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Film / Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat

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There are two kinds of folks in Purgatory: vampires and lunch.

Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat, a horror-comedy-western film from 1989 follows Purgatory, Utah which is home to some of the last vampires in the modern world. Led by their founder Jozef Mardulak, they strive to abstain from killing humans for their blood in the hopes of atoning for their past. Scientist David Harrison and his family arrive to town to help work on the blood plant, while a bumbling Vampire Hunter and an army of more bloodthirsty vampires who see Purgatory as a threat to their lifestyle and culture prepare to attack the town. Actors include David Carradine, Bruce Campbell, and M. Emmet Walsh.

Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat contains examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: When Sarah’s affair with Shane is outed, Sarah invokes this trope on David by claiming she cheated because he was so busy with medical school.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Mardulak at the end says he hopes that all of their efforts aren't in "vain." Van Helsing immediately laughs hysterically. When the others look confused, Van Helsing points out the similarity with "vain" and "vein" which the vampires would attack to feed on a victim's blood. Once he explains the joke, many of the other vampires join in the laughter, even Mardulak.
  • Adorably Precocious Child: The Harrison sisters are sweet, sheltered young girls.
  • Analogy Backfire: The Big Bad Jefferson says that vampires are the superior race for how they live off humans and is reminded that so do hundreds of parasites, such as tapeworms.
  • Attempted Rape: Shane tries to get Mrs. Harrison back rather... aggressively.
  • The Atoner: Most of the vampires in Purgatory are repentant about drinking blood in the past. The fact that they aren't burned by a cross implies that they have succeeded.
  • Badass Bookworm: Averted. Robert Van Helsing seems he'll end up as this, based on his attire and the fact that he's played by Bruce Campbell, but it becomes very clear, very quickly, he's a bit clueless and in way over his head. He gets a bit better once he gets turned.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Many of the vampires in Purgatory fight back well enough once they’re under attack or get insulted, with Nigel the diner cook, Sandy, and Mardulak himself being notable examples.
  • Big Bad: Jefferson is the film's main antagonist, desiring to wipe out Purgatory due to hating them as 'domesticated abominations' to his Fully-Embraced Fiend.
  • Big Bad Friend: Shane to the Harrison's, luring them out to Purgatory in an attempt to kill David and take his wife and the daughter Shane suspects is his.
  • Big Good: Mardulak, who founded Purgatory, leads the fight against the villains, and doesn't allow drinking on human blood.
  • Cassandra Truth: Gwendolyn Harrison trying to tell her family how she's seen signs of vampires (although to be fair she was always obsessed with vampires).
  • Chainsaw Good: Ramon (a technician at the blood plant) uses a chainsaw to attack some of the evil vampires and take their guns during the early stages of the climax.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Van Helsing's bottle of holy water becomes instrumental in helping David overpower and kill Shane.
    • Also, all the guns Ethan Jefferson's band of vampires are carrying for the revolution, as they fire wooden bullets, and can kill the peaceful faction of vampires if one of the bullets gets them in the heart.
  • Covers Always Lie: Some of the covers (like the one included with the film description above) play up Bruce Campbell's involvement in the film, showing him with an open shirt, and holding a stake and a crossbow as though he's an action-hero incarnation of Van Helsing. This is likely to give "Evil Dead" fans the idea that he's playing "Ash as Van Helsing." In the actual film, he's quite bumbling and has a hard time recognizing the townspeople are vampires. In his climactic showdown with Mardulak at the midway point, we get quite a bit of our favorite Campbell swagger, but he's quickly overpowered by Sandy. When he boasts he'll never stop hunting Mardulak unless he kills him, Sandy simply turns him into a vampire instead. Once he gets over the shock of it all and understands Mardulak isn't the evil vampire overlord he believes, he ends up being a vampire ally of Mardulak, the exact opposite of the way the character is presented on the cover.
  • Creepy Gas-Station Attendant: The movie has this role filled by three bearded old men, Milt, Mort and Merle, who sit on a rocker all day in their thick hats and gloves, dark glasses and thick sunblock, commenting dryly whenever a customer shows up and generally trying to steer them away from the nearest town of Friendly Neighborhood Vampires. The three are on the side of the heroes but give of a literal Retired Monster vibe, as the second scene of the movie has Mort punch an unruly customer's head off in a fit of temper (which is witnessed by his terrified friends nearby), then wearily clean up the mess as Merle drives into town to report this lapse in their pacifistic new lifestyle.
