratio) the scenes shot during the day are beautiful, especially when the crane pans up over the rocks to look across the expanse of desert (you'll know the scene when you see it - its gorgeous).
I will not poo-poo on the night scenes, but I'm afraid they are just nothing to rave about. However, the darkness is inky black and the colors, especially the Jamaican-inspired sheriff's office and the townsfolk's various methods of dress are all beautifully rendered, with almost no artifacts present.
The audio is standard fare, with English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, the conversations are upfront, and the gunfights, and action sequences are energetic, which helps the viewer feel engaged. The score is something to experience as well. Richard Stone provided a lively and iconic western soundtrack to enhance this weird western, and he outdid himself. I really found this soundtrack entertaining and apropos for much of the light-heartedness at the films' core. It just plays well with the overall tone.
As for the extras, they are plentiful including Director and Cinematographer commentaries, Interviews with Tony Hickox, and Bruce Campbell, (whom I was lucky enough to have met and laughed my ass off with), is equally as entertaining in this movie. An interview with Tony Gardner, the special makeup effects creator, and another interview with M. Emmet Walsh, and you will know how when you see him, he has been in hundreds of roles, all the way into his 80's. They really did this film justice.
All in all this movie contains enough character actors from multiple generations, playing various vamps from across points in history. You will find yourself amazed that they were able to pack so many people into this town. I ended up enjoying this film as a humorous and campy joyride through the undead-infested dessert. You won't need a crucifix or holy water on this trip, but you better bring the SPF 100, just in case.
- AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Anthony Hickox and Director of Photography Levie Isaacks
- ISOLATED SCORE SELECTIONS AND AUDIO INTERVIEWS with Music Historian Randall Larson and Producer Jefferson Richard
- INTERVIEWS: "Wild Weird West"
- An Interview with Director Anthony Hickox "Bloodsuckers from Purgatory"
- An Interview with Special Makeup Effects Creator Tony Gardner "Memories of Moab"
- An Interview with Actor Bruce Campbell "A Vampire Reformed"
- An Interview with Actor David Carradine "A True Character"
- An Interview with Actor M. Emmet Walsh
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still Gallery