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The Town That Dreaded Sundown
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Effective horror jarred by some unnecessary comic interludes

Author: tomgillespie2002 from United Kingdom
27 May 2016

Shortly after World War II ended, the community of Texarkana, Arkansas were finally piecing their lives back together and preparing for a time of harmony and peace. That is, until a masked psychopath, dubbed the 'Phantom Killer' by the press, starts a killing spree that will shake the city to its very core. Writer and director Charles B. Pierce (who also has a supporting role as a bumbling deputy) flaunts his artistic license with the events that actually occurred in 1946, informing us that "only the names have been changed," when in fact the story is altered considerably to form a traditional thriller narrative, yet the result is an effective horror.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown could be labelled as one of the first 'slasher' movies, having emerged two years before John Carpenter's Halloween, the film that really kicked-off the genre. Yet while there is slashing-a-plenty, the film also works just as well as a police procedural and a docudrama, with the majority of the attention focusing on the heavy toll the murders take on the city's terrified inhabitants, and the desperate actions of the police trying to catch him. Reliable deputy sheriff Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine) is given the task of overlooking the investigation, and when the few leads they have lead to dead-ends, legendary Texas Ranger J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson) - based on real-life Ranger Manuel 'Lone Wolf' Gonzaullas - is drafted in to take charge.

The highlights of The Town That Dreaded Sundown come in the form of some very effective murder set-pieces. There are no drawn- out stalking scenes of hapless victims running screaming through the woods or lashings of over-the-top gore. Instead, the killings are brutal and straight-to-the-point, with the sound of killers near- orgasmic breathing, which are muffled through the killer's gunny sack disguise, proving incredibly discomforting. What I didn't expect was the sudden tonal shifts to slapstick comedy. The inept deputy 'Sparkplug', played by Pierce, seems to have wandered in from a Marx Brothers set, with his frequently idiotic mishaps, such as accidentally driving Ramsey and Morales into a lake for them to emerge wet and grumpy, jarring the film's flow and carefully built atmosphere. These unwelcome comedy interludes are a constant and unnecessary distraction, and means that the film falls way short of the 70's horror classic it could have been.

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Bland proto-slasher with too many non-slasher elements

Author: GL84 from Los Angeles, Ca
27 March 2016

Following a string of murders, a small-town detective and his staff join forces to find the masked, anonymous killer stalking their small Texas town as he continually stays ahead of their efforts to contain and stop his rampage.

This one wasn't all that enjoyable of an effort and had quite a few problems. Among the many problems here is the fact that there's quite a large amount of of absolutely dull and lame pacing that makes this one such a drag to get through. With the main part of the film based around the factual details of the spree and police procedural investigations into the incidents, there's way too much feeling like this one isn't concerned with appearing all that much as a true slasher film. Though it pays attention to the details of the real-life crime spree at the forefront of the film's story, these come at the expense of telling a true slasher story that it really seems to want to be as this one does drop the documentary vibe for the rather fun slasher scenes but once those are finished this one goes back to the rather pedestrian pace featured for the other scenes throughout here is where this one really gets caught up in too many other areas here that put this too much at a documentary-like feeling. As well, that's another factor here where the film's documentary feel is attributed to factors accomplished here that are just plain useless here, eating up time quite often throughout here when it's focusing on the rather lame investigations done by the officers, whether it be the comedy of the officers attempting to catch the killer by dressing in drag or focusing on the citizens out there without any sort of positive proof on them beyond being simply in the vicinity. It's all part of the final half here being so overlong filled with these deviations in the tone causing this one to feel so jarring while it's going away from the slasher-film aesthetics it should've had. On top of these issues, the film also manages to feature a few other problematic areas in that there's some patently ridiculous features that's highly unlikely to be true, as the film's signature highlight kill is not only pure speculation to have actually happened but is so clunky and bizarre it's just awkward, the killer's features are completely guessed at and it's filled with way too many lame gunshot kills that are really holding this one back. Even with these flaws there's a few that are well-done here. What really works nicely here is when the film drops into prominent slasher territory which manages to feature some rather enjoyable and fun slasher scenes. The opening attack on the couple in the car makes for quite a thrilling opening when the killer appears and gains entry into the car in quite aggressive fashion, a later stalking scene out in the woods where he manages two highly-enjoyable kills with the area coming into play, and the finale chase through the sand-pit through the train tracks and the surrounding swamps which is quite a nice finish here. The other of the film's strengths is that the killer is genuinely frightening. Sporting the potato-sack look with icy blue eyes staring out from small peep-holes, sucking the bag in and out as he rapidly breathes and his tense and hulking stance make like for a visually imposing killer whose aggression and mental instability is palpable. Otherwise, this one isn't all that enjoyable.

