Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat is a film directed by Anthony Hickox, an English director who is also the son of Douglas Hickox (the senior Hickox made the fantastic Theatre of Blood and other genre films). As a director, the junior Hickox is mainly known for horror films like Waxwork and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. This was his second film, in between Waxwork I and its sequel Waxwork II: Lost in Time.
Vestron Pictures was struggling and Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat was one of the films that finished them off. . The last two films Vestron financed were this one and Earth Girls Are Easy, Julian Temple’s attempt at a comeback after Absolute Beginners. Only one of those two was going to get a theatrical release, and they went with Earth Girls Are Easy, which in the end did not save the company—despite some of its earlier successes, like Dirty Dancing. It’s therefore a film that never really came out beyond a few film festival screenings because of the distributor’s legal and financial issues.
It’s a really bizarre movie—a contemporary vampire Western set in the early ‘80s. Although it has some clever ideas, the film never quite comes together. Bruce Campbell is totally wasted in his role as a descendent of vampire-hunter Van Helsing. The rest of the cast includes David Carradine as the lead vampire, plus Maxwell Caulfield (Grease 2, Empire Records), M. Emmet Walsh, John Ireland and Dana Ashbrook (Twin Peaks, and also a carryover Waxwork). Basically, there’s a vampire colony in the desert town of Purgatory, where an artificial bloodmaking plant is supposed to help them survive without draining humans. Unfortunately, it isn’t working… And yes, they were 30 years ahead of True Blood with that concept. Carradine’s character asks the plant’s designer to come sort it out, and he foolishly brings his wife and kids along for the repair trip, setting up the core of the story. Not that the story means much.
The plot is a little too goofy but not in a great, Evil Dead kind of way. It includes stop-motion bats and ZZ Top-style vampires (who I almost thought was actually ZZ Top), but it needed way more Bruce Campbell. He gets sidelined at some point, which is a shame, because he needed to be the lead to pull it through. He does have a pretty special moustache going for him. So while you start out thinking this will be one of the most awesome films ever, you soon lose hope. He doesn’t even get to nail a single vampire with a stake!
Carradine is terrible in the film, and in the extras Campbell says some things that suggest the veteran actor might have been off his face during the production. If you like culty films, it’s not awful, and I will probably see it again at some point. It will be a disappointment for Campbell fans, and there are so many better vampire westerns to choose from, from John Carpenter’s Vampires to Near Dark.
Extras on the disc include a new audio commentary with Hickox, Levie Isaaks and Michael Felsher, new interviews with Hickox and make-up artist Tony Gardner, and a set of interviews ported over from a 2008 release that feature Campbell, Carradine and Walsh, along with the isolated score, theatrical trailer and stills gallery.