Lost Film Classic.
How many times have you seen those words, or something like them, undeservedly used in a film’s advertising? The word “classic” is very opinion based to begin with but I feel its tossed around way too often these days in an effort to evoke a false sense of nostalgia for films that a lot of us have never seen (or heard of) before. I just saw a list on The Observer that named SAVE THE LAST DANCE a lost classic. Apparently, its a forgotten film in the U.K., even though its had two different DVD releases from what I can tell, and considered somewhat of a gem. I don’t see how anyone could put that on the same list as TWO-LANE BLACKTOP and expect someone to take them seriously but, hey, every film has it’s fans.
That brings me to SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT, a film that is being touted as a lost film classic from Anthony Hickox, the man who brought us the cheesy-fun WAXWORK and the cheesy-but-less-fun HELLRAISER III. While I would consider it lost, since Vestron went belly-up on the cusp of its theatrical run and it ended up with a limited VHS release (copies used to go for $100+ on eBay!), curiosity would be a more appropriate word to describe it than classic.
The town of Purgatory used to thrive off the copper market until the industry bottomed out, leaving it just another isolated and forgotten mine outpost when Count Mardulak (David Carradine) showed up. Seeing Purgatory’s potential in being a haven for vampires, Mardulak resuscitates the desert town with powerful sunblock and a synthetic-blood manufacturing plant built by Shane (Maxwell Caulfield), an undead engineer. Mardulak’s simple way of eternal life for his townsfolk was almost completely realized, except that the blood factory could never work to its full potential. In an effort to not resort to their old ways, the town calls upon David Henderson (Jim Metzler), the designer of the plant, to resolve their issues. Unfortunately for the Henderson family, they couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. It seems that Mardulak’s right hand man, Ethan (John Ireland), doesn’t exactly appreciate his new way of life and along with Shane and a few handfuls of wood-capped bullets, they’re planning a mutiny against the Count. To make things even more complicated, Robert Van Helsing (Bruce Campbell) shows up to dole out his own brand of justice against the children of the night.
SUNDOWN reminds me of Richard Kelly’s SOUTHLAND TALES in that its watchable and bizarrely amusing throughout but a little too ambitious for its own good. There are just far too many unnecessary subplots, ideas and characters and because of that, the film is about 20 minutes too long. For example, Dana Ashbrook, of TWIN PEAKS fame, shows up as a traveler and, along with his girlfriend, is trapped in a jail cell for almost the entire movie. They don’t add anything important or significant and are basically left to take up background space. Same goes for Campbell, Carradine and M. Emmet Walsh, who are far more interesting than anyone in the Harrison family, yet they weren’t on screen nearly enough. That’s really the big cardinal sin of SUNDOWN: the main characters just aren’t interesting and the ones that are, aren’t in the forefront of the story. The only subplot of the movie that I didn’t mind was the marital infidelity of David’s wife, Sarah (Brittany Morgan), who had an affair with Shane some years ago. It’s not that it was particularly useful but whenever David brought up something about the plant, Shane always made a snide comment about his affair with Sarah, resulting in a hearty belly laugh from me every time. Overall, SUNDOWN has a great premise but I think there’s a far more interesting story that could’ve been told with these characters.
Aside from those gripes, the third act is made up of a 30 minute shootout and it has one of the funniest death scenes I’ve ever seen in a film, a William Shatner-esque performance by Carradine, vampire bat stop-motion effects, a great score by Richard Stone and a few moments of inspired cinematography by Levie Isaacks. That’s more than enough for me to recommend SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT to those who are looking for something a little offbeat and humorous in the genre.