Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat

Released in 1989, SUNDOWN-THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT was a bit of an oddball Vampire movie. Set in modern day America it tells the story of a community of vampires that have hidden away in the small desert surrounded town of Purgatory. The reason they have hidden away is because they have turned their back on the old ways and are kept alive by drinking synthesized blood. But there are certain members of the community who think they should return to the old ways and become predators once again and feed upon the blood of humans. These elements lead by Ethan Jefferson (John Ireland) plan to stage a revolution of sorts and force the head vampire Joseph Mardulak (David Carradine) to either return to being a vampire proper or die. Jefferson’s followers plan to wipe out any opposition they meet by the use of wooden bullets no less. The film’s cast also included Bruce Campbell as a descendant of the famous vampire hunter Van Helsing, who finds the community of bloodsuckers and is intent on destroying all of them but ends up becoming one of them himself. Maxwell Caulfield is a convincing villain in the guise of Shane with Jim Metzler as David Harrison who is summoned to the town to repair the synthetic blood unit by Mardulak accompanied by his wife Sarah played by Morgan Brittany. Directed by Anthony Hickox the movie never actually got released in cinemas although it did have screenings at film festivals in Cannes, Seattle and Palm Springs but was soon relegated to late night showings on television which became few and far between. SUNDOWN was also the last movie produced by Vestron Pictures and a year after its release was issued on VHS and later on DVD in 2008. Although the movie was not a great success it has since gained something of a cult following.

The most outstanding thing about this motion picture has to be the excellent musical score by Richard Stone; Stone’s music having a quality and longevity that has outlasted the memory of the celluloid for which it was intended. The composer fashioned a western flavoured soundtrack to match the mood and location of the movie with the odd musical reference to horror movies inserted here and there for dramatic effect. The music contains numerous references to western scores from the past and was a fusion of both Italian or Spaghetti western sounds and the more traditional Americana as written by Elmer Bernstein and Jerome Moross etc with Stone utilizing some impressive trumpet solos to support the gunfight or showdown scenes and expansive lyrical passages in the style of The Magnificent Seven and a definite hint of Bernstein’s COMMANCHEROS theme to enhance the chases and other action scenes. He also added female soprano which was a gentle nod to the scoring prowess of Ennio Morricone and elevated this style with the addition of a rich and lush string section courtesy of The Graunke Symphony Orchestra – thus bringing together familiar and popular music components from both European and Hollywood versions of the western genre. The soundtrack was originally released on compact disc in 1989 by the UK based Silva Screen records (FILM CD044) and was a popular release amongst collectors. The CD has been long deleted from the catalogue but now, thanks to BSX, the score is once again available for collectors old and new to savour. The CD opens with “Overture and Shane’s Ride” which has a proud, anthem-like opening with horns playing out an imposing and infectious Elmer Bernstein inspired theme. The horns are interspersed and supported by trumpets as the composition builds into what becomes the foundation theme and core of the composer’s work. I suppose the best way to describe this opening cue is that it is a take on the COMMANCHEROS main title with a slightly more up tempo background; strings woods and brass being the mainstays of the cue. Track two “The Gathering” is more of a dramatic/horror sounding piece with the composer utilizing the string section to great effect, creating a sense of suspense and later in the cue introducing a sweeping and dramatic lushness. Brass also plays a large part in the composition as does woodwind and there is also effectual use of organ which helps to create that sense of a more traditional horror sound, whilst bells and percussion embellish the composition further, with Stone bringing all the elements together to invent a striking and commanding piece of music. Track three “Van Helsing Drops In” is a mixture of atmospherics and mood. At first it’s something dramatic with shrill woods underlined by brass but the mood alters swiftly to something more subdued and has an underlying sinister sound, performed by woods and strings. The mood alters again as solo flute takes on the score’s central theme in a particularly haunting and romantically laced rendition. Strings join the proceedings and wash delicately over the flute, making the piece even more poignant and emotive. The string section melts away giving precedence to a heart-rending gypsy violin which brings the track to its conclusion. Track four “Night Flight” is again full of drama and is carried mainly by the string section with bold horns and booming percussion punctuating and mingling with these to create a menacing atmosphere. Track six “Count Mardulak” makes use of harmonica, woods and string section, all of which are underlined by faint use of organ throughout, punctuated momentarily by the sound of a bell. Track seven “Shane in Pursuit” is, as the title suggests, a more upbeat cue. Brass and urgent strings combine to bring the listener the fullest rendition of the central theme thus far. Woods are also utilized in this wonderful homage to the Hollywood western theme. Track nine “Morts Duel in the Sun” is where the composer goes Spaghetti on us and does it in real style. Martial sounding timpani open the cue underlined by sinister strings and a menacing harmonica solo supported by woodwind which is performed in a similar style to Morricone’s “Man with the Harmonica” from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Then, add to this already contagious mix, a flawless trumpet solo which could be out of any Spaghetti western from the 1960s. In fact, on this occasion, I would say it is more like Michele Lacarenza or Francesco De Masi than Morricone as it has a truly rich and infectious sound which I associate with numerous non-Morricone scored westerns. The remainder of the score is excellent but I will not go any further with track descriptions because I urge you to check this score out for yourself I recommend this very highly.

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