After Sundown (DVD)

I’m gonna let it all hang down.

While moving some bodies from an old cemetery to make way for a new housing development, workers discover a corpse that has apparently not aged in more than 100 years, with a stake in her chest. At the morgue, workers who have seemingly never seen a horror movie before remove the stake, and the next thing you know, it’s vampire mayhem galore. Two of the morgue employees, Shannon (Susana Gibb, Learning Curve) and Mikey, (Reece Rios, The Waterson Project), eventually learn about a pair of vampire lovers from the Old West and their tragic story. Now that the couple is back from the grave, these cowboy vamps are after their long-lost child, still staked and in Shannon’s possession. Complicating matters is that everyone killed by the frontier bloodsuckers becomes a shambling zombie, and in the course of one night, the town is quickly overrun by the dead.

What we’ve got in After Sundown is an ultra-low budget horror outing made in Texas, courtesy of co-directors Christopher Abram and Michael W. Brown. It’s a fast-paced romp packed full of lumbering zombies, vampire blood rituals, slimy gore, brutal gunfights, and dim-witted rednecks who get what’s coming to them. Also, reality TV fans might be interested to see Jake Billingsley from Survivor: Thailand in a supporting role as the local sheriff.

What I liked:
• Mixing the subgenres. The bonus features reveal that the creators wanted to make a vampire movie and a zombie movie, and instead decided to do both at once. Some might balk at a lack of established “rules” or “mythology,” but in a low-budget thrill ride like this, it’s more about stirring up supernatural chaos than it is about intricate world-building. Anyone bitten by a vampire turns into a Romero-esque zombie? Hey, if it works within the confines of this one film, why not go for it? Also, the movie is peppered with flashbacks to the Old West, where we get to see the six-gun toting vamp in his prime, and his twisted relationship with his “bride.” These Western scenes are some of the most exciting and gripping parts of the movie.

• Susana Gibb. I first flipped for this actress after seeing her in Learning Curve, Andy Anderson’s freaked-out satire of public education. Since then, I’ve made it a point to see anything with her name attached. Her role here isn’t nearly as deep, but she is as good as always. In the bonus features, Gibb says she didn’t want Shannon to be a typical damsel in distress, and that comes across in the final product. Her character remains cool-headed and confident, no matter what craziness and carnage happens around her.

• Guys with shotguns shooting zombies in the head. Man, that never gets old.

What had me praying for sunrise:
• Plot dead ends. So the vampires are after their long-lost undead baby, and most of the story has to do with keeping the vamps from getting a hold of their unholy spawn. Unfortunately, this goes pretty much nowhere. The baby ends up being little more than a generic McGuffin, a reason for the vampires to pursue our heroes. This makes the film’s explosive finale something of a letdown.

• The micro-budget. Although After Sundown has some nice visual flourishes here and there, and it thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously, the creators can’t quite disguise the fact that the whole thing was made with pennies. Don’t get me wrong—I love the creativity and ingenuity of independent filmmaking. But in this case, the obvious special effects and blank-wall sets were something of a distraction.

Although the film’s minimal funds show through the cracks, the DVD transfer holds up fairly well, with bright, vivid colors, despite an overall soft picture. The audio is hardly booming, but it does its job. Kicking off the extras is a commentary track with the directors and actors. This one combines numerous anecdotes from the trenches of indie filmmaking as well as revealing occasional continuity goofs. The behind-the-scenes featurette is almost ridiculously thorough, starting with the audition process (they made Susana Gibb audition? She’s Susana freakin’ Gibb, just cast her already!) and walking the viewer throughout the production, some of which was filmed inside an actual mortuary. There are also some funny outtakes and a collection of trailers for other Lionsgate horror flicks. Now, the first trailer is for Komodo Vs. Cobra, and for some reason, the audio for that trailer plays over all the other trailers. I have no idea if this something’s messed up on just my DVD or if it’s on all of them. If it is, ouch. I know, we don’t buy DVDs for the trailers, but still.

So, there you have it. After Sundown promises low budget cowboy vampire zombie action, and that’s just what it delivers. I doubt it’ll ever be considered a horror classic, but fans of the genre could do a lot worse.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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