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The Town That Dreaded Sundown
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Index 103 reviews in total 

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Campiness at its finest.

Author: chrismsawin from United States
16 July 2010

This film is in some desperate need of restoration and an official DVD release, for that matter. The dated film reel is too dark during most of the scenes I wanted to see most, which is just about every scene with The Phantom Killer since most of his kills take place at night. I feel it hurts the film more than anything. If it was just grainy throughout the film, then it'd kind of add to the general feel of the movie. The film is not only grainy, but the colors also bleed into each other, lighting is off in some scenes, some scenes have terrible audio quality, and some scenes wind up being too dark to see what's going on. I understand that the film was a bit low budget and it's basically a B-grade horror film, but restoration would help in some aspect.

Getting back to the B-grade horror film point, the film definitely lives up to that moniker. The acting is pretty bad, for the most part. Ben Johnson and Andrew Prine are pretty much as good as you're going to get in the cast as Captain J.D. Morales and Deputy Norman Ramsey. Everyone else is pretty much what you'd expect in a film like this. The silly attempts at humor really hurt the film more than anything. I mean, do you really want to see Patrolman A.C. "Spark Plug" Benson dress up in drag and basically get felt up by a fellow officer? Or cop cars running around in circles when they're in the middle of a high speed chase? Seriously, all that was missing was the Benny Hill music. Spark Plug is pretty much the comedy relief of the film and, in my opinion, just doesn't really need to be there to begin with.

While the film does have its drawbacks, what is done right is done fairly well. Some of the killings are pretty creative. The trombone kill is probably the scene that'll be the one anyone brings up first when this film comes up in conversation. The opening kill scene is the one I was referencing about being too dark at times, but what you can make out is pretty intense. The darkness puts the viewer a bit more on edge as you don't really know where the killer is going to pop up next or what he's going to do to his victims. Speaking of the victims, most of them do a really good job of acting terrified. It seems so genuine at times. I also liked The Phantom Killer. When someone with a mask over his face is generally able to express emotion somehow through body movements or body language, I find that pretty impressive. The breathing heavily through the sack over his face was a bit over the top on one hand, but really added to the character on the other.

I guess my biggest gripe with the film is that I wanted more of The Phantom Killer and less of the cops rounding up the troops and acting silly. It just left me wanting more. With a film that's based on true events around a killer that was never caught and the murders never fully solved, the open ended finale doesn't help a whole lot either.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown could be considered a hidden gem to many people. Despite the fact it was silly, over the top at times, and was basically a part of the films that sparked the slasher horror film genre(which could be good or bad depending on what your opinion on slashers is), I still enjoyed it and recommend hunting it down. Yes, it's a B-grade horror film, but the horror that's in this film is worth seeing and is the highlight of the film.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A rather good and creepy slasher from the 1970's.

Author: Aaron1375
7 July 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie was made in the 70's and is based off events of a 1940's night in a small town. This town was the location of a small, but I am sure no less scary murder spree. Five victims killed, others injured, and the only thing known about the killer to this day is that he wore a hood. Makes sense this occurred in the 40's as I can see someone doing this and virtually disappearing and getting away with something like that back then, especially in a small town. The murders are not very graphic or anything, but it still works quite well, in fact better than most slashers of the 1980's which is usually considered the decade of the slasher movie. The story is interesting and the fact that these crimes actually happened add to the eeriness of the film...that and the fact the guy never got caught. The movie is a bit limited thanks to the fact it is based off true events, but the filmmakers do a good job in presenting the story in a way that keeps you guessing and on the edge of your seat. Most of my complaints stem from the ending which can not be helped as you never see the killer...this complaint is only minor as the fact the killer is never revealed also adds to the creepiness to the film. It also makes one glad this event took place so long ago so the killer in all likelihood is dead now. I am sure this movie is probably rather hard to find now, if found though it makes a nice addition to a horror library. I only saw it once myself as a child and I still remember it rather vividly, one of those old mom and pop rental store gems you luckily stumble upon.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Classic little small town psycho horror

