Director – Anthony Hickox
Cast – David Carradine, Morgan Brittany, Bruce Campbell, Jim Metzler, Maxwell Caulfield, Deborah Foreman, M. Emmet Walsh, John Ireland
Release Year – 1990
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This is a film I had never EVER heard of until a friend of mine lent me the DVD at his recommendation, and I am glad that he made this utterly under-appreciated film known to me. This tongue-and-cheek flick starring David Carradine(Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Dead and Breakfast) and the ever-awesome Bruce Campbell(The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness, Bubba Ho-tep) gives a very unique take on the vampire sub-genre, and delivers some great action, gore, and good laughs as well.
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat takes place in the small western town of Purgatory, a safe haven for a group of vampires wishing not to lead their bloodthirsty lives anymore but instead looking to integrate back into normal society with non-vampires. The town of Purgatory has recently become the home brewery for a new blood substitute to be used in medical procedures, which the townsfolk see as a way of curing their sensation for human blood. When a rogue and powerful vampire scoffs at the idea of his own kind being subject to such atrocities, he conjures a up a mutiny looking to overthrow Purgatory’s leader, Jozek Mardulak(David Carradine). He meets a worthy adversary force in Mardulak’s army, and as a bloodthirsty civil war ensues, a descendant of Van Helsing himself, Robert Van Helsing(Bruce Campbell), strolls into town with the intention of ridding the world of vampires. All hell ensues, and with gory and hilarious consequences.
I really was not sure what to expect heading into this watch. From the DVD cover alone I had a feeling the film would be more action and very little horror, but given this flick comes directed by Anthony Hickox(Waxwork, Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth), I had faith that the horror in the film would be sufficient, and it was. In a sense I can see why this film has not received the attention it deserves, however that is not enough for me to condone such an atrocity. The film does not deliver any truly big-name stars, and the budget is obviously of low proportions, which sadly kept this awesome B-movie effort from becoming a well known classic. Nonetheless, it gets its fair credit in my eyes.
As I mentioned earlier, we get a really unique take on the vampire sub-genre in this one. I really enjoyed the idea of a group of vampires isolating themselves in a small town in an attempt to adapt themselves to the normal human live, abandoning the atrocities they must commit to live the lives they were forced to live for many years. We watch them try very hard to live this lifestyle, with them applying copious amounts of SP100 sunscreen lotion and living in UV protected housing, among other things. Also, it seems Daybreakers was not the first film to bring the idea of vampires looking for a blood substitute, but as far as my knowledge goes it seems this film was the first to use that idea. This area of the plot is where our main protagonists, the Harrisons, are brought into the film, with them traveling to Purgatory to help diagnose problems with the machinery producing the blood substitute. These characters get the majority of screen time and plot references in the film, however my attention always seemed to sway away from them and towards the vampire action, naturally. The usage of Jozek Mardulak and Robert Van Helsing, our REAL main characters(heh) was fun to watch and provided for some nice entertainment given how somewhat boring the Harrisons were. As usual it was awesome to see David Carradine do his thing in the horror genre, and Bruce Campbell was…well…Bruce Campbell, so that means he was awesome to watch as well. It is always nice seeing Bruce donning such period-esque clothing, with this film requiring him to don attire much like his ancestor Van Helsing would, despite the fact that Helsing must have died centuries before the events of the film. We get many awesome elements regarding the fight scenes between the vampires thrown into the film, with the most awesome of these ideas being bullets that were specially made to shoot wooden projectiles instead of lead bullets. I had always had this idea cross my mind when I saw vampire films, and I am glad to say that I finally saw this in action, and it was awesome. We get lots of firearm action towards the end of the film where the civil war ensues, and the rest of the film plays off much like a shoot-em-up Western flick from then on out. I give much credit to writers John Burgess and Anthony Hickox for throwing in some genre-bending creative elements to the story.
As far as direction goes Anthony HIckox proves once again that he is masterful at blending great action into a horror film. I first witnessed him to this in his subsequent flick, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, which provided some amazing action scenes and good amounts of horror and gore. Well, I am glad to say that before that film he achieved such success with this flick, and with awesome results. His camerawork and visuals are fun, and it is obvious he aimed for making this flick as fun as possible over anything else, and not in an overly cheezy campy way, but a respectable fun that I really enjoyed. The action hits hard and gets the job done, and the horror and gore are present and are sure to please any fan looking for some real vampire action. As far as the actual vampires go we get nothing but fantastic live-action effects, and some cheezy yet fun CGI during some scenes involving bats flying, which I personally felt added a nice touch to the film. The film’s pacing is good, and reflects Hickox’s ability to keep the viewer engaged with what is going on onscreen before them, thanks much to both writing and direction.
Overall, this is a truly under-appreciated gem that deserves much more than the horror genre has given it. We get a truly unique story for the vampire sub-genre, which comes accompanied with many awesome ideas and some good laughs as well. Great direction helps deliver the film’s awesome action sequences, which have to be some of the best I have ever seen involving vampires. If you are looking for a film too unique for its time then this is a recommended watch for you.