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Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat Reviews

SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT is an intensely stylish hybrid, and while it eventually collapses under the weight of its own cleverness, it's diverting for a good hour. David Harrison (Jim Metzler), a talented engineer, is summoned to the isolated Western town where an artificial blood manufacturing plant he designed has been built. The town's economy depends on the malfunctioning plant and his associate Shane (Maxwell Caulfield) has been unable to figure out the problem. Harrison is accompanied by his wife Sarah (Morgan Brittany), who was once Shane's girlfriend, and their two daughters. It quickly becomes clear that something odd is going on. Local shopkeepers cringe at the mention of garlic, everyone wears a lot of sun block and the way they look at the Harrisons ... well, it's best described as hungry. When Sarah is attacked by a bat-like monster that metamorphoses into Shane, it's clear what's afoot: the townspeople are all vampires. But just because they're all vampires doesn't mean they agree on everything, and that's where the trouble really starts. Count Mardulak (David Carradine) and his followers look forward to a world in which vampires and human beings co-exist peacefully. The blood plant is the cornerstone of his plan--once it's working, the vampires will no longer have to take human victims. Shane and Jefferson (John Ireland) prefer the old ways, and their followers plan to slaughter all the peaceful vampires, whom they view as traitors to their race. Shane also wants Sarah back. In addition, young Van Helsing (Bruce Campbell), descendent of the Van Helsing who defeated Dracula in Bram Stoker's classic novel, has come to town with bloodsucking genocide on his mind, then inconveniently fallen in love with a beautiful young vampire. It all ends with an epic battle of the vampires, and Murdulak and his minions emerge victorious. SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT is only barely a horror film, mostly by virtue of the fact that it has vampires in it, but it's not really a parody either, though it is sometimes quite witty. The tone is similar to such films as THE HOWLING and FRIGHT NIGHT: they're not spoofs, but they assume an audience sufficiently familiar with the conventions of horror movies that they can be twisted to incongruous effect. Its contradictory juxtaposition of routine marital discord with supernatural carryings-on works more often than not, and the film is full of in jokes aimed at serious horror buffs. But SUNDOWN ultimately suffers from the fact that it's a genre picture that refuses to pick a genre and settle in; many viewers are alienated by such post-modern signal mixing. Director Anthony Hickox, son of English cinematographer-director Douglas Hickox, made his debut with the erratic WAXWORK, and his flair for the visual flourish is evident in both films. The set design is striking, the costumes amusing (fashion conservatives, most of the vampires dress according to the period during which they became undead) and the use of the iconic Western landscape assured. Hickox also makes the most of an eclectic cast that includes such low-budget mainstays as David Carradine, M. Emmet Walsh and Bruce Campbell (best known for his starring roles in the EVIL DEAD films) and fleeting teen heartthrob Maxwell Caulfield (GREASE 2). Things begin to come apart with the climactic, over-long battle between the good and bad vampires. Horses, trucks, crucifixes, guns loaded with wooden bullets in lieu of stakes--it all becomes a bit much and it takes up the last third of the film. One is left feeling as though no one was sure where to go with the story, so a slam-bang ending that would keep viewers from thinking about it too much was devised. This same structure also flaws WAXWORK, suggesting that Hickox, rather than co-screenwriter John Burgess, is to blame. (Violence.)