Author: t-birkhead from United Kingdom
27 October 2008

I've seen this a couple of times now and really enjoy it. The first time I was right on the edge of sleep throughout, in fact I think I even drifted in and out a little, but despite not being fully clued in on the action I found the film to be pretty much totally gripping. I watched it again recently, with the benefit of being more awake and I gotta say, this is pretty awesome stuff. From the get go it has a nicely authentic rural period feel and a neat documentary style edge given by the folksy, compelling narration of Vern Stierman. It doesn't take long before getting to the meat of the film, which is a series of brutal murders committed by a terrifying hooded maniac. Though lacking much in the way of actual blood or gore, every scene with this imposing fiend (played to the menacing hilt by Bud Davis) is a nail biting delight and he kills with such a mean spirited passion that it wholly makes up for the lack of detailed grisliness. Trying to catch this evildoer is the police force of Texarkana, helped out by elite lawman J.D. Morales, played in gruffly sympathetic fashion by veteran Ben Jonson. The great Andrew Prine, plays the other lead in inspired fashion, giving the same committed and keen ability that he brought to classic hippy witchcraft classic Simon, King Of The Witches. There's comic relief too, courtesy of director Charles B. Pierce playing the enthusiastic but witless Sparkplug Benson. This is really something of a classic, the killer is one of the greats of the genre and his choice of garb bears interesting resemblance to Jason Vorhees in his pre hockey mask period. He also comes up with one choice of weapon so twistedly inspired that its hard to believe it hasn't been ripped off in any later films. Its interesting to see a film where local police and outsiders collaborate without friction, as opposed to the usual cliché and also to see a generally sympathetic portrayal of law enforcement. Pretty much the only criticism I have of this is that the comedy is at times too broad and the structure of the film is very simple, where I would have enjoyed a little more character insight or delving into small town life. This aside, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is, in my opinion, a real gem of a film and I highly recommend it.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

What might have been!

Author: ronevickers from United Kingdom
20 April 2008

In many ways this is an impressive, compelling and absorbing film that has a creepy and unsettling atmosphere all of its own. The fact that it is based upon a true story serves to add further disquiet to the series of events that unfold on screen. The scenes involving the unknown serial killer are extremely well done, and definitely leave the viewer with an uneasy feeling. In fact, the whole film has a disturbing quality with an undercurrent of menace, which is very effective indeed, and does make the film stand out from many similar efforts. However, the thing that lets the film down badly is the totally unnecessary shafts of buffoonery involving an incompetent police officer. They simply do not sit right with the rest of the film, and are completely out of place. That criticism aside, the film is well worth seeking out, and special mention should be given to Ben Johnson & Andrew Prine for their portrayal of the central characters. A recommended treat for fans of creepy movies!

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Who was that masked man?

Author: udar55 from Williamsburg, VA
25 October 2007

Based on the true story of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, this follows the case closely as a Sheriff's Deputy (Andrew Prine) and Texas Ranger (Ben Johnson) try to catch the killer dubbed The Phantom. The film does take a few liberties in order to be more cinematic (Prine narrowly missing the killer; the heroic duo confronting the killer on a railway line) but holds true to the fact that the killer was never caught. What really sets this apart is the amount of period detail that - coupled with the voice of a narrator - almost makes it seem like a documentary. The only down side is some forced comedy involving the bad driving habits of a Barny Fife-like deputy (oddly enough played by the film's director Charles B. Pierce). The film is begging for a widescreen release.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A Decent Effort

Author: sddavis63 ( from Durham Region, Ontario, Canada
17 June 2010

This movie claims to be based on actual events, and the reading I've done on the case seems to suggest that - except for the ending and some extraneous comedy material focusing around a bumbling, Barney Fife-like local cop (which seemed totally out of place) - it's relatively true to the events that actually occurred in Texarkana in the spring and summer of 1946.One night, a young couple is parked on "Lovers Lane" when they're suddenly attacked by a violent, masked man. Both survive the attack, but this is the beginning of a season of terror in Texarkana which eventually leaves five people dead and the murderer unidentified. All five murders (and the original two attacks) are portrayed (not graphically, but clearly) and the setting of a wooded, swampy area late at night makes this a truly frightening movie at times.

The movie is pushed along by the use of narration, which filled in some details. The characters (except for the comedy cop named Benson) came across as realistically portrayed, although their names were changed. Some of the more graphic details from the real cases (especially the parts dealing with sexual assault) were left out. The record would seem to suggest that "Morales" - the Texas Ranger assigned to head up the investigation and whose real name was Gonzaullas - was not as warmly received by the local officials as the movie depicts. The biggest alteration from the facts seems to be the ending of the movie. Here, police find and chase a masked suspect into the swamp but never catch him, and the movie speculates that he may have died in the swamp. In truth, there was an arrest made in the case, but there was never a conviction, although many people believe that the man arrested was in truth the killer.

Overall, this is a decent movie - better than I was anticipating to be honest. It would seem to have had some impact on the "Friday the 13th" series - the mask the killer wore being very similar to the mask that villain Jason Voorhees wears in the first installment of that series. The performances here are pretty good, although the cast isn't exceptionally well known - the most familiar name and face is probably that of Dawn Wells (who played Mary Anne on "Gilligan's Island.") Apparently this isn't an easy movie to find - but it's worth taking advantage of the opportunity to see it if it should pop up somewhere.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

A bit of a disappointment

Author: Lisa Michelle Copeland ( from Washington, United States
13 June 2014

A town on the border of Texas and Arkansas is terrorized by a vicious masked killer following WWII. A movie based on a true case in the town of Texarkana.

