Release Date(s)1989 (August 17, 2021)
Studio(s)Vestron Pictures (Vestron Video Collector’s Series)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
Though most folks only saw Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat when it premiered on video in the early 1990s due to the downfall of Vestron Pictures, it managed to gain a cult following, partly due to the subject matter, but also because of the cast. Among them were David Carradine, Bruce Campbell, Dana Ashbrook, Deborah Foreman, John Ireland, and M. Emmet Walsh, among others, all of whom participated in this goofy, off-kilter, Western horror comedy helmed by Anthony Hickcox (Waxwork, Hellraiser III).
Despite the tonal issues and disparate elements, one can’t help but admire the attempt at a widescreen, genre-bending Western disguised as a horror film, and vice versa. Performances are passable and the comic and horror elements are amusing (even a bit intellectual at times), but the film’s look and score are its most valuable assets. Chuck in stop-motion animated bats, vampires of all ages and types, beautiful desert vistas, and zany Bruce Campbell shtick and you have a fun, out-of-the-box straight-to-video effort. It’s worth noting that some of the film’s ideas would see success later on in True Blood, for whatever that’s worth.
In the desert town of Purgatory, the ancient vampire Count Mardulak (David Carradine) leads a community of vampires in hiding who want to stop feeding on humans and live among them by drinking a newly-developed, synthesized version of human blood. Not all of them are happy with this, including Jefferson (John Ireland), who continues to secretly gain followers for a potential uprising. Meanwhile, a small family—Sarah (Morgan Brittany), David (Jim Metzler), and their two young daughters—have arrived in town. David, who designed the plant where the synthesis is taking place, is there to oversee it, initially unaware of what it will be producing. Vampires all over town are dealing with their own issues, including three gas stations attendants (M. Emmet Walsh, Bert Remsen, and Sunshine Parker), Bailey (George Buck Flower), a newly-transformed vampire couple (Dana Ashbrook and Elizabeth Gracen), and the town diner’s waitress Sandy (Deborah Foreman), the latter of whom has taken a liking to the newly-arrived Robert (Bruce Campbell). The descendant of Van Helsing, Robert has come to stop Mardulak, not knowing his intentions. Soon a war will be fought and sides will be chosen as humans and vampires fight together.
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat comes to Blu-ray as part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series. There’s no information about the source of the master, but it’s likely an older one. Even so, it’s more than adequate with high levels of fine detail and good saturation. Grain levels are a little sporadic and blacks aren’t as deep as they could be, but contrast is good and most shots appear sharp with good clarity outside of a few process shots. Instability is mostly relegated to the opening credits and minor speckling and dirt along the way are its main deficiencies. Only minor softness creeps in from time to time. A fresher scan would have yielded more depth in the images, especially in the shadows, but it’s still a worthy high definition presentation.
The audio is included in English 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, and English SDH. While speaker to speaker activity isn’t prevalent, there’s definitely good separation with atmospheric activity all around the sound space. Dialogue exchanges are clear and the score has decent presence as well. It’s also clean with no obvious leftover damage to speak of.
The Blu-ray disc is housed in standard amaray casing with a Digital code on a piece of paper tucked away inside. Everything is housed within a slipcover with new artwork (the best representation of the film in all of its history on home video, I might add). The following extras are also included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Anthony Hickox, Levie Isaacks, and Michael Felsher
- Isolated Score Selections with Randall Larson, Jefferson Richard, and Michael Felsher
- Wild Weird West with Anthony Hickcox (16:03)
- Bloodsuckers from Purgatory with Tony Gardner (14:28)
- Memories of Moab with Bruce Campbell (12:43)
- A Vampire Reformed with David Carradine (13:08)
- A True Character with M. Emmet Walsh (11:02)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:03)
- Still Gallery (170 in all – 14:58)
In the audio commentary with director Anthony Hickcox, director of photography Levie Isaacks, and moderator Michael Felsher, they avidly discuss the making of the film while watching it together. They provide plenty of great detail while Felsher keeps the conversation going when things go quiet, which isn’t too often. Acting as a second audio commentary is a set of isolated score selections with comments by music historian Randall Larson who discusses composer Richard Stone and his music for the film. Once his portion ends, Michael Felsher provides an audio interview with producer Jefferson Richardson. In Wild Weird West, director Anthony Hickcox discusses rewriting the script after being offered it, shooting in the town of Moab, working with the cast, shooting the film in widescreen on location, working with Tony Gardner, stop-motion animation, the score, the film’s release, and its cult appeal. In Bloodsuckers from Purgatory, special make-up effects creator Tony Gardner talks about where he was in his career when the project came along, the budget and working conditions, the various looks of the vampires, the quality of the effects and the way they were shot, working with the cast, and his feel for the film. In Memories of Moab, Bruce Campbell talks about being excited to work on the film, working the location, working with Deborah Foreman and David Carradine, regretting not talking more to John Ireland, and his reaction to the film. In A Vampire Reformed, David Carradine discusses his character and the world of the film, what makes the film interesting, working with Anthony Hickcox, trying to do things in one take, shooting different films simultaneously, an anecdote about flying from set to set, drawing guns with John Ireland, and his feelings about the film. In A True Character, M. Emmet Walsh discusses becoming an actor with an altered version of his name, the backstory on the vampires, his thoughts on the cast, the location, and his thoughts on the film. The extras are rounded out by the film’s trailer and a still gallery featuring 170 promotional stills, behind-the-scenes shots, posters, and home video artwork stills.
Another great release in the Vestron Video Collector’s Series, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is one of those titles that, despite its cult following, isn’t nearly in league with other similar titles of its type—especially those released through Vestron. With a great A/V presentation and wonderful extras from Red Shirt Pictures, this is yet another great disc to pick up.
- Tim Salmons