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Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat
1990 (2008) - Lionsgate

While the Blu-ray format is spiffy and all that, it's hard for me to be as enthusiastic about it as, say... the guy whose website I'm writing for. I find it difficult to get too excited about high-definition versions of films I already own when I still have a laundry list of titles that have never seen the laser light of a digital format of any kind. Sure, it's swell that I can get a super-awesome Blu-ray of The Matrix, but where's my DVD of Richard Stanley's Hardware? For years, Anthony Hickox's comedy-horror-western Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat was one such orphaned cult movie. It snuck onto VHS in the early 90s and promptly disappeared. Finally, Lionsgate has rescued Sundown from movie oblivion to stand or fall on its own merits. And while it might not be the awesome cult classic I had hoped it would be, I'm delighted it's here.


David Carradine stars as Count Mardulak, an ancient, powerful vampire (no points for guessing his real identity) who wants to end the vampire curse and live in harmony with humankind. He's gathered his followers in the small desert town of Purgatory where, armed with powerful sunscreen and a seemingly endless supply of cash, Mardulak hopes to mass produce a synthetic blood substitute. But his major domo, Ethan Jefferson (John Ireland) wants to return to the old ways. He's amassed a small army of rebel vampires who intend to overthrow Mardulak in an old-fashioned showdown using wooden bullets. Meanwhile, Robert Van Helsing (Bruce Campbell sporting a Ned Flanders mustache), the young descendant of you-know-who, has come to town with his own reasons for getting rid of Mardulak.

Sundown has everything in the world going for it. A cool premise, a sense of humor, and a can't-be-beat cast of beloved cult character actors. In addition to those already mentioned, the movie also features M. Emmet Walsh (terrific as a salty old dog of a vampire), Deborah Foreman (from Valley Girl), Dana Ashbrook (from Twin Peaks), Dabbs Greer (from literally hundreds of movies and TV shows), and George "Buck" Flower (also with a resume a mile long). I'd love to say that Sundown is a buried treasure. Unfortunately, it's ultimately not that great. It looks fantastic with gorgeous widescreen images of the stunning Utah landscape. Individual moments click just fine. I was particularly fond of the stop-motion bats, for instance. But the story tends to wander aimlessly instead of finding a point and sticking to it. Also, it doesn't help that so much time is spent with the normal family stuck in the middle of all this. They're easily the least interesting element in an already overstuffed movie. The movie is obviously not meant to be taken too seriously but in the end, it feels more like a not-great Saturday morning cartoon than a real movie.

Despite my misgivings about the film, Lionsgate has done a terrific job bringing it to DVD. The movie looks and sounds very nice... this may be the first time Sundown has appeared on video in its proper aspect ratio and I can't imagine watching it any other way. Extras include an audio commentary with Anthony Hickox and cinematographer Levie Isaacks, moderated by Michael Felsher. It's worth checking out, although the three of them quiet down a bit too often. Better still, the disc offers three new video interviews with David Carradine, Bruce Campbell and M. Emmet Walsh. Campbell is always a great raconteur and he doesn't disappoint here. Walsh is equally colorful and fun to listen to. I found Carradine's interview the least of the three but even he has some good stories to tell. The disc is rounded out with a photo gallery.

At the end of the day, Sundown is a bit of a disappointment. With so much going for it, it really should be a better movie. Even so, I'm really glad I finally got a chance to see it and am even happier that Lionsgate put some effort into giving it a good home on DVD. For me, the fun part of this format has been in discovering movies long forgotten. Sundown isn't the best of those, not by a long shot. But it's fun and interesting enough that it deserves the immortality of DVD.

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B+


Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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