- Directed by Anthony Hickox
A scientist is called to an isolated Western town that is trying to begin mass production on his revolutionary synthetic blood. There he encounters a former rival and learns that Purgatory is a haven for vampires seeking to use synthetic blood to live hunting free lives.
I first discovered Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat on videocassette 30 or so years ago. I am not sure what initially drew me to it but drawn I was. I admit at the time I prowled the video rental store for stuff I had never heard of that looked interesting and perhaps something on the box said to me this previously unknown film was interesting.
There are plenty of recognizable and talented faces in this film even if you cannot always recall where you have seen them before. David Carradine, Bruce Campbell, Morgan Brittany, Jim Metzler, Deborah Foreman, M. Emmet Walsh, John Ireland, John Hancock, Dabbs Greer, Bert Remsen, and George Buck Flower are all recognizable faces of the era (or several eras) that you will know even if you cannot quite remember from where.
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat could be best described as a Weird Western. For those who may not be aware a Weird Western is a Western film with elements of science fiction or horror or even both and this film has both. Aside from obviously being set in a town in the American West there is a science-fiction element of treating vampires with a synthetic blood and the finale is an exciting horseback filled, revolver laden shoot-‘em-up. And the soundtrack is evocative of a Western adventure film.
The world is set up rather quickly and effectively. This mostly is done in the opening by the vampire Bisby Brothers of Mort, Milt, and Merle (M. Emmet Walsh, Bert Remsen, and Sunshine Parker respectively) who run a gas station on the end of edge of the town of Purgatory and appear to act as an early warning system for any human beings that come into the area. We get a feel for the general environment pretty quickly as well as getting the beginnings of the plot rolling. It is a rather darkly humorous moment ending with a man getting decapitated.
Within the next I would say 15 minutes of the film or less we get the rest of the set up and where and what the issue is that will propel the story. The plant appears to be experiencing technical problems that are holding up production and so David Harrison (Jim Metzler), the man who developed the process, is called in to take a look and get things up and running. There’s some concern on his part about his wife Sarah’s (Morgan Brittany) ex-boyfriend Shane (Maxwell Caulfield) being there but it’s nothing that really gives anyone too much hesitation about going to the isolated town.
Director Hickox does a great job of keeping everything to the point and compact. This is a low budget film given a serious effort by the minds behind it. I saw no continuity goofs and it maintains a consistent logic throughout. Too often cheaper films cut corners and get lazy. Rather than take creative measures to avoid narrative holes they usually just let a gap occur. Not here though. They cover all their bases. The film has a consistent internal logic that would be lacking in a Roger Corman film for example.
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat shifts from a horror comedy to a horror comedy western when the planned revolution begins. The bad guys arm themselves with guns that use wooden bullets (Yep!) and mount horses as they ride into town to take it over. Plenty of Westerns have used the bad guys taking over a town. The wooden bullets instead of wooden stakes was a neat twist on vampire mythology.
The battle for the town is one of the more significant sequences in the film. It is fun and exciting with a heavy Western flair. There is even hooting and hollering. The direction is great and the actors are all good in their roles. Heck I felt a little bad when the German vampire Anna (Marion Eaton) died. I liked her character.
The final confrontation between Count Mardulak (David Carradine) and the villainous Ethan (John Ireland) is played like a Western duel. They face off from each other with guns in their holsters and steely eyed looks at each other while exchanging tense words.
But rather than everything being resolved with a gun fight the true resolution comes when a cross is used. The bad guys melt and burst into flames while the good guys are unaffected. In other words God has forgiven them. A rare religious touch in a more modern horror film let alone a horror comedy.
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is a film that for me has aged very well. I understand that horror comedies are not for everybody, but I would recommend this to Western fans as well as horror comedy fans. It may not be well-known or a classic but it is very enjoyable so I say watch it!