If you’ve seen the 2014 remake, well here’s your chance to see the original 1976 drive-in crime thriller which shocked audiences on it’s release, preceded the slasher phenomenon, and included a castaway from Gilligan’s Island amongst its victims, as Eureka! Entertainment has released a brand new HD transfer of the legendary film on Blu-ray and DVD.
Starring Andrew Prine and Ben Johnson, and directed by Charles B Pierce, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on one of America’s most baffling murder cases. In the spring of 1946, the small town of Texarkana is terrorised by a mysterious assailant targeting young lovers in parked cars. Baffled local deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine) then calls in Texas Ranger JD Morales (Ben Johnson) to help him track down what the press call, The Phantom Killer, before he can strike again…
This American International Pictures (AIP) release has garnered quite a cult reputation over the years. Director Pierce was a former set decorator (he worked on AIP’s Coffy) before directing his first feature, the seminal faux Bigfoot documentary The Legend of Boggy Creek.
On the back of the success of Boggy Creek, Pierce again used documentary elements (and the same narrator) for his fictionalised thriller. He also added in some comic elements (including having himself play a bumbling cop), which ended up making the film’s violence all the more shocking: especially the now infamous death by trombone and the terrifying cornfield escape by Dawn Wells (aka Gilligan’s Island’s Mary Ann), who plays real-life victim Helen Reed.
The Eureka! Entertainment Dual Format UK release includes a brand new 1080p high-definition transfer and progressive DVD encode, presented in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and this is a huge improvement on the prints that crop up on The Horror Channel in the UK, and also serve to really highlight the colourful Panavision cinematography.
The special features include trailers for the original and the 2014 remake; interviews with Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, and director of photography James Roberson; a fascinating featurette Small Town Lawman about Prine; and an audio commentary with historians Justin Beaham and Jim Presley. In the US, the film is released through Shout! Factory with the same extras, but also includes Pierce’s follow-up, The Evictors (1979).