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  Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat Out For Blood
Year: 1989
Director: Anthony Hickox
Stars: David Carradine, Morgan Brittany, Bruce Campbell, Jim Metzler, Maxwell Caulfield, Deborah Foreman, M. Emmet Walsh, John Ireland, Dana Ashbrook, John Hancock, Marion Eaton, Dabbs Greer, Bert Remsen, Sunshine Parker, Helena Carroll, Elizabeth Gracen
Genre: Horror, Western, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: David (Jim Metzler) is a top chemist who is pioneering the use of synthetic blood for operations and transfusions under his own unique design, and has received a call to head off to a research lab in the middle of nowhere to pursue this with a company that have expressed an interest. This company run the smalltown where they are situated, and word has gotten round the locals about this new arrival, who has taken his wife Susan (Morgan Brittany) and two young daughters with him on the trip. However, at the gas station just outside of town, the three owners sit on a swing chair patiently awaiting him, with only a little decapitation to amuse them...

Well, the guy one of their number, M. Emmet Walsh, cuts the head off of with one karate chop was a total yuppie asshole, this being the tail end of the nineteen-eighties when legendary distributor of the decade Vestron chose to release it. This was a mistake, as it was the final nail in the coffin of their enterprise and they went out of business shortly after, though latterly they endured to rerelease their product (and others) on home entertainment, aiming squarely at the nostalgia market with deluxe Blu-rays (containing extras for the fans). Not the worst way for a company synonymous in the eighties with the video rental stores of the decade, and a way of keeping many titles alive.

Whether Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat had a huge potential audience was debatable, mind you - audiences did not particularly want to see it back in 1989, not in their masses, anyway. Famously, Vestron passed on Earth Girls are Easy to put it out instead, and that genuinely is a cult movie, so if this can be described with the cult label, it was for a small amount of aficionados. Nevertheless, if you wanted to try an eccentric, if somewhat pandering, comedy horror that for some reason turns into a Western in the last act, then you could do a lot worse than what director and co-writer Anthony Hickox dreamt up for this, all being revealed when the credits tell us it was dedicated to his father.

Hickox's father was Douglas Hickox, who was also a director (Theatre of Blood is one of his), and a huge Western fan, so you could tell this was pulling in two directions: the horror that Anthony loved and the oaters that his dad preferred. Actually, it was pulling in three directions, because it was attempting to be funny as well; it wasn't going to prompt many belly laughs, that much was clear, thanks to the humour being more suitable for a kids' TV show than anything more sophisticated, and in the early stages as the story took far too long to work itself out you may be wondering if this was worth persevering with. There was simply too much going on in that opening half hour to focus on any one character as our hero. As well as Metzler, there was Bruce Campbell, fresh off Evil Dead II, who played a descendant of Dr Van Helsing, the man who had known all there was to know about beating Count Dracula, and believes he has tracked him down at last.

If that were true, what was David Carradine doing following in his father's footsteps by playing a vampire, as Count Mardulak? He appears halfway through in another try at making a hero role for this film, to join Dana Ashbrook, pre-Twin Peaks, as a teen who could blow the lid off the town of bloodsuckers, or Deborah Foreman, well into her cult eighties stardom, drawing the eye as a waitress who happens to be a decent vampire. Even the little kids could have fit the protagonist role here. Really, it needed another run through of the script to tighten it up and discern where its strengths lay, which turned out to be the Western business: once a limited civil war breaks out between pro-synthetic blood and anti, this gets quite good and the action flick shenanigans are pretty successful. But there was too much to comfortably get behind - Maxwell Caulfiield and John Ireland as boo-hiss villains, for instance - for this to be judged wholly effective, despite containing elements that appealed. Music by Richard Stone (who goes full on The Big Country).

[As mentioned, loads of extras on the Vestron Blu-ray, see below:

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
Wild Weird West - An Interview with Director Anthony Hickox
Bloodsuckers from Purgatory - An Interview with Special Make-up 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.

Dementia 13, The Wraith and Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat are on Blu-ray 15 November 2021 from Lionsgate UK.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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