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STUDIO: Lions Gate
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
• Commentary with director Anthony Hickox
and Director of Photography Levie Isaaks
• “A Vampire Reformed” interview with David Carradine
• “Memories of Moab” interview with Bruce Campbell
• “A True Character” interview with M. Emmet Walsh
• Photo Gallery
Dave Carradine is a local leader trying to keep his community together – which is made up entirely of vampires.
David Carradine, Maxwell Caulfield, Morgan Brittany, M. Emmet Walsh and Bruce Campbell.
The small town of Purgatory lies in the desert, no longer on any map. Count Mardulak (Carradine), who is the leader of the populace (which is entirely vampirized), desires a peaceful existence and one away from the prying eyes of outsiders. In order to accomplish this he has enlisted the aide of a physicist who has discovered how to make synthesized blood. When the plant stops functioning the Count sends for the man and his family to fix it. Unknown to them the townsfolk are bloodsuckers who rely on the synthetic in order to remain hidden to mortals, but some among them don’t want to remain in the shadows – and it leads to an all-out war between two vampire factions.
Like many I had completely missed Sundown back in 1989, mainly because it was never released to theaters. Filmed in ’88 it suffered from Vestron Pictures’ financial problems, and wouldn’t see the light of day until it hit VHS in 1991. Directed by Anthony Hickox (Waxwork), it was hyped by Fangoria for months during production; only to drop entirely off the Map Of Movies.
But that doesn’t mean the film is bad: quite the opposite, it’s glorious!
Well, maybe not glorious but it’s so much fun I can’t believe I’d never seen it until recently. It revels in its B-movie realm and is proud of what it accomplishes – as it should be. It’s campy but in a great way, not ridiculously silly as some camp can be. Instead it’s a sophisticated campiness, if such a thing exists. I was surprised the most by how professional Sundown turned out to be, from the beautiful cinematography to the acting to the score. For a cheap B-movie ($3 million budget) it looks great, sounds great and is a total blast to watch.
The fact that a movie as cheap this one was able to shoot in luscious widescreen, with some massive crane shots sweeping over Moab, Utah, is amazing and needs to be applauded. Despite your opinion of Hickox’s talent – and he’s given you much to grade him on – he was able to pull off a very well made-looking picture, shot wonderfully under tight budgetary restrictions. His direction is tight as he was able to utilize the great performances from most of his actors, which is never an easy thing to do. Especially when dealing with a script as silly as the one he had.
David Carradine and John Ireland, the leading vampires of their respective factions, chew everything around them whenever the’re in the scene. And in a film like this that’s exactly what you want. Bruce Campbell shows up about 20 minutes in and plays Robert Van Helsing, his namesakes’ descendant who is chasing the elusive Mardulak (Carradine as a heroic Dracula!). Campbell is perfectly nerdy and bumbling, the almost-complete opposite of Ash, but surprisingly is not the star. He’s merely another character to add to the vampire soup and is in and out of the picture roughly “every 12 minutes”, according to Bruce himself in the Special Edition interview.
The real weak link are Harrison family, mainly Jim Metzler and Morgan Brittany. They’re not bad, so to speak, just… a bit boring, especially Metzler. There’s just something about his performance that doesn’t mesh with those around him, like Carradine’s or even Caulfield for that matter. He’s a bit too straight and never gets the chance to loosen up. Brittany is likewise fine, but is relegated to the damsel in distress and doesn’t have any snappy lines or memorable scenes with which to cut loose – although she does have a great bat-fight scene.
Regardless, the film is a total blast. Maxwell Caulfield is right at home with his character, a loathsome back-stabbing vampire and ex-friend to Jim Metzler’s David Harrison. Never been known as a great thespian, Max does wonders for my opinion of him as he’s terrific at what he does best: overacting.
Another highlight of the film has got to be the rousing score by Richard Stone (Pumpkinhead). The thrilling soundtrack is every bit western and iconic, and sounds like it belongs with a massive epic western instead of this small B-movie horror/comedy! It’s yet another surprising factor that helps make Sundown the escapist jewel that it is. I would absolutely own this score, that’s how much I think of it (of course I once owned the Best of the Best soundtrack, so take that as you will). I don’t know why Stone went all-out with the music, but the movie is lucky it did.
The film has an R rating attached to it, but by no means deserves it. Were it retro-rated it would come in as PG-13 at best: true there’s a bit of swearing and blood, but not enough to warrant the rating it got back in ’88. Sure there are melting, burning, exploding vampires at the end and a fellow gets his head punched off at the beginning, but it’s done in such an over-the-top fashion it causes more laughs than screams. It’s silly and great.
For a film that never had a proper theatrical release, Lions Gate put plenty on this disc to warrant the purchase price. The commentary with Anthony Hickox and DP Levie Isaaks is both funny and informative. Since neither seems to have seen it in 20 years, they tend to ramble on in places but is still a great listen.
The 3 interviews by Campbell, Carradine and Walsh are also great fun. Campbell makes fun of Carradine’s acting style, M. Emmet Walsh tells John Ireland stories, and Carradine talks about himself… everything I need in an interview.
For the price, which is cheaper through Amazon, this is a great film to have. It’s so much fun I’m ashamed I hadn’t seen it before but glad I finally got the chance. If you haven’t caught it, expect a silly film that’s both fun to watch and very well made.
Now how many Anthony Hickox movies can you say that about?