The Town That Dreaded Sundown
- Street Date:
- May 21st, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- M. Enois Duarte
- Review Date: 1
- May 23rd, 2013
- Movie Release Year:
- Scream Factory
- 86 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated R
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
With a rather choice title like 'The Town that Dreaded Sundown,' I half-expected at least some sense of dread and a good deal more action at sundown. The name alone conjures up images of the night, possibly having something to do with vampires, the dead rising from their graves or perhaps even townspeople transforming into hideous monstrosities while feasting on the bodies of hitchhikers. To my disappointment, neither bloodsucker, rotting corpse, nor shapeshifting creature ever makes an appearance in this low-budget feature from Charles B. Pierce, the mastermind behind two 'Boggy Creek' movies. Not that it would actually matter, mind you, since no nightmarish monster could ever improve this completely dull and rightly forgotten horror dud.
Instead, the title is an apt description of the few months of terror experienced by the small, peaceful town of Texarkana, a quiet region that borders both Texas and Arkansas. During the early months of 1946, a hooded assassin terrorized this sleepy community, forcing many to shelter themselves indoors as soon as the sun set. Unfortunately, and although a good chunk of the movie does take place after sundown, there is very little to dread in this plot based on the real-life serial murderer dubbed the Phantom Killer. In fact, there's nary a moment of suspense or a sense of alarm, even as would-be victims struggle for dear life or when Texas Ranger J.D. Morales (an amusing Ben Johnson) comes close to capturing the maniac. There's frankly nothing the least bit memorable in this movie, aside from it being inspired by real events.
Made to feel like some sort of movie-of-the-week TV production — yet shot in a wide anamorphic frame — 'The Town' does feature a very terrifying cliché by way of a serious and dramatic narrator (Vern Stierman). At first, the device is somewhat amusing, providing the film with a unique tone and mindset, but after a few more times of being told about events as they're shown on screen, the voice quickly becomes a frighteningly tedious nuisance. There's a feeling that sooner or later commercials will interrupt the show and Robert Stack will suddenly make an appearance, reminding viewers of the facts explored in the previous dramatization. In fact, much of the acting — producers used Texarkana locals to play several bit parts — is nearly as atrocious as something seen on TV.
That's not to say the movie doesn't come with a few good or decent performances. Andrew Prine joins the investigation with Johnson and is in hot pursuit of the sadistic killer, who at one point ties a knife to the end of trombone and bizarrely uses it to kill a young woman. Prine is a familiar face of television, most notably as a prominent character in the classic sci-fi serious 'V,' and he makes a fine addition as the deputy sheriff with nothing better to do than act as a tagalong. Best surprise comes from Dawn Wells, better known as the beautiful and sprightly brunette Mary Ann of 'Gilligan's Island.' We spend less than ten minutes with her, mostly with her looking terrified and running while badly injured. But, she's arguably the best part of the whole movie, playing the only character to muster some mild sympathy and concern from this hardened viewer.In a weak attempt to also garner a few laughs, Pierce also takes on the role of clownish buffoon Patrolman Benson, otherwise nicknamed "Sparkplug." Sadly, the jokes revolve around him acting the annoying fool who never should have been admitted into the police academy in the first place. His incompetence as a peace officer extends to his skills behind the wheel when a very brief car pursuit becomes an excuse for a slow-motion action sequence better suited to the likes of 'The Dukes of Hazzard,' which is still a couple years away from airing on television. But then again, pretty much everything about this boring production feels like something that belongs on television, not the silver screen. And the fact that 'The Town that Dreaded Sundown' made it to theaters at all is about the only scary thing of this otherwise better-forgotten horror thriller.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'The Town that Dreaded Sundown' to as a two-disc combo pack under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD25 disc is housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with a second DVD-9 disc on the opposing panel and reversible cover art. At startup, the disc goes to a main menu screen with a static photo and music.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'The Town' has nothing to dread in this strong and for the most part excellent AVC-encoded transfer. The picture shows great resolution and detailing in the local architecture and surrounding foliage. Fine lines in the brick buildings are distinct, threading in the costumes are very well-defined and you can even make out the stitching in the upholstery of the various beautiful cars. Contrast is comfortably bright and stable throughout with clean, crisp whites. The color palette appears bold and nicely saturated with greens and reds looking particularly energetic. Black levels could be a bit more consistent, coming off a tad dull and murky in a couple moments, but it's generally deep and accurate with excellent shadow delineation. While the source looks to be in great condition overall, several instances of white specks, dirt and less than satisfying resolution litter the 2.35:1 image, along with one occurrence of a brown vertical line at around the 77-minute mark. But other than that, the presentation looks great.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
'The Town' also has nothing to fear with a DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack that's generally clean and appropriate for the movie's age but still falls a bit on the dull and flat side of things. While dialogue reproduction is mostly fine and intelligible, voices often sound canned and quite shallow with a good amount of audible echoing during indoor scenes. Dynamic range is much too uniform and monotonous with noticeably poor acoustics. The musical score and a couple song selections are fairly toneless and lackluster with little to no distinguishable features in the orchestration. This is most apparent in the outright lack of the lower frequencies, creating a mostly dead and stale presentation. Much of this is due to the original design and the low-production values, not a fault in the encode, so with that in mind, the lossless mix is arguably an accurate representation of its source.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
- Audio Commentary — Justin Beahm of Halloweenmovies.com hosts this commentary with Jim Presley, an expert on the Texarkana Moonlight Murders. The two men have an interesting conversation about the real-life events compared to what's seen in the movie while providing a few details on the production.
- Small Town Lawman (HD, 10 min) — A recent interview with Andrew Prine about his career and his thoughts on the movie while also sharing several amusing anecdotes.
- Survivor Stories (HD, 5 min) — Dawn Wells is also allowed a few minutes to talk about her involvement on the production and provide a few more stories from the set.
- Eye of the Beholder (HD, 13 min) — A frank discussion with director of photography James Roberson about the shoot and some of the challenges of filming with a limited budget.
- "The Phantom of Texarkana" — On-screen text essay by Brian Albright about the real-life murders and the Phantom Killer.
- Still Gallery (HD)
- Trailer (HD)
- The Evictors (SD, 92 min) — Best part of the entire package is the addition of the 1979 horror thriller, which is arguably a superior film produced and directed by Charles B. Pierce and more in demand by cult enthusiasts than 'The Town that Dreaded Sundown.' The movie stars Michael Parks and puppy-dog eyed Jessica Harper as a young couple terrorized by the past of their new home. It's available only on the DVD, but the picture and audio quality are excellent.
From filmmaker Charles B. Pierce, 'The Town that Dreaded Sundown' is a somewhat amusing low-budget horror thriller which unfortunately fails to produce much dread or fear. Feeling too much like a movie-of-the-week TV production, the movie based on the real-life Texarkana Moonlight Murders falls mostly on the dull side of things and a less-than-satisfying conclusion. The Blu-ray edition arrives with a strong audio and video presentation and a nice collection of supplements. Overall, fans are sure to be pleased with their purchase.
- Two-Disc Combo Pack
- BD-25 Single-Layer Disc / DVD-9 Dual-Layer Disc
- Region A Locked
- 1080p/AVC MPEG 4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
- English SDH
- Audio Commentary
- Text Essay
- Still Gallery
- Bonus Movie
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