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*** 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.
In 1976, director Charles B. Pierce ('The Legend of Boggy Creek' / 'The
Winds of Autumn'), well before 'Halloween' or 'Friday the 13th,
single-handedly invented the silent-killer-in-a-mask genre that has
saturated horror ever since. What's more, he did it with style. There
are chunks of this film that could easily have been directed by a
young, idealistic Steven Spielberg with an every-man police officer as
the lead and an almost-folksy narration elevating the town of Texarkana
to sympathetic heights.
In the mid-1940's, the city of Texarkana (which straddles the Texas/Arkansas border) was the location of one of America's first serial killer cases. 'The Town That Dreaded Sundown' is a very loose interpretation of the (so dubbed) 'Phantom Killer's' exploits and the Police, Texas Ranger, and FBI investigations that followed him over the course of a year. The famous bag mask (that was later recycled for Jason Voorhees' first appearance in 'Friday the 13th Part 2') was a liberty taken by the director - a liberty taken with great success. Also a construct of creative freedom are the murder scenes in this film (which are violently terrifying and extremely graphic for any era). A good example of this skewing of truth is a death and I won't go into detail involving a rather creative attempt at playing the trombone. There was a saxophone in evidence with one of the real murders but the gruesome fiction that Pierce comes up with has to have scarred many young minds over the last 37 years (mine included).
With hindsight and oodles of carbon-copy slasher films stored away in our collective psyches, the plot comes across as being pretty basic for the genre but it's actually a very human film. There are genuine characters and a bizarre sense of humor that fluctuates between hideously dark and downright goofy. From scene to scene, the tone changes are so jarring that I wouldn't hesitate to believe that there were multiple directors involved. It feels a bit like a nightmare baby spawned by John Huston, John Carpenter, and 'The Dukes of Hazard'. How can you possibly not enjoy such a monstrous birth!?
Charles B. Pierce directed(and costars) in this film, based on the real
life case of a mysterious hooded killer in Arkansas who terrorizes the
inhabitants of a small town, and commits bizarre, brutal murders. A
Texas ranger(dependable veteran actor Ben Johnson) is called in to
investigate, but meets with increasing frustration trying to apprehend
the elusive killer.
Atmospheric and credible film creates an effective feeling of "dread" in the rural setting, and scenes of the killer are eerie, though film is hampered by an over use of humor(comedic deputy, car crashes, etc.) that add nothing to the film. With some more tightening, this could of been first-rate instead of being merely adequate.
And not in a good way. I was 11 when I went to see this, and living in
Arkansas. Since it's well known as historical fact that they never
figured out who the killer was, the last scene was particularly
frightening, as the murders had "only" been committed 30 years earlier.
Combine that with a much-too-young first reading of "Helter Skelter", and I probably would have been a good source of income for a shrink as a kid.
Thankfully, I always had "The Towering Inferno" to fall back on for comic relief....
that's really all I had to say about it, but I am including this line so as to meet the insane "minimum ten lines" requirement...
The story is true. I was younger of course the first time I saw the movie but I have heard the story all of my life. I have family members that were killed by this person and they are depicted in the move. My grandmother went to her grave swearing she new who this person was and that a bounty/warning had been put out on him. She lived in the Atlanta/Bloomberg area, near Texarkana, during this time period. Her husband, my grandfather was working in the oil field and with law enforcement during this time and said he knew exactly who it was and if he ever found him no one else would. I'm sure there are still some older members of the community that know more than they tell as well. Somethings just go to the grave. I would like to purchase a copy of this movie to have and show friends when the conversation allows.
It's a long time since I saw this one but I still have the images in my
mind of the (for the time) graphic and chilling scenes. It's real edge
of the seat, he's behind you stuff! I can recall renting it on video
some years after its original release and the impact was only
marginally reduced by the transfer to the small screen.
I spent some time after my first viewing looking at men's feet in fear of spotting that footwear! ...and what about the mask? The killer was big on innovation particularly his use of a musical instrument! I'll say no more - get hold of a copy and see for yourself.
For me, well written, highly underrated and a classic.
It was referenced in "Scream" and it should be, this is probably one of
creepiest slasher films I've seen in years. Despite a ridiculous murder
scene involving a trumpet, this is really spooky and is somewhat fact
The title alone spews dread and foreboding possibilities, and the film
delivers with tension, atmosphere and does what many slasher films can
pull off: it makes night terrifying. Good flick to watch alone, it'll
the crap outta ya.
(*** out of ****)
I live 2 miles from where one of the actual murders took place and my parents forbade me to see this movie. This is good historical fiction to people who say all slasher films suck or are too unrealistic, well this one is real. The killer was never caught but we still tell ghost stories on Friday the 13th and Halloween involving the Phantom Killer.
"The Town That Dreaded Sundown" is one of those mid-70's movies that featured an aging star in the lead role surrounded by lesser names. Usually low budget and created especially for the drive-in circuit, usually featuring a cut and dry "killer on the loose" plot. But while this one contains all those elements, it's surprisingly good. Ben Johnson , in a bit of a comedown role, and Andrew Prine are both good as a pair of cops on the trail of a serial killer in 1940's Texarkana. Based on a true story, a man wearing a flour sack as a mask sought out couples and women on deserted lovers lanes and assaulted and killed them. A couple of draggy moments, but overall a good film. This has been released on video several times by several companies, most recently by Goodtimes. You can probably find a copy at Wal-Mart for around seven or eight bucks.
I just saw this movie last year and even though it was a bit boring, it scared the bejeezus out of me because it happened right here...I've heard the legends and stories since I was really little and that until the Phantom Killer came, not many people locked their doors...I had nightmares for a week...I do agree that they should re-make it and have it a little more interesting, though...
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