  • Daywalking Vampire: Heavy sunblock and wide-brimmed hats let the vampire Monster Town citizens walk around in broad daylight, albeit not without some discomfort.
  • Don't Tell Mama: Upon realizing she's been turned into a vampire Alice wonders how she'll break the news of what's happened to her mother.
  • Dracula: Count Mardulak reveals at the climax that he's actual Count Dracula under a different name.
  • The Dragon: Shane serves as one for Jefferson and also comes across as a Dragon with an Agenda.
  • Dramatic Ammo Depletion: Mardulak beats and wounds the villain in a Quick Draw fight, only to be out of bullets when he tries to finish him off with another shot.
  • Drugs Are Bad: The Jerkass customer Mort ends up killing is seen snorting cocaine.
  • Familial Foe: The Van Helsings (yes, those Van Helsings), have spent over a century trying to kill Count Mardulak, who they view as an Always Chaotic Evil figure. Actually, Mardulak is The Atoner, although he's willing to admit that once he gave them a reason to chase him. When Robert Van Helsing finds him, he ends up being turned into a vampire and becoming a part of Mardulak's community, which is portrayed as a good thing.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Sandy, the 20-year old vampire, is immediately smitten with Robert Van Helsing, much to Sheriff Quintin Canada's consternation. He even lampshades it, saying she's giving looks to Van Helsing like a 20-year-old human. When Sandy argues that she IS 20, permanently, Canada counters that while she may be 20, she's not human.
    • For his part, Van Helsing is also smitten with her, before and after he knows she's a vampire, but he's more dismissive of the feelings, simply muttering to himself that it would never work before getting back to business.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: Everyone in Purgatory except for Jefferson, Shane and Bailey Most notable is Mardulak works to make the vampire townspeople forgo human blood, proving that the premise of True Blood a is Older than You Think. He feeds them with a less-tasty blood substitute made by his team of chemists and spruced up by the local diner staff, while working on mass production to keep up with the demand. That being said, there are some in the town express a wistfulness towards feeding, like in the old days, with one man secretly building an army of petty criminals and such turned outside of town to wipe out Mardulak and all who support him. When he does lead his forces against the town however, only one of the local vampires rallies to his cause, while the rest remain firm in their path and willing to fight against him.
  • Fully-Embraced Fiend: Jefferson and his army all fully embrace their vampiric status and relish feeding on people.
  • God Is Good: When Harrison and his wife erect a giant cross, it destroys Jefferson and his men, but Mardulak and his surviving benevolent vampires are unaffected. Mardulak realizes, to his joy, this is because God has forgiven them and is actively preventing it from hurting them.
  • Grumpy Old Man: All three gas station attendants, who gripe at how they have to actually pump the gas for their customers (although to be fair, going out into the sun to do so causes them pain even with their sunblock, hats and gloves) and argue about whose turn it is to do so.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Jack and Alice, a pair of campers, witness their friend being killed by the local Creepy Gas Station Attendant and go to report it to the local sheriff, only to find he's already locking the guy up. As they try to tell their story, the sheriff listens in interest, and asks who else knows they came to town. The two quickly wise up and realize this isn't a good question to answer, but end up getting locked up in the adjoining cell as the killer, having witnessed a "lapse" in one of the Friendly Neighborhood Vampire's. Said vampire is being locked up as a threat to public safety and they're being locked up because You Know Too Much.
  • He Knows Too Much: Mort tells Jack and Alice that with what they know about the town's secrets, they have to either be drained of all their blood or turned into vampires.
    Jack: Letting us go-
    Mort: Ain't an option.
  • Hidden Depths: Mort is introduced punching a man's head off after being insulted by him, but makes no attempt to drink any of the guys blood, agrees to turn himself in afterward, eventually explains what's going on to Jack and Alice and offers to turn them to save them from getting killed ultimately doing so and proves to be an effective loyal fighter for Mardulak's faction during the final battle.
  • Holy Burns Evil: But only evil, to the relief of the surviving Friendly Neighborhood Vampires and the detriment of Jefferson and his men once the vampires are exposed to a large cross.
