Kudos to Lionsgate. Recently, the DVD label has released a number of interesting curiosities for horror film fans, from solid foreign films like the Belgian Artifacts and the Spanish collection 6 Films to Keep You Awake to slightly older fare like the French Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre and this 1990 American oddity, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat.
What a strange find this movie is!
Lionsgate's cover art heavily emphasizes the two cult film actors included in the cast: Bruce (Army of Darkness) Campbell and David (Kill Bill) Carradine. And probably rightly so as they would be of most interest to horror filmgoers today. Campbell and Carradine play modern day Van Helsing and Dracula, respectively, and both are fun to watch even though their roles are secondary - but still important - characters.
The film itself, however, centers upon the Harrison family: mom, dad, and two young daughters. The daughters are vampire film buffs, a fact that proves helpful when the Harrisons travel to Purgatory, Utah so Daddy can help fix things at a synthetic blood factory. Unbeknownst to the Harrisons, Purgatory is populated by a vampire colony interested in giving up their bloodsucking ways and integrating with humans. The synthetic blood helps, as do ultra-powerful sunscreen and large sunglasses.
Unfortunately, the Harrisons' arrival coincides with the fruition of a growing vampire uprising populated by those who wish to return to their old preying-on-human ways. They've got guns with wood bullets, and the Harrisons, Van Helsing, and a few other unlucky travelers get caught up in the ensuing showdown between the two vampire clans.
Sound silly? Well, it is. Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat cross-pollinates three genres: horror, comedy, and the western. Of the three, horror is ironically the least used of the three genres despite the town's vampire population. There's a few bloody moments here, but this is mostly an exercise in physical comedy, silly parody, and shoot-em-up theatrics.
And it works, for the most part. The comedy is funny and Campbell goes overboard here as a Van Helsing descendant who becomes all a-twitter when he meets a sexy blonde vampire. Campbell fans won't be disappointed, even though he could have been used more in the film itself. The notion of this film culminating in a lengthy shootout between the two vampire clans is inspired (and played for laughs, mostly). A humorous subplot involving Sarah Harrison's marital infidelity was a surprise twist and helped make the proceedings interesting.
At 104 minutes, however, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat seemed bloated - and the final firefight lasts way too long. I couldn't help but think that if 15 or 20 minutes of repetitive action and unnecessary characters had been edited out, this would have been a minor comic horror masterpiece. Still, the movie has a lot of humorous gags and it comes recommended.
On the back cover art for the DVD case, Lionsgate describes its video presentation as "16x9 Widescreen 2.35:1 DVD Screen Format," and that's exactly what's provided here. The anamorphic image is bright and clear with solid colors and details. I noticed some minor artifacts at times, but nothing that dramatically stood out. This is an overall nice-looking transfer.
Two English language audio tracks are provided here: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. The 5.1 track appears to be the default and it sounds fantastic. The score is strong but doesn't drown out dialogue. Action sequences, especially the gunplay at the end of the movie, surround the listener. English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
Lionsgate placed a SPECIAL EDITON banner on the front cover art, and they certainly don't skimp on the extras.
A feature-length commentary track with director Anthony Hickox and director of photography Levie Isaacks kicks off the special features. They sound very relaxed as they comment upon the film.
"Memories of Moab": Interview with Bruce Campbell (12:53) has Campbell reflecting upon the making of the movie, and it's fun to listen to him talk about it. A similar extra is "A Vampire Reformed": Interview with David Carradine (13:44) and it's also worthwhile to hear the cult actor reflect upon the film. Finally, there's "A True Character": Interview with M. Emmet Walsh (10:59) - Walsh appears in the movie as a ZZ Top - looking vampire. All three interviews are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Also presented in anamorphic widescreen is a photo slideshow of images from the movie (6:11) accompanied by music from the film's score.
When the disc is played, a trailer for The Monster Squad precedes the main menu; it's also available through an Also from Lionsgate link in the menu system.
This odd 1990 vampire western comedy has some funny gags and clever moments, but at a bloated 104 minutes, it overstays its welcome by about 20 minutes. Bruce Campbell fans won't be disappointed by his performance, even though he's a secondary character. There's enough amusement here - and good extras - to warrant an enthusiastic recommendation.