Review: Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989)

Sometimes you run across a film the you are shocked you've never seen, but even more rare is when it's also a film you never even heard of. This film is firmly in that category for me for reasons that will become abundantly clear. Sundown is a western horror comedy from Anthony Hickox that he made after Waxwork, which makes me wonder why he jumped from an incredibly creative set-up to a movie about vampires. I mean, really? Vampires? Haven't they been done to death?

Sometimes literally done to death?

Yeah, today it's honestly such an overused formula that I get sick of seeing it constantly pop up. The 1980s were no stranger to many vampire films either, but at least they never saddled us with Twilight. But, for every Stephanie Meyer there is always a Steve Niles around to balance things out and remind us that vampires can be menacing creatures out for blood. Can Anthony Hickox make a scary vampire movie? Well, I'm sure he might be able to, but this isn't it. No, this is pretty much a straight-up dark comedy with vampires. But, is that really bad? There's only one way to find out, so grab the reddest food item you've got and let's sink our fangs into this movie. After all, it couldn't be worse than some other vampire films.

Trust me, it can get a lot worse.
The story sets itself up in the opening text crawl as we learn of a vampire named Count Jozek Mardulak who has set up a town for vampires to live peacefully without being hunted or having to hunt. Here they drink an artificial blood substitute to sustain themselves and seek to co-exist with mankind. He even hopes to one day welcome humans into their midst so they can truly be united. It turns out that, thanks to sunscreen and shades, vampires can manage pretty well during the day. Thus the vampire community of Purgatory is set up in the middle of the desert, away from most humans, so they can adapt to their lifestyle. But something seems awfully familiar about that town name...I could've sworn I've seen something about a western town being called Purgatory. Hmmm...

But where...?
Anyway, we see a family preparing to go to this very town, as the father has a new job there. And one of the two daughters seems to have quite the love and fascination with vampires. Wonderful, even in the 1980s young girls were obsessed with vampires. Luckily, she's more of a fan of the classic variety. We then go to a douchebag tearing ass through the desert as he pulls into a gas station right outside of Purgatory ran by three brothers: Mort, Milt, and Merle. I love how they look too, with their scraggly beards, overalls, large straw hats, and sunglasses that are so 80s that I think they melted when the decade ended. The three brothers observe the douche, hoping that he isn't the man meant to save their town. When Mort finds out he isn't, he's quite delighted as the guy has been really getting on his nerves. So what does a nice old vampire do in this situation? This.

After that epic backhand, they rush to clean the mess up before the family shows up, but the douche's friends saw the whole thing through some binoculars. One of the brothers goes around town to inform everyone that it was a false alarm and we go to the factory where the blood substitute is made and we see that they're having troubles with the machinery. It turns out this is why our hero, David, is going there. It also seems that one of the vampires that works at the factory is the Cool Rider from Grease 2. It seems he's taken a break from being in a sub-par sequel so he can perfect his character for Empire Records.

"Don't worry, boys. Because I am so handsome that surely this will all work out."
At least this time he won't be fucking Renée Zellweger on a copy machine, which is still less embarrassing for her than remembering her contribution to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. It seems that Rex Manning here also happens to be the hero's wife's ex. I bet that won't end in attempted vampire rape. Anywho, we see one of the brothers from earlier having to talk to Jefferson, the disciplinarian of the town, regarding his brother's incident. It turns out that knocking a guy's head off isn't really the sort of thing they approve of around town. Jefferson, it turns out, appears to be some sort of puritan too, judging by his fashion sense. Weird. It's decided that Mort will go to jail until his fate is decided and the douche's friends decide to find a cop to report the murder of their friend while David and family finally show up.

"Hey, what's that severed head smell? Are you cooking?"
The Harrison family ventures into town where they meet the nice strangely Jamaican sheriff, Quenton Canada, who welcomes them to town. Inside the general store, they meet a nice elderly couple, Otto and Anna. Anna's hat seems to be in danger of flying away too, as it is more birdlike than Nicolas Cage's hair. They get directions to the place they're staying at and head there to settle in. Meanwhile, the douche's friends come wandering into town while the townsfolk try to keep up the appearance of being completely normal. But when the two go to the sheriff, they find that coming forward was likely a bad idea as they end up being locked up too. What a shock, the vampires don't want people to find out about there being a town full of vampires.

"First I find a werewolf in a waxworks and now this. I really need to choose who I hang out with more carefully."
The Harrisons settle into their temporary home and we see that the Cool Rider and the puritan are up to no good as they meet to talk about some dastardly plans. They do this in a corn bats...I am totally taking this subplot seriously. Bruce Campbell also shows up, because why not? He may as well be in this movie. Waxwork already had the evil hand from Evil Dead 2. But that's enough of that, as Shane has other dastardly deeds in mind. Like attempted rape. No, really, he flies into the Harrisons temporary home to try to rape his ex. Nothing sexier than Rex Manning pushing himself onto a defenseless woman. But the mood is ruined when the daughters bust in and the younger vampire obsessed daughter sees him as he truly is.