  • Improbable Aimingskills: Mostly averted. A fair number of shots go wide in the vampire vs. vampire climax battle. Also, David tries to hit Shane with a crossbow bolt when Shane's riding a horse, but only gets his leg. Later, when David saves Sarah from Shane, his first shot with the wooden bullet gun misses Shane's heart. The second shot, when he's inches away from Shane's chest with the gun, doesn't.
  • I Own This Town: Mardulak is a rare Big Good version. He built the town, supplies the blood substitute that keeps the Vegetarian Vampires fed, and is capable of silencing any bloodlust-fueled dissent against his plans with some reminders about his influence, subtle threats, and You Are Better Than You Think You Are comments.
  • Innocent Bystander: Alice and Jack, who witness a murder and get roped into things trying to prevent another one, as well as the Harrison's. Later, Jack and Alice get turned by Mort and join the fight, and David and Sarah also come to Mardulak's aid in his final confrontation with Jefferson.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Bailey is the vampire most eager to go back to human blood, but another side of him is referenced when Mardulak talks about how he found Bailey weeping over the body of a boy he had drained and wanting to change, only for Bailey to end up siding with the evil vampires, resisting a You Are Better Than You Think You Are plea form the chef who turns the blood substitute into food (who then ends up throwing Bailey through a window) and then ruthlessly takes part in attacking his former friends. Also, when he and the other vampires have Sandy cornered, he makes it clear he intends to force himself on her before killing her.
    • Shane also applies in a big way. He mildly sabotages Mardulak's synthetic blood factory, and tells Mardulak they HAVE to bring David there to fix the problem. He does all that solely because he knows David won't travel without his family, and he wants to steal and turn Sarah, who had a brief affair with him, and take Juliet, whom he believes is his daughter. He smugly reveals to David he had a brief affair with Sarah and suggests Juliet isn't David's daughter, and generally treats David as completely inferior. When the uprising happens, he tells the faction he wants Sarah and Juliet kept alive. While his not caring about David's fate is in line with the character, he also pulls a Would Hurt a Child by also not caring at all what happens to Gwen.
  • Large Ham: John Ireland and Maxwell Caufield are living it up as the evil vampires. Bruce Campbell naturally gives us plenty of hammy bravado as the hapless Van Helsing. Peter Cushing he ain't. M Emmett Walsh also gives some Grade A ham as Mort.
    • Additionally, Jim Metzler and Morgan Brittany play up the family drama to soap opera heights, while Bruce Campbell and Deborah Forman play up the star-crossed lovers angle for all it's worth.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Shane claims to be the father of one of the Harrison girls.
  • Monster Lord: Mardulak and Jefferson are the leaders of Purgatory, as well as the two oldest and strongest vampires there. Or rather, that's what Jefferson thinks. In actuality, Mardulak is Count Dracula.
  • Monster Town: Purgatory, which is trying to find a way to make enough blood (and make it taste good) to transition into peacefully co-existing with humans.
  • Mauve Shirt: Many of the vampires, most notably Shane's fellow scientists at the blood plant and Mardulak's bodyguards With not many of them from either group surviving, although all of them last a while.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: Mardulak outdrawing the Big Bad turns into one when his guns clicks empty when he tries to finish off Jefferson with a second shot.
    • Also, when Van Helsing confronts Mardulak, even though he's practiced taking the stake and hammer from the holster under his jacket, he has to jerk them both multiple times and you hear fabric ripping when he pulls it out the second time as he's staring Mardulak down.
  • New Old West: Nearly a third of the film has a gunfight between the two factions, with plenty of characters dressed up in cowboy garb, and some of them using single-action revolvers.
  • Not Quite Dead: David's first shot on Shane with a wooden bullet seems to have worked, as Shane slumps on his back. David quickly finds out Shane was faking it. David's second shot does the job.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Averted. When chatting with Sandy in the diner, Van Helsing seemingly acts like he hasn't figured out the other patrons of the diner he visits are vampires so he can safely escape, despite the ominous vibes Sheriff Canada and the others give him. However, when Sandy tells him later that, aside from a few people, the town is completely resided in by vampires, Van Helsing reacts with genuine shock. He really WASN'T playing dumb in the diner. The self-proclaimed vampire hunter couldn't recognize that the other 20 people in the diner with him were vampires.