Rated R: Violence and Language.

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Author: poe-48833 from United States
2 November 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

What would you get if you took John Carpenter's classic HALLOWEEN and removed any and all suggestion(s) of the supernatural? That's right: THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. The fact that this one's based on facts (to a degree) is all the more terrifying. While I'm no fan of slasher films (much less GORY slasher films), movies like this one- based on Real Life incidents- hold a morbid fascination. The almost palpable TENSION in THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN stems directly from the fact that it's "based on a true story." Filmmaker Pierce quite naturally takes some artistic liberties with the story, but the overall effect is still downright chilling. In this one, we find the template for most of the slasher films that would follow in the wake of HALLOWEEN (including, to a degree, HALLOWEEN itself). The idea that they never really nailed this guy is all the more frightening- even in retrospect.

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CULT CLASSIC! must see! Horror thriller fans

Author: nicko252008 from NEW YORK
20 October 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is one of the better horror thrillers to come out of the 70's. The killer wears a terrifying hooded mask and is Merciless. Loved every minute of it, the Texas ranger, spark plug, the killer EVERYTHING. I really like how the killer was never found, or possibly died in the swamp. It keeps that (it could be anybody) feel at the end. Maybe the killer is walking around right next to you... makes you think a bit. And it's a TRUE story, these events actually did occur. And the town shows the movie in the park where the killings took place. That is pretty cool. The town actually embraces the murders, and realizes this movie is a cult classic. The blu ray release looks stunning, very good transfer. I thought the film was shot in the 90's after watching it, it looked that crisp.

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Sparkplug Rules!

Author: Kaat1220 from United States
15 September 2015

Andrew Prine turned in a solid performance, but Bud Johnson appeared as if he were reading from a cue card. If you can tell someone is trying to act, they are not doing a great job.

Although Dawn Wells was only in the movie for a brief time, she gave a solid and memorable performance as Helen Reed.

I must say that while I did enjoy this movie for the horror, there is one actor who stole every single scene, and that is Charles B. Pierce as Spark Plug.

A director who can actually act - a rare breed. He was absolutely adorable and hilarious.

Spark Plug rules!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Gritty and clinical approach to one of the country's most baffling unsolved crimes

Author: Robert_Lovelace from New York, NY, United States
18 August 2015

"The Town That Dreaded Sundown" focuses on the small community of Texarkana, Texas, which was plagued by a series of gruesome murders in the 1940s that are to this day unsolved.

Charles B. Pierce's cult classic is an interesting and everlasting piece of cinematic history for two reasons: firstly, it is based on a real life series of crimes; and secondly, the film itself presents the events in a clinical, detached, straightforward manner in the semblance of a true-crime documentary, yet without actually being a true-crime documentary. This unusual narrative approach really sets "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" apart from its peers, and its release in 1976 marks it as one of the prototypes for the slasher film as it's come to be known.

The criminal investigation aspect is heavy-handed in the film, which is another unique nuance, as the film manages to balance the investigative side of the story with the outright horror of the crimes committed. On an aesthetic level, the film feels as though it were made in the late 1950s-early 1960s, partly because it's a period piece, but also partly just because of its visual elements, which recall the grit of that era's B-movies. It is stark and colorful, and at times reminded me of a more serious Herschell Gordon Lewis picture, especially with the hackneyed comedy elements that bubble to the surface at times.

Overall, it is not hard to see why "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" entered the lexicon of horror, because it is truly a unique piece of film history, bolstered by the meta-fact that it was a film based on history. The clinical documentarian approach is chilling in all the right ways, and the film is engaging in spite of some dragging of its feet. Not a flawless film, but certainly one to be remembered. 7/10.

