Movie Name: The Town That Dreaded Sundown
Studio: American International Pictures
Release Date(s): December 24, 1976
MPAA Rating: R
A killer is hunting the countryside of Texarkana in 1946. With attacks coming at night, the hooded killer targets people at lover’s lane and his body count is growing. Calling in Captain J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson), the search for the killer becomes national news. The cycle of killing continues and the clues to the murderer seem no closer as the town fears the dark.
Directed by Charles B. Pierce (who also has a role as Patrolman A.C. Benson), The Town That Dreaded Sundown was based on the true killings in Texarkana in 1946. The original killer was nicknamed the Phantom Killer was responsible for five death and never captured. The movie’s independent feature and strange presentation has made it a cult classic among horror fans.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown has a very real feel due to the documentary style of producing in the film. The movie claims that it is “real” with only changing the names but much of the story was fabricated. The idea that the movie could be real however does give some extra horror to the story and along with Pierce’s other earlier film The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), helped establish the idea of found footage and “real” horror which is prevalent today.
The movie however looks very cheap, and the horror that could be instilled by a masked killer (who looks as if he was the basis for Jason Voorhees bagged head look in Friday the 13th Part 2) is lost. The movie has some interesting scenes like the scene where the killer uses a trombone to torture a victim. It feels like it is going for the dinner scene at the end of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it just comes off as silly instead of scary.
I have to wonder about Ben Johnson at this point in his career. He won the Academy Award for The Last Picture Show (1971) and a few years later he stars in this…proof that Oscar curse isn’t a new thing. Also appearing in the film is Mary Ann herself, Dawn Wells, as one of the killers’ victims. This makes more logical for her, since I believe after Gilligan’s Island much of that cast was typecast.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown has possibly one of the best titles. It unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the title, but I do enjoy the low budget aspect of the film. The movie had a remake/relaunch/sequel film released in 2014 which featured a very post-modern script and involved this movie heavily…as an actual film within the movie. Fans of the first film might want to check it out.