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The Town That Dreaded Sundown
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34 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

A Film That Set Up Horror And Crime For Decades

Author: gavin6942 from United States
15 December 2007

Based on a true story, the phantom killer stalks Texarkana and kills couples who hang out at lovers lanes. Armed with some nasty weapons and a pillow case for a mask, he terrorizes this town to the point of near shutdown, causing police forces from all over the state to intervene. Who can stop his rampage?

I've never seen a film quite like this before. I've seen plenty of based-on-real-killer films (most of which are nothing like the original murders), and the recent David Fincher film "Zodiac" follows very much in the vein of this movie (and Zodiac has some similarities to the Phantom). And this film is a definite inspiration for "Friday the 13th" with the pillow case mask. So, in at least one way, this film really kicked off a trend of stalking psychos. And while the first real serial killer film may have been "Black Christmas", this film isn't one to ignore: there's a really good scene of a woman being chased through the woods that is not unlike what we'd see a hundred times in the next thirty years.

The film also offers two dichotomies I'll address briefly: crime versus horror, and comedy versus drama. Much of this comes across as a crime film, because we are following the police on their manhunt and get to know some of the officers personally and they are clearly the protagonists. We want them to win. But this film has a horror element that cannot be ignored -- we don't just see the aftermath of a killing. The director took great delight in showing the chase, the torture and the deaths of the women. A straight crime tale wouldn't do this. But a horror film would, because many horror films have us egging on the killer even when we know he or she is evil. This film offers both sides.

The serious and comedy balance is also striking. We have a documentary-style voice telling us the updates and we are offered dates of the killings and for the most part this story remains rather serious and we can sympathize with the town. But then, we also have some cheesy music (not quite "Yakety Sax" but the same idea) and a character who threatens old women, cross-dresses and drives a cop car (poorly) as if he was an officer in "Dukes of Hazzard". Horror films generally have a comic relief -- a dark one -- but this really pushes the silly factor.

All the acting is great, the plot is simple but effective (a police manhunt). The video quality isn't perfect (this film really deserves a remastering and a re-appraisal, as horror historians will have to recognize the importance of this single film). But you will like it, I can pretty much guarantee that. I was sucked in almost immediately and lost valuable sleep time, but don't regret a moment of it.

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46 out of 66 people found the following review useful:

Fear Factor

Author: Holley Pilkington (DakotaPimpin99) from Paris, Texas
16 August 2001

Well I have to say that this movie is excellent. I was lucky to have my father be in this movie. I grew up in Atlanta,TX and moved from there in 1995. If you ever see the heavy set taxi driver, thats him, the officer at the police station dressed as a woman with the cigar, that was also him. My father did stunt driving and rebuilt the autos in the movie. You will be suprised what I can tell you that went on behind the scenes of the movie. Like when they tied Dawn Wells to the tree, well she was screaming not because of the phantom, but a snake that was on the ground in front of her. The snake came up during the shoot and they didn't tell Dawn about it, she just seen it. That is why her screams are realistic. One scene with the rain, look closey at the windshield wipers, if you notice its fast one minute, then slow, only because the motor went out and my father was on top of the car moving it by hand. Did you also know that most people that played in the movie did not know how to even drive or crank the vehicles? Back then there was push button starts, they kept breaking keys off in the ignition trying to crank it that way, but all the ignition does is unlock the collum. Needless to say they went trough alot of ignition switches. Boy what all I can say and not enough room to do it. I highy recommend this movie to anyone.

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26 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

He still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Arkansas.

Author: AngryChair from Brentwood, USA
29 January 2006

Another chilling docu-thriller from director Charles B. Pierce (who made The Ledgend of Boggy Creek in 1972), this film being his best!

It's 1946, in the small town of Texarkana, Texas-Arkansas a hooded murderer is terrorizing the community and making the local law enforcement desperate.

Based upon the real events that surrounded one of America's most baffling serial killers, this solidly made film is a compelling and generally under exposed fore-runner of the slasher genre. Director Pierce gives this film a nicely authentic feel of the era as well as a great atmosphere of dread. The movies strongest scenes are the re-enactments of the murders, which are effectively heart-pounding! Among the memorable moments is a creepy 'murder-by-trombone' and an intense stalking sequence with a bloodied Dawn Wells. Along with these thrilling bits comes some mild comic relief with the local police that thankfully don't hamper the proceedings. The moody music score is also a good touch.

The cast does well, veteran actor Ben Johnson is good as a criminal specialist, as is Andrew Prine as a local deputy. Director Pierce himself appears as a bumbling police officer.

