Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat Advances

The summer of new releases continues with a long awaited arrival from Vestron Video.  Really, any release from Vestron has been long awaited... it's been essentially a full year since their last pair of releases, which in turn had been two years since the previous.  But this release has been particularly long awaited for yours truly, since Sundown: the Vampire In Retreat felt like a shoe-in for the line since it started up in 2016.  My DVD replacin' trigger finger's been a-itchin'!
Plus, you know, I like this movie.  I'm a fan of Anthony Hickox's work, at least from this peak period in his horror comedy career.  Admittedly, Sundown isn't my favorite.  It's too silly.  I think the original Waxwork really hits the sweet spot between the light-hearted and the genuinely dark atmosphere.  But Warlock 2, Waxwork 2, Hellraiser 3... I'm on board for that whole run, and Sundown's right smack in the middle of that.  It's a vampire western, a genre mash-up that sells itself.  But it sacrifices the atmosphere of both of those rather cheerfully and frequently for corny Saturday the 14th-style gags.
Yes, those bottles are labeled "Necktarine."
But there's still so much to like about this movie.  I mean, first of all, Saturday the 14th was amusing.  Secondly, this movie's awfully ambitious in its production values with big explosions, posses on horseback, rousing western theme music, little stop motion bat creatures, and while the vampire make-up usually consists of a pair of a fangs, there are a few moments of really cool prosthetics.  Then third, there's the cast.  It's a veritable Who's Who of cult cinema: David Carradine, Bruce CampbellJohn Ireland, scream queen Deborah Foreman, Brendan Hughes who'd just come off another good vampire flick the year before, To Die ForM. Emmet Walsh, Twin Peaks' Dana Ashbrook, Buck Flower, Dallas' Morgan Brittany... there's even a bonafide Miss America in there.  Everybody's a likeable, rounded character you get invested in.
So, in 2008, Lions Gate surprised us not just by issuing Sundown on DVD for the first time, but by giving it a truly impressive, widescreen special edition.  Honestly, for the SD era, it was all you could ask for.  In 2015, Lions Gate released their series of Horror Collection budget DVD sets, which were noteworthy because they actually included versions of several of their films that were superior to any version that had ever been released before.  Sundown was on one of them alright, but it sure wasn't superior to the 2008 DVD.  We haven't had a real reason upgrade until this week, when Vestron gives the film its HD debut (tomorrow, as of this writing!), with even more special features to boot.
1) 2008 LG DVD; 2) 2015 LG DVD; 3) 2021 Vestron BD.
Lions Gate's initial DVD is an impressive, anamorphic 2.35:1, and woo, their 2015 1.33:1 Horror Collection release is a huge step backwards.  It almost cuts more picture off the sides than it leaves in the middle!  It also looks a little softer and less defined, but that's just because it's essentially zooming in on the SD limits of the original image by zooming it up to fullscreen.  Yikes.  So Vestron's new blu seems to be using the same old master as the 2008 DVD.  Grain is... faintly hinted at, but virtually not visible at all on the dated scan.  Edge enhancement and haloing is all over the place, and fine detail is still soft.  Still, it is in HD and looks clearer and more pleasing than the DVDs.  The framing's also been tweaked ever so slightly to 2.36:1, which is an improvement, but one so slight you could only spot it in a direct comparison like this.  The main benefit is just the cleaner lines thanks to the compression smudging that's been cleared away... but that's not nothing.  Basically, it's on par with your average 2008 blu.

The original DVD gave us the choice between 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, but the Horror Collection dropped the 5.1.  The blu doesn't bring it back, which is fine.  This low budget 80's flick was never born with a 5.1 mix; that's revisionist nonsense, though it might've been a nice bonus for the die-hard surround sound home theater geeks.  Vestron has bumped the original stereo mix up to lossless DTS-HD, though, which is the important thing.  Oh, and the DVDs and blu include both English and Spanish subtitles.
One of the reasons, besides the fact that it's a Vestron Pictures film and it had been in those Horror Collection sets that Vestron's been plundering for releases, that I was so sure Sundown would hit Vestron blu is that they'd already pulled Hickox in for extras on a couple prior releases of his films.  So if they were smart, they would've already interviewed him for this then and had it at the ready.  Not that they needed him for a commentary this time - he'd already recorded one for the 2008 DVD.  That disc also had fan pleasing interviews with Carradine, Campbell and Walsh, plus a photo gallery, so they were starting from a good place.

And yes, thankfully Vestron retained all of that good stuff for their new blu.  But you know Red Shirt isn't just going to leave it at that.  So yes, they have a brand new interview with Hickox.  They also have an interview with special effects artist Tony Gardner, and one of their patented isolated score + audio interview track specials, this time with a music expert and producer Jefferson Richard.  Personally, I found it a bit of a slog, since the producer's a good listen, but it feels like a lot of dead air to wait through when they "cut" away from him for long chunks.  Anyway, they included the trailer, too, which had been slightly conspicuous in its absence on the DVD.  It has some quirky narration, so I'm glad to finally get it.  And, like always, Vestron's blu comes in a nice, glossy slipcover.
So overall, it's not Vestron's most impressive release.  It's another one of their older masters, and it shows.  And Red Shirt cooked up some nice new treats, but it's as not as massive a collection of extras as they've cooked up for some past discs.  It does feel like it's buoyed up by the old DVD, the work for which is still doing most of the heavy lifting.  But I can't be too cynical.  This is a neat film that's long been in need of a blu, and this is the best edition going, with the boost to HD, lossless audio, proper subtitle options and a couple good new extras in addition to all the legacy stuff.  It won't blow your socks off, but if you're fond of this vampire curio, it's still a satisfying must have.

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