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The Town That Dreaded Sundown



Like Boggy Creek, 1976's Sundown states it is based on a true story. Unlike Boggy Creek, Sundown actually is. Better late than never, it makes a simultaneous DVD and Blu-ray release courtesy of Shout! Factory.

Set in postwar Texarkana, the film depicts the fear that gripped that the heretofore optimistic town of 40,000 after a series of Lovers' Lane murders. What makes this one particularly creepy is that the Texarkana Killer does his dirty deeds while donning a burlap sack (prefiguring Jason Voorhees' similar sartorial choices of Friday the 13th Part 2). Just seeing that in the dead of night can generate chills for viewers.

Not to let a proven gimmick go to waste, Pierce lensed this in Boggy Creek's influential docudrama style, purposely blurring the line between fact and fiction. Had he gone fully fictional, he might have felt the license to make Sundown as scary as its potential provides.

As is, there's something about the narration that keeps viewers from being totally invested — a constant, omnipresent reminder that you're watching a movie. It breaks what little momentum Pierce gets going, requiring a square-one start each time. Pierce does himself no favors by scoring his true-crime thriller with banjo music, and even worse, giving himself a supporting role as a goofy, pratfall-prone patrolman nicknamed Sparkplug.

Even with Pierce gone from this earth, Shout! Factory packs the disc with a few featurettes surrounding the shoot, plus a click-through text essay on the real Texarkana Killer. The best extra, however, can’t be found on the sharp-looking Blu-ray; it’s only on the DVD: an entire second feature, 1979's The Evictors.

The 1940s-set picture marked Pierce’s return to horror after a pair of ill-received stabs at adventure. No sooner have Ben and Ruth Watkins (Django Unchained’s Michael Parks and Suspiria’s Jessica Harper) moved onto 40 acres of property in northern Louisiana then they receive a less-than-neighborly welcome, starting with an anonymous note in the mailbox: "I want you to move."

See, Bad Things happened in their house a couple decades earlier. That has all the makings for a good, spooky watch, but The Evictors holds too many flashbacks and not enough forward drive. In pacing, Sundown looks like Run Lola Run by comparison. Pierce finally generates some power in the climactic moment, then immediately diminishes it with a needless coda that all but cries “dun-dun-DUN!”

It’s definitely an inferior work, but like icing (if expired) on the cake to see its inclusion in the package. —Rod Lott

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