Under the jump: My review of the 1990-released horror-comedy starring David Carradine and Bruce Campbell, “Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat”.
Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat should not be as adorable as it is. One of those pleasant, quirky little independent pictures that has never gotten the notice it deserves, it went directly to video without a theatrical release; even Bruce remarks infrequently on the shoot – and when he does, it’s to say that he had a great time hiking about the Mojave Mountains. But that’s shortchanging the picture – it actually does a good job putting a very unique spin on a very tired genre.
Don’t let the box cover fool you – this isn’t a dramatic horror picture, not does Bruce have the true lead. In tone, the rather in a similar vein as The Monster Squad and other horror comedies; it earns its R rating through some gore (including a memorable head severing), but it treads surprisingly close to being a genial family horror comedy; with a number of edits, you could even show it to your church group .
The plot focuses on the citizens of Purgatory, Arizona, all of whom are vampires. Wearing sunglasses, hats and gloves so they can roam the outside world during the daylight hours, they range in disposition from the genial Jozek Mardulakl, the town’s leader, who has encouraged his charges to remain peaceful and hide themselves from the rest of the world, to the firebrand Ethan Jefferson, who wants to return to their human-hunting, blood sucking ways. They drink substitute blood and generally enjoy their endless afterlife, though being cut off from the universe does bother them.
Two outsiders converge on the town at the same time; Robert Van Helsing (Bruce), the clumsy great-grandson of the legendary vampire slayer, who has decided to lay waste to the town’s vamps, and the Harrison family, summoned to fix the town’s artificial blood factory. David foolishly thinks this will provide his family with a great vacation, but his daughters soon become intrigued by Jozek’s world, and his wife becomes the quarry for one of Jefferson’s henchmen, who becomes obsessed with her. Meanwhile, Robert starts to fall for the pretty and soft-spoken Sandy.
“Sundown” is one of those delightful surprises that jumps out of Bruce’s usual oeuvre and grabs ahold of you. Neither an uberserious blood-letting nor a gigglefest, the movie offers up a couple of thoughtful moments among its 80s cheese (And a note on that – if you find religious material offensive you might not enjoy this one). It has a little bit of everything, and contains some pretty rootable heros.
David Carradine does an excellent job as the morally grounded Jozek, and Bruce and Deborah Foreman (she of Valley Girl and My Chauffer fame) sell the Robert/Sandy romance. Bruce is spastic to a wild degree in this performance, just what Robert’s nervy, twitchy persona requires. There’s very little to dislike in this flick, unless you like your gore less whimsical and more seriously-told; everything from the storyline to the production values are top-notch. Highly recommended, and quite worth digging up if you’re a Campbell fan.