Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989)

Count Mardulak has created the refuge town Purgatory for the last remaining vampires, so that they can live peacefully in a safe distance from human society. Sunscreen is an important component to make his vision work, but even more crucial is a factory that produces synthetic blood. Everything would be perfect if there was not a secret conspiracy of rogue vampires who seek to return to the old ways.

Director Anthony Hickox landed two hits at the beginning of his career, Waxwork 1 and 2. Both movies were a likable medley and parody of old-school horror flicks. In between the two, he shot Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, which was made in the same vein. The movie was released alongside other genre companions like The Return of the Living Dead, The Hidden and Dead Heat. All these movies were inspired by popular horror themes, but were almost completely devoid of scares, and replaced them with comedic takes on the familiar tropes. This was complemented by R-rated violence and gore, which distinguished them from more family-friendly 1980s genre movies such as Ghostbusters or Gremlins.

The premise of Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is quite original, and is a great starting point for what becomes a thoroughly off-beat comedy. Even though the development of the plot itself is not too exciting, the wacky setting and fairly relaxed mood with plenty of humorous dialogues drive the movie in a good way. The story is somewhat fragmented with an ensemble of odd characters engaged in various subplots. Among them is vampire hunter Van Helsing, who is played by Bruce Campbell in his familiar style as overconfident and clueless wanna-be hero. The rest of the cast does a good job, too, with a particularly funny performance by M. Emmet Walsh as cranky gas station owner with a murderous temper.

Director Hickox also succeeded in adding a Western vibe to the movie. Utilizing the panoramic backdrop of the Utah desert was an easy, but efficient way to achieve this, and the integration of other elements such as a classic pistol duel, lynch-mob posses, and an archetypal soundtrack contribute their part as well. The sets and costumes are an eclectic combination of fashion styles from the last couple of centuries to reflect the different generations of vampires living in Purgatory. The cheap special effects (especially of the vampires in bat form) are kind of cute, and radiate an old-school charm.

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is a solid comedy that blends horror and western elements in a clever way, and successfully lives off its goofy premise and upbeat vibe.

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