There’s a certain charmed nostalgia around a lot of genre films released in the late 80s. The advent of the ability for kids to watch their rented VHS’s on repeat with little input from parents means that there’s a lot of people in their 40s now who grew up on a diet of stop-motion monsters, fake blood and bizarre humour. A lot of them want to revisit those films now, for better or worse, and so the market for Blu-ray releases of these trashy B-movies is booming, kind of like Ash’s Boom Stick in Army Of Darkness.
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is exactly this type of film. Released in 1989 at a few film festivals before receiving a widespread VHS release in 1991, it bridges that gap between the nasty horror films of the 80s and the silly comedies of the 90s, tonally having more in common with Tremors or Gremlins 2 than say The Lost Boys or Near Dark.
It tells a slightly messy story about a town, aptly named Purgatory, entirely populated by vampires. Patriarch Count Mardulak (David Carradine) has encouraged his followers to attempt to live peacefully alongside humans. They have a factory which is producing synthetic blood that looks like banana milkshake and rely on 100 SPF sunscreen and sunglasses to survive in their desert home. Mardulak invites David Harrison (Jim Metzler), who designed the system that creates their blood, to visit and attempt to get it working properly. He arrives with his family at the same time as Robert Van Helsing (a very nerdy Bruce Campbell), whilst a puritanical elder vamp, Jefferson (John Ireland) attempts to stage a traditionalist uprising.
There’s also a horny vampire trying to steal Dave’s wife, a group of three redneck brothers, the eldest of whom has a habit of getting annoyed and killing people, and a secret tunnel, just for good measure.
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is exactly what you expect it to be: it’s moderately funny, silly and ultimately a bit crap. The daylight horror comedy western thing was far more successful in Tremors, Bruce Campbell is ultimately underused, and the ending doesn’t really make much sense.
However, it will absolutely have its fans. It feels like what a cult film should feel like. It’s a bit weird, a bit off beat and could have only been made in the time and environment it was. This does make it a bit of a niche thing, despite being a charming romp, it won’t be for everyone. The acting is cheesy, the dialogue pretty terrible and as mentioned it doesn’t really hold together that well narratively. Its main crime is that Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat doesn’t quite manage to be funny enough, something that would allow us to forgive the rest of its crimes.
Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat is released by Lionsgate on Special Edition Blu-ray on November 15th.