“Once a bloodsucker, always a bloodsucker” – Robert Van Helsing
Again, this is a title that was suggested to me for inclusion when I canvassed for your ideas on films to cover in this year’s Shocktober. Mark Jones – this one’s for you, buddy.
Sundown – The Vampire in Retreat is an odd, mismatch of a film. Seemingly trying to be both a horror movie AND a comedy rather than settle for just being a horror comedy. Though this methodology worked perfectly well for writer/director Anthony Hickox in Waxwork, perhaps that was due to the latter being kind of a homage to monster movies in general. Here, it seems a rougher transition from one tone to the other. But that’s not to say that the movie is a bad one. It really isn’t.
When Mark suggested this one, I was intrigued because I hadn’t actually seen it since 1991, and as I recall, it was the first horror movie I watched on my brand spanking new Sky TV/Movies subscription. I remembered something about vampires and sunblock, but very little else. Unsurprisingly, this is yet another title unavailable in the UK, so if you click on the link to Amazon, please be aware that’s a Region 1 disc and won’t play in Europe unless you have a multi region player.
Purgatory is a small town in the middle of the desert, its inhabitants are vampires – seeking a life of peace. They don’t want to hunt and kill any more, they just want to settle down and live their very long lives.
They subsist on artificial blood, which is made and bottled at a local plant. Actually, it’s a disgusting fatty looking yellow substance. And they can even manage to venture out in the harsh desert sun, as long as they’re covered up, wear hats and sunglasses, in some cases a sombrero – and apply factor 100 sun block to their faces. This is how they try to pass themselves off as “normal” to their rare, few and far between visitors.
Under the benign rule of their leader Jozek Mardulak (David Carradine) life is pretty good and most of the vampires are content. But as usual, not EVERYBODY is happy. There’s a splinter group of malcontents, growing in number, who despise and abhor the idea of vampires being anything but predatory hunters, stalking their prey. Led by Ethan Jefferson (John Ireland), they want real blood, and they want it the old fashioned way.
When the artificial blood making plant just isn’t working, Mardulak sends for the plant’s human designer, who had no idea he was working for a vampire. Harrison (David Meltzer) takes the opportunity to go along to the plant with his wife and two young daughters for a working vacation.
They soon find themselves in the midst of a civil war between the two factions.
Also included in the mix is the last descendant of the Van Helsing family, Robert Van Helsing (Bruce Campbell) – who has finally tracked down his ancestors’ arch enemy, Dracula.
That’s a whole lot of plot to wade through in the movie’s 104 minute running time, and yet – the film feels overall around 15 minutes too long. The scenes of the two factions shooting at each other endlessly seem to go on and on, their novelty having faded pretty soon after the revelation that they’re shooting wooden bullets at each other’s hearts.
Bruce Campbell is under used. No two ways about it. He approaches the role with his customary “Ash” portrayal, playing the part as likeably inept and bungling. Van Helsing quickly becomes a vampire himself and is then wasted as a background character. He literally adds nothing but padding to the film.
Other than that, it’s deservedly a quirky cult classic, and comes across in its final half hour as The Alamo – with fangs.
Check out the region one disc here.
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