An entertaining thriller from its shocking opening to its haunting conclusion, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a B movie winner.

*** 1/2 out of ****

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28 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

Unique, Original, Creepy: a forgotten classic.

Author: Nick Faust ( from Evansville, Indiana
18 May 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

THE TOWN THE DREADED SUNDOWN is one of the most original horror films of the 70's. And that's saying a lot. It starts off as a square-footed documentary with voice over and all the rest. But in the midst of this rather sweet evocation of Texarkana, Arkansas, a hooded madman runs rampant, sadistically killing and killing and killing. The violence, though not particularly graphic, is disturbing because of the way Pierce places it within his documentary structure. The movie's goal, I think, is to show the unspeakable chaos that lies just beneath the facade of America's post war prosperity. How secure is the picket fence world when a hooded maniac may be lurking in the shadows? The mystery is never solved; we don't find out who the killer is, nor is there a climactic moment where all the action peaks. The killings just stop and the dread never really ends, it just recedes back into the city's shadows. What makes this movie so compelling is the straight forward and uncluttered way Pierce lays out his facts. He will dramatize certain situations, but not in the conventional way, not with a continuous rising and falling melodramatic plot. Pierce's approach circumvents the usual horror movie gestures to zero in on what is, in this case, a purely mythic concern: evil in our midst. The killer, not shown to be a "character" in the traditional sense, is a burlap hood with eyes looking through eye holes and black work boot. The killer's visual presence and violent actions are given no motive, no personality beyond the moments of mayhem we see and the destruction we hear discussed. This killer is merely a faceless force, a depiction of nameless chaos, and, because he exists in this removed state the viewer is instinctually compelled to make sense of his actions. Pierce takes the trappings of exploitation and weaves a creepy and, for me, unforgettable midwestern epic.

Charles B. Pierce, an independent producer- director, was the Otto Preminger of the drive-in market. Like Preminger, he was rarely taken seriously as an artist. One reason could be that his film subjects jump all over the place, from horror to Native American stories, to a movie about Vikings staring Cornel Wilde! He thought big and was not afraid to put his name above the title. Even in the post BONNIE AND CLYDE era, the idea that a regional film maker could both embrace and bypass the Hollywood system to actually get films like these made and shown must have seemed strange to most of the status quo.

The one that put him on the drive-in map, THE LEGEND OF BOOGY CREEK combines what appears to be genuine documentary footage with horror movie antics. At first, you think it's a joke, but as it goes on, a strange kind of unvarnished beauty emerges. I wouldn't say the movie's entirely successful (TOWN plays with the same concept and is more assured and less loopy), but it's bold and original and it reportedly made a lot of money. I've seen most of Pierce's movies, not all of which work as well as TOWN, but all of them exhibit a splendid sense of place and style. The late 40's vibe in TOWN hits the mark, and on shoestring budget, I'm sure. Charles B. Pierce was a true film maker, and I'll bet there's a lot to be learned by studying his work and the way he put together his productions. Where is he now, and what's he doing?

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27 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

Women were Crying & Screaming in the Theater!

Author: legwarmers1980 from United States
31 July 2005

I saw this movie when it first came out in Miami, Florida. When the 6feet 8inch. psycho killer wearing a potato-sack as a mask with the eyes cut-out, appears, and butchers the lover-lane couple, with his heavy breathing and the potato sack mask going in and out, a young woman in her 20s ran out of the theater hysterical, and a few other women were screaming! Made a few years before the slasher films of the 1980s, this film was way before its time. The killer was brutal, sadistic, and very realistic. The murders were done in a very realistic manner, and with a cast of almost complete unknowns, it had a documentary feeling to it. Veteran character actor Ben Johnson was excellent as usual, and a nervous looking Andrew Perine did a creditable job, but it was the killer who stole the show. Excellent movie, tame by today's standards, but a horror classic never-the-less.

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21 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

A very scary, suspenseful film

Author: terrornights from United States
18 March 2006

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is one of my favorite movies of all time. I collect anything I can find on the movie. I own lobby cards, pictures, posters. The movie has comedy, but is also really tense. The movie stars the great actors Ben Johnson and Andrew Prine as determined lawmen trying to stop the phantom. The director and producer of the movie Charles B. Pierce also stars and is very funny as Sparkplug, as he is sometimes called. As I mentioned the movie has comedy such as Sparkplug and others going undercover dressed as women hoping to catch the killer, but believe me the comedy is a welcome relief from the very frightening scenes with the phantom killer, who is one of the scariest killers I've ever seen in a movie. Based on a true story and with Dawn Wells of Gilligans island fame as one of the phantoms victims, you cant go wrong. I highly recommend this great film.