I had high hopes for this movie, having seen another Charles B. Pierce film, The Legend of Boggy Creek and having enjoyed that one. I was very disappointed. The acting was uninspired, the story did not draw me in, and felt no attachment to any of the characters.

I really wanted to like this movie. I did. I have a thing for horror movies from the time period of the 40s through the early 80s, and one about a very obscure serial killer (I had never heard of this still unsolved case until I watched the movie, which in turn caused me to google the real case).

Anyways, I just found it very boring. The actors were uninspired, and oh my god I've never heard more annoying screaming in any horror movie I've ever watched ever.

I ended up leaving it on as background noise while I did something else.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

The movie we dreaded would be released

Author: jrs-8 from Chicago
20 July 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Town That Dreaded Sundown" is based on a true story about the brutal murders of some people in a small Arkansas town in 1946. Unfortunately, and much to the chagrin of the fine people of this community, it is also about the police force investigating the murders. The cops are portrayed as mostly idiots who make Barney Fife look like a top cop.

A killer wearing a cloth sack over his head stalks mostly teenagers in a lovers lane area and murders them. This in itself could have been the basis of an interesting thriller. But the filmmakers chose to play with the facts of the case and tried adding unneeded comic relief. Even the facts of the murders themselves have been changed in some cases. That would explain one absolutely ridiculous scene in which a woman is tied to a tree and the killer happens to find a trombone and ties a knife to the end of it and mimics playing it as he thrusts the knife into her.

Ben Johnson adds a touch of respectability to the proceedings as a Texas ranger called in to solve the killings. His adequate performance stands out in a movie filled with lousy performances.

As for the killer himself, he is menacing for a few moments wearing the cloth hood chasing the helpless teenagers. Those few moments are the most effective in the movie. But every time he breaths the hood moves in and out making him look ridiculous. Apparently the real killer had a hole for his mouth. Here the filmmakers choose only to give him holes in the eyes. It ruins the desired effect.

** SPOILER WARNING ** For those that care enough to watch this junk and don't want anything spoiled I suggest skipping this section. The killer was never caught. In real life investigators believe they knew who the killer was but couldn't charge him because his wife seemed to be the only one with damaging evidence against him. But in the film he simply gets away (in a ridiculous chase scene). His motives were never known. Perhaps the filmmakers should have tried to invent something to give the audience a decent explanation.

Or better yet, perhaps the filmmakers should have left the whole thing alone and moved on to another bad movie.

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18 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

True Crime Drama Needed Bigger Budget, Better Screenplay !

Author: Kelt Smith from Baltimore, MD
7 September 2001

I have always maintained that things that could or have actually happened are far scarier (than say space aliens, the undead, Jason etc ). THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN , therefore had a terrific basis for a movie. A series of murders, largely perpetrated on isolated couples on lovers lanes occurred in the town of Texarkana right after WWII. The killer was never caught. Great premise for a thriller ! Unfortunately, the budget, screenplay, and most of the acting is far from worthy. ANDREW PRINE, DAWN WELLS do fairly well with the little they have to work with. BEN JOHNSON, on the other hand, come off like he is royalty visiting The House of Commons. The whole production has the feel of one of the old IN SEARCH OF episodes with LEONARD NIMOY. Aside from the actors mentioned previously, the rest of the cast appears to have been locals with no acting ability, let alone projection.

The movie is scary at times, dull at others. Lackluster would be a good word to describe it. What could have been a very scary motion picture disappoints !

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

a genuinely creepy, yet sometimes off topic film

Author: fargofan999 from United States
22 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spooky and atmospheric to its core, the town that dreaded sundown is an interesting little journey into a real life murder story. In the film, a masked killer stalks the populace of an idyllic Texarkana town, with a man hunt close behind. With out a doubt, the murderer is the most interesting and creepy character in the film. His simple yet terrifying hood is very spooky and imposing. During his scenes, the tension is often very thick, and the action is executed well. Less, however can be said for his pursuers, the police. With bumbling antics reminiscent of Barney Fife, they often ruin the atmosphere with their forced comic relief. This of course, takes away a great deal from the film. in fact, if they had made the police serious and on topic, then the town that dreaded sundown could have been a classic in te crime genre. Still, I can definitely recommend the film for the killer's scenes alone. They are creepy, atmospheric, and unsettling. I can give this film a solid 6.5/10, and say that this film certainly deserves a cult following.

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