Town That Dreaded Sundown, The (Blu-ray) (1976)

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Released 5-Aug-2015

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Drama Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Cinema Cult trailers x 5
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1976
Running Time 89:53 (Case: 97)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Charles B. Pierce
Studio
Distributor

Shock Entertainment
Starring Don Johnson
Andrew Prine
Dawn Wells
Jim Citty
Charles B. Pierce
Robert Aquino


Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Jaime Mendoza-Nava


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     The Town that Dreaded Sundown is based on a series of attacks and brutal murders that occurred in the town of Texarkana on the Arkansas / Texas border in 1946. The attacker was known as the “Phantom Killer”; he wore a hessian type bag over his head and was never caught. The narration within the film tells us that the events are true and only the names have been changed.

     On 3 March 1946 a couple in their car in lovers’ lane were savagely attacked by a person wearing a mask. Although badly injured they survived but three weeks later another couple parked in a secluded spot were not so fortunate; they were attacked and then shot and killed, Sheriff’s Deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine) arriving too late to catch the killer. With the people of Texarkana running scared, and extensive press coverage, fabled Texas Ranger Captain J.D. Morales (Don Johnson) is brought in to head the investigation. The town after dark was saturated with Police patrols and decoy officers lurked in lovers’ lanes but at the end of April the killer struck again, and another parked couple were murdered. The police have no clues and no suspects although a selection of crazies claim to be the killer. In early May the killer struck again, this time attacking a married couple in their home; the man is shot dead but the woman, Helen Reed (Dawn Wells), although traumatised and wounded, managed to escape and crawl to a neighbour’s house. In the final reel, the Phantom is almost caught, but escapes although the killings stop.

     The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a low budget film shot on locations around the actual town of Texarkana by director Charles B. Pierce. The film is pseudo-documentary in style; it uses a voice-over narration by Vern Stierman and focusses specifically on the somewhat inept police investigation. Backstory is non-existent; we never see anyone off duty and we learn nothing about Ramsey, while Morales’ reputation is only briefly mentioned. The killer is a shadowy figure: we never see his face, only his feet and the eyes through the mask, and there is nothing in the film about his motivation for the murders. The attacks when they occur are suspenseful, well-staged and unsettling with a couple of quite frightening and tense sequences. This is not a slasher film however: the violence is mostly off camera and implied rather than shown and blood, although present, is not excessive.

     The Town that Dreaded Sundown probably should not work as well as it does but the film makes a virtue of the real locations, the stilted acting and dialogue, the deep voiced narration and its focus on the police to deliver an intriguing, real life crime drama. This is not a film about solving a crime as such but a film about people going about their routines that has a definite edginess and atmosphere. Perhaps the only misstep is the addition of comic relief in the person of rookie, accident prone policeman A.C. Benson aka “Sparkplug” (played by director Charles B. Pierce) that feels out of place in a film that otherwise aims for, and achieves, low key realism.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The cover of The Town that Dreaded Sundown indicates that the film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Thankfully, this is incorrect and the Blu-ray presents the film in its correct 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     While there are a number of small dirt marks and a couple of horizontal scratches, they are not intrusive and the film generally looks great. Colours, such as the red of a car, are bright and natural, blacks in the night sequences solid and shadow detail excellent. Detail is acceptable, grain is evident but looks nice, brightness and contrast is generally consistent, skin tones natural.

     Other than as noted above, the print was free of artefacts.

     There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio is English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono, reflecting the original film’s soundtrack.

     Dialogue is clear and easy to understand. The effects were understandably flat but the screams were shrill, the gunshots deep enough and the engines in the car chase, with sirens, effective. The score by Jaime Mendoza-Nava was good and not intrusive.

     There was slight hum in one early scene without music or effects but otherwise the audio was distortion free.

     There were no lip synchronisation problems.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Cinema Cult Trailers

     Trailers for The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2:21), Scum (2:21), The Fury (3:02), Fear City (2:43), The Burning (1:27) and City of the Living Dead (3:00).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     Technically our release of The Town that Dreaded Sundown from Shock Entertainment is the same as the Region A US release, with an identical running time, video and audio. The Region B UK release utilises a LPCM 2.0 audio instead. However, both the US and UK releases come with an audio commentary that is reported to be very good plus a range of other, different, extras; for details of the various extras see here. As technically there is little difference, the preferred version comes down to your view of the extras available on the two releases.

Summary

     The Town that Dreaded Sundown has achieved a deserved cult status. I did not know what to expect but enjoyed this film a lot as it is an effective and intriguing true crime drama that never becomes clichéd or provides easy solutions. It is rated “R” but while the violence is disturbing it is not gory by modern standards and so is on the mild side of the rating. The Town that Dreaded Sundown is still shown in Texarkana every year and in 2014 was remade / updated by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

     The video is very good, the audio an acceptable mono. Unfortunately we miss out on the extras available elsewhere but if you only want this cult film our release is technically identical to the US release.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, September 11, 2015
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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