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How this movie escaped my attention for so long is kind of a mystery. Well, not really much of a mystery, as the film was never released in theaters and languished on VHS until September of 2008, that's when Netflix recommended it to me. What the mystery is, is how I didn't even know it's name. As a huge Bruce Campbell fan, how could I never have heard of an early horror-comedy of this caliber, with him in a prime role? I've been through his IMDb page countless times, trying to find a hidden gem, that I haven't yet seen, but I don't ever remember seeing this title. It sits unassumingly at #77 between Maniac Cop 2 and The Dead Next Door. Now that's not to say that Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, is some kind of hidden classic, but it's a very worthy addition to Campbell's resume, and is probably better than 90% of his other films, which admittedly isn't saying much. But as a Bruce Campbell fan it's a must see.

Bruce doesn't show up until about 20 minutes into the film, but the film is full of cult actors, most notably David Carradine as the head vampire Count Mardulak. The film also features Morgan Brittany, Maxwell Caulfield, Deborah Foreman, John Ireland, but it's M. Emmet Walsh that gets the first big laugh. He and his vampire brothers sit on a swing, wearing sunglasses and bonnets, watching a Jeep approach their gas station. Walsh takes his sweet time, applying a handful of sunscreen, before making his way out to pump gas. When the Jeep's owner gets impatient with this ridiculous looking old man, he gets his head knocked clean off. It's a cheesy gag, but it works for a joke.

A whole group of new-age vampires have moved out west to the tiny desert town of Purgatory, where they've taken over and want to live a quiet life. And thanks to the miracle of sunscreen, vampires can venture outside during the day. They've also stopped feeding on the blood of living humans, instead they have a synthetic blood that a factory in town manufactures. For decency sake, the town's sheriff puts Walsh into jail for a few days to cool him down, although he could break out any second, due to his tremendous strength.

Salvation is on its way to town in the form of David Harrison and his very human family. His expertise is going to help streamline the factory's output of synthetic blood. They're in no real danger from the town-full of vampires, except for Ethan and his faction of outsiders, who want to go back to the way things were. Amongst the baddies is Sarah Harrison's ex-lover, the sleazy Shane, who wants nothing more than to convert Sarah, and live out an eternity of sinfulness. There's a hilarious scene right after the family arrives in town, where Shane flies into Sarah's room and attacks her vampire-bat style. The effects are pretty awful here, a badly done stop-animation bat, flying over a fuzzily matted Morgan Brittney flaying away. It looks worse than something Ray Harryhausen was creating twenty years before, but it adds to the cheesy charm of the film.

Bruce Campbell ambles into town around this time, stopping at a small diner, he immediately falls for the beautiful vampiress Sandy White, a name more fitting a 50's sitcom, but they're trying to be ironic. We soon learn that he's a descendant of Van Helsing, attempting to finish his great-grandfather's life work. His mission doesn't last long, before he's turned into a vampire himself, with an over-the-top comic performance that only Bruce Campbell could get away with. (See directly below.) Before long the family finds themselves in the middle of a vampire war. On one side is David Carradine teaming up with Bruce Campbell to fight for the good vampires, on the other side is Ethan, Shane and their henchmen full of character clichés throughout the ages, including pirates, cowboys and punk-rockers.

This battle takes up the last 30 minutes of the film and it really grows tiresome. Since they live in a desert in the west, they have to fight it out Western style, wood bullets providing the kills. It's entertaining at first, but by the time they show the 1000th smoky shot fired, with a stunt-man falling cinematically to the ground, it brings this otherwise fun film to a screeching halt. The cheesy dialog, performed by charismatic B-actors has ended, the goofy special effects are gone, vampires pretending to be something they're not, over; in its place is the entire cast lined up, firing blanks at one another.

If you're into forgotten films, if you're into B-films or cheesy horror-comedies with or without Bruce Campbell, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is fun enough to recommend. The first two acts of the film are quite entertaining. The filmmaking, except for the special effects, is quite good throughout. The film is nicely shot in widescreen to take advantage of the beautiful desert scenery. The film is full of great character actors, having a lot of fun playing sun-drenched vampires. But you can't call something a cult classic, when the whole final act of the film leaves you with the taste of boredom in your mouth. If they'd found another way to end it, I might have heard of it a lot sooner. - Grade: C+

An interview with Bruce Campbell about the making of Sundown:

2 Responses to Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat:

  1. I am going to have to check this one out! :-)

    Thanks for the review!

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