A naked guy with really nice hair.
So he flies away and the mother seems to be under the impression it was a bird, so I can only assume she's related to the mother from Saturday the 14th who thinks bats are owls. We then return to Jefferson as he recruits some young people into his army of newborn vampires, as he and the naked rapist are planning to take over the town and kill the Count. This is because they don't like drinking fake blood and instead want to go back to the old ways of hunting people for sustenance. Bruce Campbell shows up at the gas station after having broke down in the desert and reveals he's looking for Purgatory, but finds that the town is a bit less hospitable to outsiders. A young waitress, played by Deborah Foreman, tells him to meet her outside of town and that she'll tell him some information. David, on the other hand, leaves for the factory to fix things up there and ends up fighting his wife's ex, because clearly said ex still wants to fuck her. Don't worry, David, I'm pretty sure she only really likes him on Rex Manning Day, like most everyone else.

That's a smile that says "I was in Grease 2 and no one really cares."
At the jail, Mort reveals to the douches friends that they've only got two possible outcomes ahead of them: death or conversion. The two daughters end up finding a secret passage in their house that leads to the tomb of David Carradine, who just happens to be Count Mardulak. They react to finding a guy in a coffin about how you'd expect, but he is able to convince them and their mother that what they saw was simply him visiting his dead mother's grave in the secret passage between the two mansions. He seems nice enough. After that, Sandy the waitress meets up with Bruce outside of town where she comes onto him pretty strong but he freaks out a bit when he realizes she's a vampire. It turns out that he's actually a vampire hunter whose name rhymes with Van Helsing. In the diner, Jefferson stirs the citizens up in a blood lust before going to the desert where the sheriff has caught Shane doing some suspicious things. It turns out they have some guns with wooden bullets and they use one to kill the nice Jamaican sheriff.

Someone call the mounted police! Canada has been attacked!
The daughters end up riding their bikes into town where the younger one tells Anna about her dream, which entails the oncoming coup, and the Count decides to let Mort live even though he broke the law. Anna brings the girl's dream to the Count's attention and he decides to give the girls a ride home. David and his wife though are having problems, as it turns out she slept with Shane after they were married and Shane believes the youngest daughter is actually his. I'd say it might explain why she can see vampires and the like, but he wasn't a vampire when they bumped uglies, so yeah. The two reconcile after their argument, and then go to get the girls, finding that they're being driven off in the Count's limo. They all end up at the Count's house where the girls tells her dream and Bruce Campbell attempts to attack the Count. Short story? Bruce gets turned by the young waitress (because she's got them vampire hots for him), and the Count and his men prepare for war. The townspeople don't take the invading force trying to shatter their peaceful life very well and shooting breaks out. Mort turns the two young prisoners while they nap, so now they're stuck in the middle of this war, and the whole place breaks out into a classic western struggle to fend off bandits.

Even though the outfits may not feel quite right for the western genre. Also there are machine guns.
Many of the good guys fall as they all end up back at the Count's place where they shoot things out. Shane goes after David's wife, because one attempted rape isn't good enough for Rex Manning, dammit. He'll behave as sexist as possible within the confines of this film and no one will tell him he can't. The Count has a showdown with Jefferson where he reveals he's actually Dracula, and David goes to confront Shane in the house across from them. Bruce Campbell gives him his holy water, which he uses to melt a hole through Shane's neck before shooting him through the heart with a wooden bullet. David then rushes back to save the others by constructing a large cross that he mounts on the roof, which causes the bad vampires to burst into flames. But the good ones don't, as the Count believes that God has finally forgiven them for their past. Me, I think it only affected the assholes who've been drinking blood rather than the blood substitute. And thus, our story reaches its conclusion as the Harrison family leaves for home and the vampires undoubtedly prepare to fix their poor shot up town.

All while Bruce laughs his ass off at a vampire pun. Beautiful.
The verdict? I liked it. It's not as good as Waxwork, but I definitely wouldn't call it a bad movie by any means. It was rather funny, the story was more interesting than I initially thought it'd be, and the actors did a fairly decent job. The familiar faces on display here all handled their roles well, each giving the sort of performances you'd expect from veterans of campy fare like this. It did bum me out that so many of the heroic vampires got killed off in the end though, as it leaves you feeling like there isn't a large enough population left of them to truly call a town anymore. And while we have greats like Bruce Campbell and David Carradine, I honestly thought that M. Emmet Walsh stole the show as Mort. He was very entertaining. Of course, I have to also give credit to Maxwell Caulfield for playing the home-wrecking vampire rapist Shane, who proved to be the perfect villain for this story. Even when he's a terrible person, he still has a charming air about him.

He's a bit less charming with hole burning through his neck though.
This, I fear, may very well just be the calm before the storm though, as I have more movies ahead of me that may not bode quite as well for me. Two in particular come to mind. But as for Sundown? It's a fun little vampire movie that doesn't treat itself too seriously, which ends up proving to be a good thing, as the laughs are really what saves it. Some concepts just need a bit of humour thrown in, otherwise they risk being far too silly. I'm looking at you, Cowboys & Aliens. Check this movie out if you want something entertaining to watch during the cold months ahead. After all, blood tends to be pretty warm. So, until Rex Manning stages his big comeback tour, I'll be here meandering through another movie for your enjoyment. Later days, bleeders.

Don't forget to floss.