  • Oh, Crap!: Van Helsing's reaction after waking up from being bitten. He has to yank the cross off his neck because it's burning him, he feels the new fangs with his tongue, and when he sees he has no reflection in his pocket mirror his bloodcurdling scream indicates that he's less than pleased with the results (He gets over it.)
    • Also, Van Helsing gets this reaction when he finds out that the ENTIRE TOWN, except for the Harrisons, and Jack and Alice in jail, are vampires. He even lampshades it by looking at his little bottle of holy water, which isn't anywhere near enough to protect him from, or defeat, an entire town of vampires.
  • The Older Immortal: Jefferson and Mardulak are older and stronger than the dozens of other vampires. However, Mardulak—or should we say, Count Dracula—is far older than Jefferson.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Sunblock keeps them from burning up in the sun, as well as hats and sunglasses, and their souls being redeemed can save them from some traditional weaknesses.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: storekeepers Otto and Anna say their children (who presumably weren't turned into vampires and died of old age) died long before they did.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Gwendolyn has dreams about the vampire presence, although no one pays attention to her until Mardulak and Anna hear about them.
  • Quick Draw: Mardulak and the Big Bad face off by drawing wild west pistols on each other in the climax.
  • The Quiet One: Mardulak's head bodyguard, Dan, tends to hover around quietly.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Count Mardulak, the town leader, who's ultimate goal is for vampires and humans to live peacefully.
  • The Reveal: Mardulak is actually Count Dracula. Could also be a case of foreshadowing, as if you take away the M, change the K to a C, and rearrange the letters, they spell Dracula.
  • Retired Monster: Most of the vampires. Many of them mean well and want to live happily, but seeing humans as food for years is a hard habit to kick.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Is Juliet David’s daughter or Shane’s? This question is never answered.
  • Sassy Secretary: Mardulak's secretary Madge has a bit of snark to her.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Played with. Van Helsing almost reaches the decibel level when he finds out he's now a vampire himself.
  • Shaming the Mob: When a crowd of vampires unhappy with their diet nearly storm the jail to attack Alice and Jack, Mardulak arrives in his limo, and sternly talks them down.
  • The Sheriff: Quinton Canada, a laidback Rastafarian vampire, but one who does have a decent amount of power, given his age, and isn't completely clueless.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Vampire Hunter Van Helsing, and vampire Sandy become a couple.
  • Stronger with Age: The older the vampire is, the stronger it becomes. This is also based on their chronological age as opposed to the age they were turned into a vampire at. Most of the townsfolk could handily defeat Jefferson's army up close despite the former including a lot of people who look elderly or middle aged and the majority of the latter being youthfuls in their physical prime when turned. Jefferson think he and Mardulak are roughly on par as 200 something years old despite Jefferson looking much older. Mardulak, being Dracula, is actually the strongest one by a country mile.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Blood substitute chemist David gets the most screentime and characterization, but he spends most of the film as a clueless outsider in a community that is on the verge of a vampire war between Mardulak and Jefferson's factions (with Vampire Hunter Van Helsing arriving for good measure).
  • Too Dumb to Live: Played straight AND averted with Robert Van Helsing. His blundering cluelessness when he finally confronts Mardulak results in him getting bitten by Sandy because he's revealed himself as a threat, (and thus "killed" and turned into an undead vampire,) but after he's turned, he ends up surviving the rest of the film in his vampiric form.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Notable spoilers in the trailer are The wooden bullets and their ability to kill vampires as well as the fact that Sandy ends up biting Robert Van Helsing (Bruce Campbell) in the neck, which makes it quickly clear he's likely going to be a vampire himself in the course of the film.
  • Vampire Hunter: Robert Van Helsing, in the memory of his distant ancestor. He does have the right tools for the job, but isn't that good at actually recognizing vampires right in front of him. We come to find out he really isn't much good at vampire hunting either.
  • Weird West: A modern example, given the western trappings of town and the vampire presence.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Several Recurring Extra townspeople vanish during the climax.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Amidst the many nameless and enthusiastic murderers in the villainous army is a recently turned young delinquent couple who, while not necessarily any less murderous than the others, get enough characterization to evoke a small bit of sympathy when they fall in battle. They seem to be a happy couple, briefly mention having parents, and the boy is devastated when his girlfriend is shot in the climax.