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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!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Done partly in a documentary style, with a narrator (Vern Stierman) on
hand to explain characters and events to us, "The Town That Dreaded
Sundown" is the memorable telling of a real life murder spree that
occurred in the Texas / Arkansas border town Texarkana in the post-WWII
mid-1940s. The hooded killer (played here for maximum creepiness by
stuntman Bud Davis) claimed a handful of victims and in fact was never
caught, much less identified. That lends a certain lasting impact to
Directed by Charles B. Pierce ("The Legend of Boggy Creek"), "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" gets off to an appropriately scary start as our killer wastes little time getting down to business. His scenes are as good as those in any horror film, especially one truly bizarre scene where he uses a trombone to kill a girl. He doesn't use the same killing method every time, displaying a definite twisted imagination. His heavy breathing is truly unnerving.
Things alternate between the killers' actions and the intense manhunt that the local law enforcement puts into effect. The cops, hard pressed to discover clues or any useful information, call in a bigshot Texas Ranger named J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson). Morales most frequently is partnered with hard working deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine). An element of comedy is introduced into some scenes, especially in those involving the bumbling deputy "Sparkplug" Benson, played by director Pierce; at one point, several cops dress in drag and play the female half of various "couples" intended to serve as bait for the killer. These scenes do stick out a lot but thankfully never go on too long.
Johnsons' calm, authoritative presence is a big asset to this film, as is the solid performance by the under-rated Prine and the flavour supplied by the supporting cast. Jaime Mendoza- Navas' music score is excellent, as is the cinematography by James W. Roberson. The violent bits pack an effective punch and the resolution is nothing short of chilling; updates on the characters are given before the end credits start rolling.
Screenwriter Earl E. Smith appears on screen as Dr. Kress.
Highly recommended to any film lover fascinated with true crime stories.
Eight out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In Texarkana, circa 1946, a hooded psychopath selectively victimized
and killed couples primarily in isolated, rural Lover's Lane spots,
using a lead pipe to bludgeon, as well as, a gun, with a silencer, to
commit cold-blooded, execution style murders, done with a sense of
menace you can feel underneath his mask, his heavy breathing and mad
eyes considerably conveying the sadistic intent for those he targets. I
have seen my share of brutal slashers, but The Town That Dreaded
Sundown, not overtly gory, depends on the presence of the killer on
screen, the terror of those he pursues, and the style for which he
murders them for the effect. Sure a director like Rob Zombie can make a
film where a killer stabs someone 40 times, but there is just something
more potent and unsettling when you see the hooded menace of this film,
strapping a knife to a trombone, the idea just coming to him out of the
blue, shortly after tying up the band playing female victim to a tree,
and blowing into the mouthpiece as the blade hits the mark, not
explicitly displaying the actual violence, just the reaction of the
assault on the face as each strike penetrates flesh. This is one of the
strongest scenes in the film because the couple who is killed almost
drive away from the secluded, remote spot, an area that had been
patrolled, with the young man driving the vehicle jerked from the car,
pummeled by the killer, hit across the head, subdued but trying to get
to his feet while the teenage girl is tied to the tree, shot multiple
times while attempting to gather his bearings. The girl watches as the
killer quietly pulls the pistol, aiming cautiously so he can hit the
target, and pumping several bullets into the poor victim. This scene to
me, while not explicitly gory, gets the job done just as well as the
psychopath in Fulci's New York Ripper, taking a razor down a female
victim. It is always about the execution (to pardon a pun) of the scene
that I think gets across the point and director Pierce, I believe,
excels at depicting just how dangerous the hooded killer is. The first
murder is handled a bit differently, more subtly, but preparing us for
what is to come. A couple are mercilessly attacked, the male pulled out
of the windshield, with the killer entering the car to finish off the
girl. The female survivor is found crawling helplessly on the side of a
highway, and the film tells us that carnage awaits future locals who
have the misfortune of living in Texarkana. Using a narrative to
explain the era and certain details of the time period, Pierce adopts
an approach similar to The Legend of Boggy Creek, successfully
evocating 1946 Texarkana splendidly. He incorporates moments of humor
into the film so it won't be a total drag, and has some great actors to
communicate to us the frustration and intensity of searching for a
killer, crime scenes yielding no evidence, only minuscule assistance
from eye witness accounts that give little to go on. Reliable screen
veteran Ben Johnson is celebrated Texas Ranger hired to lead the
investigation with the great B-movie actor Andrew Prine (who has the
uncanny ability/knack to portray both heroes and villains) as Deputy
Sheriff assigned to assist him in the manhunt. Several dead ends and
false claims (by those saying they are the killer just for the
spotlight) only further hinder and add difficulty to this
investigation. The open ending is really an effective way to conclude
the picture and the setting triggers the experience of Boggy Creek all
over again, the Bigfoot replaced by a hooded psycho. Probably Charles B
Pierce's best film, The Town That Dreaded Sundown does predate the
slasher cycle of the 80s and very well could have been one of the
inspirations for potato-sack killer Jason Voorhies in Friday the 13th
I think the best scene could be the killer, becoming even more daring, shooting a man laid back comfortably in his easy chair, in his living room, while the wife is in her bedroom getting ready. The woman, played by Dawn Wells (really good in this one protracted sequence which allows Pierce to wring as much suspense from the situation as possible, and doing so well, I thought...), is also shot in the face, flees her homes, through the woods, and into a nearby neighborhood, with the killer following closely behind. Finding a pick axe, the killer has grisly plans for her, but will Dawn be able to get help?
