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Case Number 14580

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Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat

Lionsgate // 1990 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 23rd, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson lives next to a vampire. His name is Ted. He's got a sweet riding lawnmower.

The Charge

"Your wife was nearly raped by a bat while you sat downstairs working."

Opening Statement

I thought I had a sense of most tongue-in-cheek, Bruce Campbell-fronted horror romps, but this one came out of the blue and surprised me…in a good way.

Facts of the Case

Thanks to a handy scrolling title card, we learn that the strangely benevolent Count Mardulak (David Carradine, Kill Bill: Volume 2), the most powerful vampire in the world, has taken a collective of fellow bloodsuckers deep into the United States Midwest to begin a commune devoted to drinking synthesized blood and staying out of the human-murdering game.

But not all the vamps are keen to Mardulak's idealism, and a break-off faction has opted to wage war against their undead brethren. Caught in the middle of this, ahem, blood feud is an engineer and his family, brought in to perfect the blood synthesis, and a wannabe vampire hunter (Campbell).

The Evidence

If you're in the mood for a goofball splatter-lite horror/comedy, this 1990 effort will deliver. While neither soaked with laugh-a-minute dialogue or spurt-a-minute bloodshed, Sundown has a lot of things going for it, which I will detail…now.

• Bruce Campbell
We'll start with the obvious one first. The man who has carved his named into B-movie legend brings with him automatic geek credibility, and thankfully, his mojo's not wasted here. As Robert Van Helsing, the distant ancestor of the other Van Helsing, he dials up the bumbling, one-liner-spewing shtick he's perfected so well. Lots of freaking out and in-over-his-head antics, and someone of lesser charisma would merely annoy. BC brings it.

• David Carradine
Maybe he's not known for his comic touch, but Carradine is perfect as the grizzled vampire lord looking for salvation. Yeah, that sentence makes it sound like it's a serious role—and to be fair, the ending is surprisingly effective, dramatically, or, rather, as dramatic as you can get in a movie about vampires that make fake blood and shoot each other in the head with wooden bullets—but the guy à s having fun here. That fact is supported by his accompanying interview in the special features, where he lauds the film.

• Stop-Motion Bat Mayhem
In these CGI-drenched days, it doesn't take the highest quality stop-motion puppetry to get me juiced, but the vampire bat segments, including a bizarre bedroom tryst, are big fun.

• The Vampire in Retreat
That's the sub-title for the film. It's a bit artsy-fartsy for the B-nature of the flick (I would have preferred something like Vampire Civil War or Utah Bloodsuckers), yet encapsulates the plot conceit of a group of vampires seeking to right their ways. It's clever and I dig it. Those existential conversations Mardulak and Jefferson have about salvation and parasites and evolution are well-done.

• Blood Geysers
I'm always down for fountains of fake blood shooting from a plastic head stump.

Like I said, it may not be the funniest or goriest horror slapstick adventure you'll ever see, but Sundown more than satisfies the craving for a vampire saga that does not take itself seriously. Bruce Campbell fans especially will be well-served by tracking this one down.

A very nice DVD awaits you. Lionsgate has spit out a remarkably crisp 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and pinned a clean 5.1 surround sound mix to it. Extras include a nostalgic audio commentary by director Anthony Hickox and DP Levie Isaacks, three interviews with Campbell, Carradine and well-known character actor M. Emmet Walsh, a photo gallery and trailers.

Closing Statement

You like vampires? And laughing? And Bruce Campbell? Here you go!

The Verdict

Not guilty. Bite down!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 95
Audio: 90
Extras: 85
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Interviews
• Photo Gallery


• IMDb

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