When two young lovers are savagely beaten and tortured on a back country road in Texarkana, local police are baffled. Three weeks later, two more people are slain in a similar setting and Deputy Norman Ramsey fears a pattern might be developing. Texas Ranger J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson, The Wild Bunch
) is brought in to help. The two officers must find the Phantom Killer before he can kill again. Also starring Andrew Prine (Grizzly
) and Dawn Wells (Gilligans Island
), directed by Charles B. Pierce (The Legend Of Boggy Creek
), and based on one of Americas most baffling murder cases, this horrifying suspense thriller is a shocking experience youll never forget. Special Bonus Feature: Charles B. Pierces The Evictors (DVD ONLY)
A nice young couple move into an eerie house located in a small Louisiana town, unaware of its violent history. Soon they find themselves tormented by the previous owners. Vic Morrow (Combat!, Humanoids From The Deep
), Michael Parks (Django Unchained, Argo
) and Jessica Harper (Suspiria, Phantom Of The Paradise
) star in this chilling horror film.
Louisiana-based filmmaker Charles B. (The Legend of Boggy Creek
) Pierce's The Town That Dreaded Sundown
(1976) is an effective thriller that exceeds the bonds of its budget thanks to brisk pacing and some alarming murder sequences. Based on the real-life "Phantom Killer," a hooded assailant whose five murders in the Texarkana region in 1946 are still unsolved, Pierce's film divides its running time between re-creations of the attacks and their paralyzing effect on the community and an investigation led by Texas Ranger Ben Johnson (playing a fictionalized version of legendary Ranger Captain Manuel "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas) and deputy Andrew Prine. The five murders unfold in particularly unsettling fashion, especially the assault on housewife Dawn Wells (of Gilligan's Island
fame) and her subsequent frenzied flight from the killer, and find a satisfying balance between suspense and bloodshed. These moments, along with the film's Texarkana locations, some solid action set pieces (in particular, the pursuit of the killer that closes the picture), and the presence of Johnson and Prine, do much to smooth over some tonal awkwardness, most notably Pierce's turn as a hapless deputy whose comic interludes stop the picture cold, and the infamous "trombone" murder (perpetrated upon Pierce's then-wife, Cindy Butler), which flirts with the boundaries of bad taste. Though by no means a classic title, The Town That Dreaded Sundown
delivers the grisly goods with energy and rough style, which has preserved its appeal among '70s-era horror devotees.
Shout Factory's Blu-ray/DVD presentation offers a surprising wealth of extras on both the film's production and the crime spree that inspired it. In tried-and-true drive-in fashion, the DVD pairs Town with Pierce's The Evictors (1979), a modest period thriller that benefits from its cast of cult favorites, including Michael Parks (Django Unchained), Jessica Harper (Suspiria), and Vic Morrow (Combat!), and impressive photography. Extras on both the Blu-ray and DVD are led by interviews with Prine and Wells, with Prine coming off best by virtue of his rakish recollections. Director of photography James Roberson also provides some insight into his experience on the picture as a twentysomething relative novice, while author Justin Beahm (Halloween: The Complete Authorized History) leads an informative commentary track with historian Jim Presley, who provides expert details on the Phantom Killer case. Genre writer Brian Albright (Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990) contributes an interesting essay on the film and its key players, as well as its impact on Texarkana (whose town fathers were less than pleased with the one-sheet's tag line claiming that the killer was still loose on their streets). Collections of well-worn promotional material, including posters and publicity stills, as well as the theatrical trailer, are also featured on the two-disc set. --Paul Gaita