The Town That Dreaded Sundown achieves at a style of horror filmmaking
films of the same genre don't even consider anymore; documentarian
style. I'm not talking low budget, shaky camera. I'm talking haunting
narration, no name casts, a well developed story, and the perfect
mixture of murders as well as crime-drama.
This all feels like an episode of CSI, only better, more developed, and more entertaining. The film is based off the real murders that occurred in the mid-forties in Texarkana, Arkansas. The killer wore a white sheet with two little holes for eyes. He was dubbed "The Phantom Killer" and went on to kill five people and attack three of them. To this day, he has never been caught. Being that the film dates back to 1976, it states that "today, he still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Arkansas." Obviously, in 2012, he's most likely long-gone dead. Or is he? The age of the killer in the film, like in the real life case, are very unclear. He is seen to be a very tall man, modestly built, and casually dressed, despite the mask. Never do we see anything we could identify in a police lineup. It's as vague and as ordinary as the man in the real life case.
The film also packs in some excellent, chilling narrations from Vern Stierman, a popular voice in film. His narration is a main contribution to why the film plays like a documentary. The way he narrates the events, announces the character's occupations, etc doesn't feel like a lazy way at character development as much as it feels like a well conducted docudrama.
In the suspense field, the film is pursued with knowledge, surreality, and success. We get the dark, eerie atmosphere of the setting in the mid hours of the night, combined with some fantastic chords in the music. The chords don't serve as much as a jump scare that makes you laugh at yourself for becoming bait, but it offers substance and a murder to go along with it. It's not simple trickery like we're so used to.
I normally don't like when films try to do one too many things. This one tries to do two things and is successful at both; be a horror film as well as a crime-drama. Since the film is going for more of a docudrama atmosphere, both feel well developed and fitting, rather than the film immediately changing what it is trying to be halfway through. It's not a movie that had ambition to be a horror film, but then got sidetracked in the second or third act.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a creepy horror film and an effective crime-drama, never feeling like it is insisting upon itself on either level. When you think about it, how many horror films succeed at pulling off two genres that don't totally go hand in hand? Only one comes to mind instantly.
Starring: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, and Dawn Wells. Charles B. Pierce.
This movie was incredibly bad. It was literally an insufferably amateurish attempt at lurid, psycho-sexploitation cinema. For 1976, it was so anachronistic that it had the feel of a 50s B-movie. It featured Ben Johnson in a wooden role and the character of a local bumbling deputy, who was supposed to be comic relief, but his buffoonery was inserted so awkwardly that it simply added more pitiful misery to the town's overall effort. A truly horrible film...yet somehow, like a train wreck, I couldn't seem to stop watching as I prepared for the next ridiculous encounter with an inept, helpless screaming prom queen. Afterthought: where were all the guns? Texarkana...and no one had a gun until 4/5ths of the film was done?
The Town That Dreaded Sundown has gotten the reputation of a cult
classic over the years as a creepy slasher movie that anchored its
roots in realism based on a real case. Add a creepy killer and the
authenticity of the small town feel made this a very popular film among
horror circles. As for me, I do like the film, but it is not the cult
classic people build it up as in the first place.
Good:I really like the direction since it does approach the movie in a quiet manner that emphasizes the feel of the small town. I liked the creepy atmosphere it generates due to the chaos from this killer and you can feel it. The stalk/kill scenes involving the killer are also well done with the creep factor especially with the actor who plays the killer who really pulls it off.
