Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Town That Dreaded Sundown - Scream Factory Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review

Director: Charles B. Pierce
Writer: Earl E. Smith 
Stars: Andrew Prine, Ben Johnson, Dawn Wells
Studio: Scream Factory
Release Date:
Region: A
Buy it on Amazon

Charles B. Pierce's highly sought after film The Town That Dreaded Sundown finally returns to home video (for the first time since the Good Times VHS release of 2001) courtesy of Scream Factory, in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack including Pierce's 1979 thriller The Evictors as a bonus on the DVD.

Directed by Pierce in 1976, the brilliantly titled The Town That Dreaded Sundown is the best film ever made in Texarkana where a guy in a sack kills a woman with a trombone. Town is a bit of an odd film, it's basically like you're getting three movies in one. It's part proto-slasher, part documentary complete with narration, and part dull police movie with some occasional out of place comedy. It's actually pretty uneven and it flows pretty awkwardly due to the constantly changing style, which, for me at least, made the film feel longer than it actually is. Kind of a shame because the slasher-ish parts are actually pretty great. The killer (dubbed the Phantom Killer) is a pretty intimidating character, his attacks are sudden, brutal and relentless. His stalking of Dawn Wells (Gilligan's Island's Mary Ann) after murdering her husband with a bullet to the brain is especially thrilling.

The Phantom Killer seems to have been a clear inspiration for the look of Jason in Friday the 13th Part 2. He's a hulking madman with a sack over his head, tied off with a rope around his neck. It's almost exactly the same, the only difference is that the Phantom Killer had the sense to cut out two eyeholes in his mask, where Jason only had the one. I'm not saying Friday 2 ripped it off, but given how much of Bay of Blood was borrowed for Friday Part 2, yeah, they probably ripped it off.

Overall, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is worth a look for the scenes of the Phantom Killer (sadly not a guy who kills phantoms), and the remarkably impressive recreation of 1946 Arkansas, though the movie dragged a lot for me during any other scenes - apart from a really great Peckenpahian scene at the end with some well done slo-mo while two cops shoot at the killer - with a moving train between them. Despite solid acting from Prine and Johnson, the non-horror parts just didn't really work for me and I was actually even a bit annoyed on a few occasions during the several comedy relief bits. Now I don't mind a bit of dark comedy popping up in a serious movie, it's just that the little bit of comedy in Town just isn't funny. Scenes of cops dressing up as women with obnoxious tuba music on the soundtrack do not belong in an otherwise serious movie about an unknown killer terrorizing an entire town, killing random people with no motive. I have a rule, If I'm not watching a Carry On film, or an episode of The Kids in the Hall I shouldn't be seeing a dude in a dress.

Things to watch for:
Tromboner Trauma
Killer Shoes
Accidental cameraman
Slo-Mo Gunslingers
It was harder to stop a car in the 40's. You had to kinda crash a little to stop.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown - Blu-ray Screenshots

The Evictors - DVD Screenshots

Bonus Features:

  • The Evictors (1979) on DVD
  • Audio Commentary with Justin Beahm and Historian Jim Presley
  • Small Town Lawman – An Interview with actor Andrew Prine
  • Survivor Stories – An Interview with actress Dawn Wells
  • Eye of the Beholder – An Interview with Director of Photography James Roberson
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Essay by writer Brian Albright
  • Poster & Still Gallery

  • Scream has put together some very nice extras for Town's Blu-ray debut, including an audio commentary with Justin Beahm and Phantom Killer historian Jim Presley. The two offer up a great deal of information regarding the actual phantom killings dramatized in the film. You also get a trio of interviews with Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells and DP James Roberson. Here's an unexpected surprise, Dawn Wells is about 75 years old, still kind of a babe.

    Also included as a bonus on the DVD is Pierce's 1979 film The Evictors with Jessica Harper and Vic Morrow. I might be in the minority but I think The Evictors should've been the star of the double bill. It's a better made film, that's more cohesive and makes no attempts at silly comedy and is all the better for it. The villain isn't nearly as memorable, but I did find myself more invested in the story.

    In closing, while I'm not too big on The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Scream's top notch treatment of the film, and the inclusion of a solid bonus film in The Evictors bumps this one up enough for me to recommend checking it out. It's out May 21st, and you can preorder it directly from Scream Factory

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