The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Sunday, 23 August 2015 23:00 Written by 

The Town That Dreaded Sundown - out now on Dual Format DVD and Blu-rayBased on a true story, "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" focuses on a serial killer who terrorised folk living on the Texas/Arkansas border in 1946, is out now in a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD pack. Shot partly as a docu-drama, the film tracks the murderer's attacks and the efforts of Texas Ranger Captain JD Morales (Ben Johnson - "The Last Picture Show", "The Wild Bunch") to hunt him down. The director is Charles B Pierce ("The Legend of Boggy Creek").

Preying mostly on young adults who park up in a secluded spot for a kiss and a cuddle, the so-called Phantom dons a crudely-made sack hood to mask his identity, and the only noise he makes is his heavy breathing. His attacks are as brutal as they are bizarre; the continued inability of peacekeepers to apprehend the killer stokes the community's fear as they are forced to batten down the hatches come sundown.

This is both a familiar and strange film. Fans of the "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" slasher series will be familiar with the horrifying violence, though this movie actually predates the first entries in both franchises by a few years, and may well have been a major influence on them.

Whilst "Sundown" opens in the style of a documentary complete with some ominously sincere vocal narration by Vern Stierman, for the most part it feels like a much more conventional horror feature.

The sense of confused identity extends to the tone of the film, which lurches from horror to comedy to police procedural, making it hard for the viewer to fully immerse themselves in the story. The comedy is very slapstick in nature thanks to the director's on-screen turn as a bumbling patrolman. He succeeds in raising a few laughs but unlike some genre films where moments of brief humour help to offset the terror, here they go on for too long and do little to accentuate the nastier moments.

"Sundown" is also strangely bereft of atmosphere, perhaps because of the partial attempt to make it feel real. The music does not help to establish any apprehension, and whilst the Phantom's appearance, mysterious identity and motivation are  admittedly quite disturbing, with his eyes staring through roughly-cut holes and the cloth over his mouth moving with his excited breathing, something is lacking to raise this killer to the level of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees.

On the plus side, the film looks good, especially in HD. Cinematographer James W. Roberson (Melissa & Joey) frames the town and countryside beautifully, and even though a lot of it is shot at night or dusk, the picture is perfectly clear.

Fans of slasher movies and films based on real events will probably enjoy this feature, despite my misgivings. It is by no means a bad film and does contain some memorable, rather unpleasant moments. My personal view, however, is that the comedy element is misjudged and partially spoils what could have been a horror classic.

Special features include:

  • Brand new 1080p high-definition transfer
  • Progressive DVD encode
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Trailers for both the original and the 2014 remake
  • Interviews with stars Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, and director of photography James Roberson 
  • Feature-length audio commentary with historians Justin Beaham and Jim Presley
  • Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic Mike Sutton, reproductions of original Sundown ephemera, illustrated throughout with production stills

There are some fun anecdotes from actress Wells and Roberson. The former recalls how a furious dog slipped its leash and scared her silly, and the latter shot some of the film sporting a cast on a broken foot which had to be replaced several times because it kept getting soggy. He also explains that the cast and crew were told to tread carefully in a key chase scene set in a corn field because the farmer was charging them by the stalk!

"The Town That Dreaded Sundown" (1976) is out now on dual-format DVD and Blu-ray (two discs), courtesy of Eureka. The main feature has a running time of 90 minutes approx, carries a '15' certificate and retails for £15.95, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Sunday, 30 August 2015 17:06

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