Bad: However, there are many things that drag this movie down from being truly great. The main problem is the forced comedy inserted here. For a movie that relies on mood and creep factor, it loves to insert wacky comedy straight out of a slapstick comedy. It doesn't work and it is very jarring to the point of lessening the effect of the killer's scenes. The acting is also not that good in points with some moments being very bad. There's also a bad day for night sequence that didn't even try to cover the fact that it was filmed in the daytime which is confusing because there are other scenes that are clearly filmed at night.
Overall, while I do appreciate the documentary feel of the movie and the stalking scenes work, the forced comedy and bad acting drag this movie down for me.
"The Town That Dreaded Sundown" is based on a true story that occurred
in 1946. Famed Texas Ranger J.D. Morales is called into Texarkana by
Deputy Norman Ramsey after one young couple are beaten and tortured and
another murdered on back county roads. Ramsey and Morales both suspect
the incidents are tied together. They combine the forces of the local
police and the Texas Rangers to catch the "Phantom Killer" before he
can strike again.
I've found a new favorite director in Charles B. Pierce. He is the perfect example of a filmmaker who doesn't need to lean on graphic imagery and gore to get a viewer's blood pumping. He is a believer in the "less is more" school of thought and it works perfectly for him. Pierce slowly builds tension and then lets it explode on you at the last minute. You know something dreadful is coming but are still creeped out about it when it finally arrives.
Although "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" isn't completely a true story, all you have to do is a little investigating to know there's still quite a bit of validity in what happens on screen. I think that's what makes the film even more frightening. The thought that real people went through these ordeals in some form or another.
I also found it interesting that besides some bad language, "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" was rather clean for this type of movie. There wasn't any nudity to be seen. I was wondering why this was until I read that director Pierce was a Baptist. A scene in "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" featuring a preacher praying at a school dance suddenly made perfect sense to me as well.
Half of this film is done like a creepy documentary with a "serious guy voice over" and killing reenactments which are utterly brutal, nasty, misogynistic, and very very suspenseful. That half of the movie I would give ten stars. However the other half which follows a bunch of dumb cops with silly, out of place comedic shenanigans, complete with silly out of place comedic music to boot is an awful eye- and ear-sore! But, oh those killing scenes!!! You've got a guy who looks just like Jason from Friday the 13th Part 2 killing, biting, torturing couples but unlike F13 the the camera lingers on the attacks. He doesn't just pop out, stab someone and disappear, we get to see the whole nasty affair! Then its back to "Barney Fife" and the bumbling cops charade. Blechhh! Cool ominous ending though. Any horror movie fan should definitely check it out!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Definitely glad I finally got around to seeing this, 'The Town That
Dreaded Sundown' holds up against the rest of the 70's and 80's horror
schlock. The movie is actually pretty violent for it's time, and was
probably pretty unnerving to audiences who viewed it in 1976. The film
moves along at a nice pace, has a nice sense of comedic relief that
isn't often seen in the horror genre, has it's moments of suspense, and
it all goes over nicely.
It has hints of Charles B. Pierce's other work, 'The Legend Of Boggy Creek', and reminds me of being the 70's version of 'Zodiac', which it was obviously an inspiration for, mixed with 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. The film is by no means perfect, and it can come off as kind of campy at times, but all in all, it is a very well-made horror film, and should be essential viewing for the avid horror fan.
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN ----- 7/10.
Two years before this film, the granddaddy of your typical slasher
film, Black Christmas, was released. But it wasn't until Carpenter's
"Halloween" that triggered the whole thing in the 1980's.
This film although not considered a slasher, does contain the elements of one. A masked murderer killing teens in sometimes bizarre ways, like attaching a knife to the end of a trombone and playing it while trying to stab somebody with it.
Based on real life events, the movie is set in 1946 in the city of Texarkana, Texas, and plays as a Docu-thriller the doings of "The Phantom Killer", a figure wearing a white mask over his head with holes cut out for his eyes(remind you of anyone?) who left the city of Texarkana in constant fear, or better yet, left the whole city dreading sundown.
The acting is pretty average, if not below average, sometime it may seem like Ben Johnson and Andrew Prine are carrying the burden of acting all by themselves.
The film does not feel like it's set in the 1940s, it seems like the director only decided to throw a couple of old Buicks here and there and call it 1946. Probably a budget thing.
It also unfortunately attempts at comedy in which it fails terribly.
These things however, do not interfere with the fun ride the film is.
Charles B. Pierce's "The Town that Dreaded Sundown", IS a classic and should be seen by everyone interested in the slasher genre.
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