Movies From the Black Lagoon: Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat - 1990, Rated R

Vampire cinema got a shot in the arm from this little seen entry, which predated HBO's "True Blood" by eighteen years but featured the same basic premise of bloodsuckers seeking to gain acceptance by artificially feeding their appetites and laying off humans. That concept alone raises the bar here but the film also works as a modern day western/comedy and features a solid cast under the expert direction of Anthony Hickox (Hellraiser 2).
The story opens at a roadside gas station outside the remote town of "Purgatory". Three older gentleman pas the time sitting in the shade and watching the dust settle until a speeding Los Angeles hipster who stops for some gas interrupts their reverie. He turns out to be a fast-talking dink who berates the elderly attendants for not moving fast enough. A lesson in manners is due this dude but it is a decidedly lethal one which amounts to a back handed slap from one of the gents which sends his head into the tumbleweeds while his body spasms a bit before shaking off this mortal coil.
It's a fitting opening as it gives you an idea that anything can happen in this film and it sure does.
Eventually we meet all the residents of the town and find that Purgatory is entirely staffed with vampires. They aren't looking for trouble though and have chosen to settle a ghost town so they can manufacture synthetic blood and seek redemption for a lifetime of living off of others. They are about in the daylight due to a generous smattering of sunscreen but each one also rocks a pair of shades and an umbrella to be on the safe side of those persistent UV rays.
Into this mix comes several diverse characters which include: two punks, who witnessed their friend's death in the opening; a nuclear family, led by a scientist dad who has been summoned to increase production of the synthetic blood; and the great grandson of infamous vampire hunter, Van Helsing.
Unfortunately they have chosen a bad time to visit (like there's ever a good time to drop in on a village of bloodthirsty monsters).
The problem is that town elder Jefferson has amassed a rebel army and means to stop blood production and return to the old ways of slaking a vamp's thirst.
His chief obstacle is town founder Mardulak who has convinced most of the citizenry that a better reward awaits for his brethren if they can only end their dependence on humans for food. It all leads to a pitched gun battle and plenty of mayhem as most of the humans are conscripted into Mardulak's cause and must face Jefferson's secret army (consisting mostly of recent vampires he has fanged for his cause). Jefferson's forces may not be experienced enough to use the full extent of their newfound powers but he has prepared for this by equipping them with guns which fire wooden bullets. It all makes for a decent battle, which adds some action elements to the proceedings and ends this campy affair on a relatively high note.
Despite a so-so script this one gets the job done via competent direction and amazing production values which include an inspiring musical score, breath taking Moab, Utah locations, and a plethora of talented thespians. David Carradine heads the cast as the majestic Mardulak though his thoughtful line deliveries are attributed to his being slightly pie eyed on the set and struggling to remember each cue. Bruce Campbell hams it up a little bit as Van Helsing but has a fine time with his hastily sketched character. Old time movie buffs will dig seeing veteran character actors in weighty roles such as M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple), as the irate filling station vampire, and John Ireland (All the King's Men) as the rebellious Jefferson. All in all this one's a fun ride and a real treat for B-movie fans who appreciate A-List production values.
Best Line: "Who is gonna believe that some relic with a sombrero knocked off Tom's head with a back hand?"

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@pennswoods.net.