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Anthony Hickox
David Carradine, Morgan Brittany, Maxwell Caulfield
Writing Credits:
Anthony Hickox

Reclusive vampires lounge in a lonely American town and deal with a descendant of Van Helsing.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $17.99
Release Date: 8/10/2021

• Audio Commentary with Director Anthony Hickox and Director of Photography Levie Isaacks
• Isolated Score Selections with Audio Interview from Music Historian Randall Larson and Producer Jefferson Richard
• “Wild Weird West” Featurette
• “Bloodsuckers from Purgatory” Featurette
• “Memories of Moab” Featurette
• “A Vampire Reformed” Featurette
• “A True Character” Featurette
• Still Gallery
• Trailer


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Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat [Blu-Ray] (1989)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 3, 2022)

In Ye Olden Dayes, movies that got no theatrical distribution faded and died. However, once cable and VHS became big in the 1980s, that equation changed.

Case in point: Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat. The movie only played at a couple film festivals in 1989 and then it sat on the shelf.

However, 1991 brought a video release and an actual audience for the film. This allowed it to gain a cult following, one substantial enough to prompt the existence of this Blu-ray 30 years later.

In the isolated US desert town of Purgatory, Count Jozek Mardulak (David Carradine) leads a clan of vampires. To atone for years of murders, he orders his followers to only consume synthetic human blood.

However, Ethan Jefferson (John Ireland) tires of this fake fluid and leads a revolt to take the vampires back to the old ways. This leads to a battle between two sides, one that threatens that life of visiting humans David Harrison (Jim Metzler) and his family.

Nothing about that synopsis conveys the tone of Sundown, as my overview leaves the impression that it’ll offer a mix of action and horror. Instead, the flick heavily favors comedy.

This becomes clear from the opening scene, in which the filmmakers tease us with vampire action that turns out just to show kids at play. Matters continue down a heavily humor-based path when we meet the residents of Purgatory and potentially gruesome material gets played for laughs.

Given the melodramatic path so many vampire flicks take, I should probably embrace this choice. However, the execution of Sundown seems too erratic to make the end result especially winning.

Part of the problem stems from the plot, as it veers all over the place. While my summary tightens up the narrative, Sundown barely attempts a cohesive story.

Instead, it feels more like a collection of plot points. While these eventually tie together at the end, the film tends to feel disjointed much of the time.

The various episodes flit around so much that they never really manage to give us much depth in and of themselves. Instead, it feels like the filmmakers lacked confidence in the material so they figured that if they threw enough characters and circumstances at us, we wouldn’t notice the incoherence and absence of particularly interesting situations.

Sundown’s hybrid nature as a horror action comedy also creates concerns, as “jack of all trades” syndrome becomes an issue. The humor never really amuses, the stunts never really thrill, and the terror never really scares.

Sundown does attempt to form a throwback to older genre flicks, but unlike era-mate Tremors, it feels too self-conscious to achieve its goals. While Tremors nodded toward 1950s monster movies, it nonetheless became creative and fun in its own right, whereas Sundown never knows which way to turn.

This means that despite the “genre callback” elements, it desperately attempts to embrace then-popular late 1980s themes and fashions. With one song that completely rips off Escape Club’s 1988 hit “Wild Wild West” to visuals that feel like they came from Jordache commercials, Sundown can appear awfully dated.

At least the movie boasts a nice cast. In addition to Carradine and Ireland, we find a then-young Bruce Campbell, a younger-than-he-looked M. Emmet Walsh and others.

Can any of these actors do anything with their roles? Not really, and it doesn’t help that their performances often feel like they came from different films.

Some play their roles for laughs. Some play their roles for horror. Some play their roles for drama.

Unfortunately, these choices rarely coalesce. It can seem like the director instructed different actors to approach the movie in different ways, and that leads to the awkward mishmash we find.

In more competent hands, Sundown could’ve worked. Heck, 1998’s Blade offered another vampire flick that blended a variety of genres, and it succeeded.

But Sundown can’t get there. Despite the occasional scene that threatens to become fun, the end result seems muddled and impotent.

The Disc Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus B

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This turned into an erratic but generally good image.

Overall sharpness satisfied. However, sporadic soft shots cropped up for no logical reason, and they became a periodic distraction.

I saw no signs of moiré effects or jagged edges, and edge haloes failed to appear. Other than a couple of tiny specks, the movie remained clean.

Colors tended toward a mix of light blue and tan. Within production choices, these hues appeared pretty full and rich.

Blacks offered nice depth and darkness, while low-light shots presented fairly positive smoothness. Ultimately this turned into a decent presentation despite some sporadic issues.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack, it offered a mixed bag. The soundscape provided nice stereo music and also broadened to use the side channels for effects in a positive manner.

Though these elements didn’t give us a lot of sonic fireworks, the mix managed to use the various speakers in a pleasing way. The components blended together in a decent manner and created a more than acceptable soundscape.

Audio quality became more erratic, though. In particular, speech showed a fair amount of edginess, so while the lines remained intelligible, they displayed more roughness than I’d expect.

Music and effects boasted pretty decent range, but both also came with some distortion at times. This didn’t seem like a bad track for a low-budget flick from 1989, but it came with some weaknesses.

As we shift to extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director Anthony Hickox and director of photography Levie Isaacks. Along with moderator Mike Felsher, both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story and characters, cast and crew, sets and locations, photography, effects and connected domains.

At times, we get decent notes about Sundown here. However, a lot of the track either bemoans how the cropped 1.33:1 video version damaged the cinematography or how modern-day CG effects would ruin the film. We get a lot of praise and not a ton of insights.

The disc also provides Isolated Score Selections Featuring Audio Interview with Music Historian Randall Larson and Producer Jefferson Richard. For the movie’s first 84 minutes, the track mixes those score selections with Larson’s notes. The rest of the film presents disc producer Michael Felsher’s interview with Richard.

Both sides prove useful. In addition to the musical segments, Larson brings some worthwhile insights, while Richard delivers a short but engaging chat.

Five featurettes follow, and Wild Weird West goes for 16 minutes, three seconds. Here we get more from Hickox as he discusses aspects of the production and the film’s release, with some emphasis on actor John Ireland’s time on the shoot. This proves more informative than Hickox’s iffy commentary.

Bloodsuckers from Purgatory lasts 14 minutes, 28 seconds and delivers notes from special makeup effects designer Tony Gardner. He examines his work on the film and gives us some good details.

Via Memories of Moab, we find a 12-minute, 43-second chat with actor Bruce Campbell. He looks at his time on the film and delivers some fun anecdotes.

A Vampire Reformed spans 13 minutes, eight seconds and features actor David Carradine as he discusses his work on the shoot. Carradine offers a few useful notes, though he fails to mention whether or not he drank booze during the shoot as both Hickox and Campbell claim.

Finally, A True Character occupies 11 minutes, two seconds and brings info from actor M. Emmet Walsh. He tells us about his career and aspects of Sundown in another worthwhile chat.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we end with a still gallery. It shows a running montage with 170 images.

These mostly display movie scenes or publicity photos, though we also find some behind the scenes elements and advertising art. This becomes a decent compilation.

As a combination of horror, action and comedy, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat boasts the potential to deliver a fun mix of genres. Unfortunately, it winds up as a disjointed mishmash that can’t pull off its goals. The Blu-ray brings decent but erratic picture and audio along with a mix of bonus materials. Chalk up Sundown as a muddled disappointment.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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