Blu-ray Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown



The Midnite Movies Double Features are back…well, sort of. The DVD series focused on cult films especially ones released by the legendary indie studio American International Pictures. This was a boon for fans who wanted the finest work of Roger Corman, classic biker flicks and monster movies. Fans would have wish lists for the AIP titles that were still locked in the vault. But the series came to an end when MGM offered its Manufacture on Demand DVD-Rs. Shout! Factory has been making deals with studios for major titles to include in their Scream Factory arm. Whether they meant to do it, Scream Factory has delivered one of the most desired Midnite Movies Double Feature with the Blu-ray – DVD combo pack of The Town That Dreaded Sundown that includes The Evictors.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976 – 90 minutes) is the true story of a serial killer who terrorized the town of Texarkana, Arkansas in 1946. A couple are parked on Lover’s Lane doing their best to be romantic when the car’s hood pops up. Before the guy can do anything a man wearing a white hood attacks them. He smashes the window and yanks the guy out of his seat. He then goes for the lady. Both victims barely survive the assault. Fear quickly spreads around the sweet Southern town. They only increase when weeks later the Phantom Killer strikes again. However this time neither victim survives. The local sheriff (Andrew Prine) needs help from Captain Morales (The Wild Bunch‘s Ben Johnson) of the Texas Rangers. They set up decoys on the night of the school prom. However the killer doesn’t take the bait. He finds the real deal. The attack is brutal and sadistically involves a trombone. The ruthless attack from a killer puts The Town That Dreaded Sundown up with Halloween and Friday 13th. Although compared to those two films, director Charles B. Pierce is rather sedate. He doesn’t employ an over-the-top score to overplay the chases, stabbings and shootings. One chase scene is mostly dominated by crickets chirping, dogs barking in the distance and the heavy breathing of a victim hoping to survive. Pierce must have understood that there was no need to overwhelm the tiny speakers that hang on the car window at the drive-in theater. The film is a major step up from The Legend of Boggy Creek. It helps that Oscar winner Johnson keeps the scenes from turning into bad reality show acting. Just to make sure we remember that the Phantom Killer is pure evil, he stalks Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island).

The Evictors (1979 – 92 minutes) has Pierce take a trip down to Louisiana for a little haunted house action. He gets a major cast to take part in another film based on a true story. In a sepia tone past, people inside a house get company from carloads of well armed law enforcement agents. Turns out they’re being evicted by the bank. It’s a brutal encounter in which the people inside the house lose their security deposit and their lives. After a clean up, a young couple get shown the house by a very helpful real estate agent played by Vic Morrow (Combat!). The couple couple really like the place and take it without much haggling. Michael Parks (Kill Bill) and Jessica Harper (Phantom of The Paradise) don’t have any problems with the place. However neighbors swear the place is cursed with a several former occupants having their mail forwarded to the morgue. Parks works long hours at a plant while Jessica stays at home. This turns into a problem when a stalker lurks around the house. Can this couple find peace in such a simple community? The Evictors was one of the last films released by AIP before Sam Arkoff sold his studio to Filmways. For those wonder what is the point of buying a Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack, the answer here is The Evictors is only on the DVD.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown and The Evictors is the perfect double feature for a humid summer night. Mix up a pitcher of sweet tea and hit play. The Town That Dreaded Sundown conveys the sense of horror of a senseless killer on the loose. The Evictors is a proper Southern Gothic horror film with a cast that can look scared. While this combo isn’t part of the Midnite Movies Double Feature series, you should consider it one. It’s good that Scream Factory has revived the drive-in legacy of American International Pictures.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic for both films. The Town That Dreaded Sundown looks amazing in Blu-ray. The higher resolutions gives detail the Phantom Killer’s eyes when he attacks. While The Evictors is only presented on DVD, the transfer is top notch. You can get the full effect Vic Morrow’s mustache. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio for the Blu-ray of The Town. The DVD has both films in Dolby Digital Mono. Pierce didn’t spend a fortune on sound mixing so it’s mostly dialogue and crickets coming from the speakers.

Small Town Lawman (9:41) catches up with Andrew Prine.

Survivor Stories (5:17) is time well spent with Dawn Wells. She talks about her life after Gilligan’s Island. She was only on Town for a day and a half. She said the woman her character is based on wouldn’t talk to her.

Eye of the Beholder (12:32) talks with director of photography James Roberson. He seems happy that his work can finally be fully appreciated.

Theatrical Trailer
(2:19) will make you eager to head over to the drive-in theater.

Poster & Still Gallery
contains the promotional art and press photos.

The Phantom of Texarkana is an essay that gives background on the real life incidents and the movie.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a great Southern serial killer film. There’s a deep fried fear as he stalks Lover’s Lane. Making this package even more compelling is the inclusion of The Evictors on the DVD part of the combo. This is the perfect double feature for when the heat and the cicadas arrive.

Scream Factory presents The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Directed by: Charles B. Pierce. Starring: Ben Johnson, Dawn Wells, Michael Parks, Jessica Harper and Vic Morrow. Boxset contents: 2 Films on 1 DVD & 1 Blu-ray. Released: May 21, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.

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