THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN...
Reviewed by: Zombie Boy
Charles B. Pierce
What's it about
A semi-documentary about an unsolved rash of killings in Texarkana in the mid-40's.
Is it good movie?
This movie is a hard one to get a hold on. On the one hand, it plays very much so like a movie one might see lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It's pretty poorly acted, and the dialog is maybe not laughable, but certainly hard to take seriously. It also often makes strange forays into super broad comedy, like bumbling cops and goofy car chases, all replete with "womp womp" music and sound effects.
However, the killer, who wears a F13-type hood, is actually really creepy. He almost never vocalizes, preferring to strike hard and fast, and then stare at his victims as he contemplates their demise. He is a natural sadist, and as such quickly dispatches the men (er, mostly boys, as he likes them young) and then gets most of his jollies with the girls. He doesn't rape them, which would be cheap and easy. No, instead he scratches, gouges, and bites chunks out of them. A knife tied to a trombone sounds weird and goofy, but was for me the tensest scene in the film.
At first I was surprised by how much time and care was taken with making this an authentic period piece, since though it was made in '76, it takes place shortly after WWII. But then I realized that director Charles B. Pierce has a longer history as a set dresser than a director, so that clears up that. Pierce also resisted the urge to explain The Phantom, or to give this true story about a series of unsolved murders and ending. Unfortunately that necessarily leaves us with an anticlimactic ending. But that's part and parcel of my feelings on this "classic": totally mixed.
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen, 2.35:1. The cleanup job for this Blu-Ray release is pretty impressive. Very crisp and clear.
Audio: I like the term DTS HD-Master Audio Mono. You can throw in as many fancy terms as you want: mono is mono.
The Evictors: Oddly enough, this full-length movie, also by Charles Pierce, is only found on the DVD in this Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. I guess it was included because it is also a serial killer film "based on true events" and takes place in the 40's. It's well-made, but fairly pedestrian. It does star Michael Parks, Vic Morrow, and the chick from Suspiria, though, so it's worth a watch for that alone.
Small Town Lawman: An Interview with Actor Andrew Prine: Prine played what is ostensibly the main character of the film, Deputy Norman Ramsey. He stands out as the most affable character in the film, and that is reflected in this interview. Still a working actor at 77(most recently in Rob Zombie's LORDS OF SALEM), he's open and honest about the this movie and has a pretty incredible memory of the production. It's only a ten minute piece, but he tells some pretty interesting stories and, damned it, he's just likeable.
Survivor Stories: An Interview with Dawn Wells: Most notable for her role as Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, Wells is still working and looking damned good for being in her late 70's. She played a pretty small, yet visceral role in the film. Like Prine, she has a surprisingly acute memory of making the film. This piece is only five minutes, but I could watch her much longer. I mean, she's Mary Ann for Christ's sake.
Eye of the Beholder: An Interview with Director of Photography James Roberson: I gotta tell you, this small film must have been a damned memorable shoot, because like Wells and Prine, Roberson has a strong recollection of the shoot. Between his 12-minutes and Prine's and Wells's pieces, you've got more info than most commentaries.
The Phantom of Texarkana: This is a pretty lengthy and in depth article by Brian Albright, an author of a book on regional horror films. I'm assuming this was taken from that tome. If you're up for some TV reading, it has about all the info you'll ever need on the background of this film.
Finally, there is the requisite trailer and poster and stills gallery.
I quite liked this film, despite it's low-budget and lack of a real ending. It's a strangely appealing mix of goofy and creepy, and from the interviews on this Blu-Ray it's apparent that everyone on the production had a good time, and came together to make the best picture they could with the budget available. This would be a nice addition to anyone's collection.