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13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

In the Solid B-Movie Tradition

Author: dougdoepke from Claremont, USA
14 June 2012

The movie reminds me of one of those ace 1940's chillers, like Follow Me Quietly (1949). Based on fact, Sundown is about a phantom killer who stalks lover's lanes in Texarkana, and police efforts to catch him. Of course, without the heavy hand of a '40's Production Code, Sundown is much more graphic than anything from that earlier decade.

Importantly, however, this is not a slasher movie. There is some blood and violence, but the chief effect comes from the larger than usual sound department. The screams from victims are both unrelenting and unnerving. The girls really do sound terrified. Then there's the heavy breathing from the hooded killer, which are the only sounds he makes and about as chilling as the screams.

Credit producer-director Pierce with making shrewd use of a small budget. The Arkansas locations add both color and authenticity, along with the unforced drawls of southern born leads Johnson and Prine. The movie also does a good job of recreating a '40's milieu, even down to the girls' bobby-sox that brings back fond memories. My only gripe is with Pierce— he should stick to producing-directing because his turn as the inept patrolman Benson is too out of sync and silly for the movie as a whole.

Judging from some Google searches, it looks like the screenplay sticks pretty close to the general facts of a case that also appears to have entered the realm of regional folklore. Given the spookiness, I can see why. Anyway, the overall result is a nail-biter in the outstanding tradition of B-movie chillers, with a rather surprising outcome.

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11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Memorable killer who does not speak ....................

Author: merklekranz from United States
15 September 2011

Ben Johnson leads a Texarkana manhunt for a hooded serial killer. Aproximately every three weeks in 1946, random killings occurred, mostly in lovers lanes. The film has excellent post WW2 atmosphere, and is only weakened by voice overs, and some"Barney Fife" type humor that fails completely. The attacks are sometimes depicted rather darkly, but the hooded killer who does not speak, is memorable. One does sense a feeling of dread among the townsfolk throughout, and the police frustration is also well documented. Sometimes less is best, as is the case with "The Town That Dreaded Sundown". With no idea of who the masked menace is, his motivation, or as the open ended conclusion speculates, is he still out there, ones imagination is left to wonder. - MERK

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12 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

it scared the crap out of me

Author: ladybugt from United States
31 October 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

it was the scariest movie i have ever seen in my life and i was 13 when i first watched it and i am in my 40's now and it still creeps me out thinking about it. i have never seen it on video and i heard that they wouldn't release it on video , i wonder if he really died when the train hit him, and i also wonder if the town still talks about it to this day. has anyone of the family members ever gave an interview or any of the people that live in that town ever gave an interview. i told my kids that i don't even know if i could watch it again, they r wanting to see it but i have not even seen it released on video. my mom and i went by ourselves and it scared the crap out of both of us. The writers and directors of this movie did a good job on it , i remember most of it , and at one point i was afraid that he or she would come to the town where i lived at the time and do the same thing. the thought that someone in this town did this and could still be alive is scary and i pray to god the train killed him. good job to the directors for doing such a good job on this film because it has still affected me 30 some years later, so i would say that it had a lasting and terrifying effect on me. please remake this film the exact way you made the first one and put it on at the movies and on DVD. it will be a good seller and scare the crap out of anyone who watches it.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

The one that got away.

Author: Zeegrade from Doomed Theater of Despair
24 September 2009

Proving that it's the totality of a person's work that should rightfully categorize whether someone has a talent for directing, The Town That Dreaded Sundown proves that there is more to Charles B. Pierce than his more well known albatross Beast of Boggy Creek II and to a lesser extent The Norseman. Centered in Texarkana, Texas in 1946 a series of assaults and murders by a man wearing a sack over his face turns the friendly town into a community that quickly becomes scared of it's own shadow. Ben Johnson as Captain J.D. Morales is called in to assist Texarkana Deputy Norman Ramsey in one of Andrew Prine's finest performances ever. Charles B. Pierce supplies the movie's comic relief as lead-footed hothead A.C. "Sparkplug" Benson that provides genuine bright spots in an otherwise dark movie. What makes this such an interesting story is that the case remains unsolved to this day as apposed to all the connect the dots maniacal killer movies that flood the market. There is no happy ending and sometimes the bad guy does win, just like in real life. A very underrated movie that isn't too long and yet pulls you as the storyline progresses. How many films do you know that have an attempted murder of Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island fame? Just one my man, just one. Well done Charles, I knew you had it inya!

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