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Edgy, Unsettling Cult Film Finally Available in a Pristine Print

Author: LeonLouisRicci from United States
25 March 2015

Ultra-Low-Budget-Drive-In-Movie that has Gained a Huge Cult Following. It has Now Been Recognized as Being Influential to the Slasher Genre and a Solid Addition and Early Entry to Films About Serial Killers.

Obscure Director Pierce Known Also for The Legend of Boggy Creek (another Cult Fave) from 1972, Shows Signs of Talent and Embryonic Abilities. Here a Brutal Killer is Presented Without Much Restraint and Seems to be a Forerunner of "Slasher Movie" Type Detachment.

The Director Doesn't Shy Away from Gore and Splatter and there are a Few Scenes that are Quite Unsettling. The Movie has Taken Many Slings and Arrows about its Decision to Incorporate Comedy Relief and in Retrospect it was a Mistake and Holds the Film Back from Greatness.

Ben Johnson does His "Melvin Purvis" (Dillinger 1972) Bit, even Stopping to Buy Some Cigars, and is OK and Adds a Bit of Class. Andrew Pine as a Deputy is Solemn and Welcome. But Again, Director Pierce's On Screen Appearance as Spark Plug is Universally Acknowledged as a Big Error in a Film that Doesn't Have Many. The Docu-Style Adds Creepiness and Works Fine.

The Film has Gained in Reputation Fast Because it is Finally Available in Pristine Prints on Blu-ray and Seeing it as Originally Presented Only Enhances the Experience and Brings an Appreciation for a Forgotten Film that has Lingered in the Memory of Drive-In and Grind-House Patrons and those that Only Know it by Word of Mouth or Awful Video Releases & Bootlegs.

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I was surprised at how much enjoyed this film!

Author: bugsmoran29 from United States
23 March 2015

I'm not really a true crime nut or a fan of blood and gore horror movies. I only tracked this movie down because I have had a 50 year crush on the lovely Dawn Welles. I didn't even expect to last out the entire film. However, I was drawn in from the opening scene to the final scene. I found the appearances of the Phantom Killer to be riveting, as well as truly scary. I jumped out of my seat when the Phantom appeared at the window behind the man sitting and reading the newspaper. The infamous trombone scene really freaked me out. Considering the budget, this movie is exceptional. I knew that the Texarkana murders of 1946 were never officially solved, so the ending was no surprise to me.

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If we catch him it world be a miracle

Author: kapelusznik18 from United States
17 March 2015

****SPOILERS**** True story of the notorious "Phantom Killer" who stalked the lovers lanes as well as homes of Texarkana Arkensas who ended up murdering five and wounding six, mostly teenagers, people in the late winter and early spring of 1946. Desperate to catch the elusive killer the town's sheriff office hired top Texas Ranger investigator Captain J.D "Lone Wolf" Morales, Ben Johnson, to track the "Phantom Killer" down. The killer dressed in baggy pants and wearing a burlap sack over his head seemed to have trouble breathing, he may have been suffering from asthma, but had no trouble out running the police or sheriff deputies! As well as him surviving getting shot and crawling into the nearby snake and alligator infested swamps or bayous where he was never seen or heard from again!

In fact the truth of the matter is that the "Phantom Killer" was never shot or even seen, with his burlap shack off, by anyone and just disappeared, after his last shooting spree on May 3 1946, off the face of the earth. The movie has its share of suspense as well as terror as the hooded killer stalks the night and keeps the people in the town of Texarkana behind locked doors too terrified to wounder out, even to buy groceries, when the sun goes down. Capt. Morales together with Deputy Norman Ramsey, Andrew Prine, finally track the killer down walking , with his burlap sack on, down the road in broad daylight without a care in the world until he spots them and makes a run for it. Having no difficulty outrunning the pair, even after being shot, the "Phantom Killer" slips into the nearby swamps and, without any scuba equipment, goes underwater and makes his getaway!

****SPOILERS**** The very unconvincing ending spoiled everything that was positive about the movie in turning the "Phantom Killer" into another, some four years before he made his film debut, Jason of "Friday the 13th" fame. In not being able to come up with a good ending it had to be fictionalized by the script writers to make it work. The film in fact ends some 30 years later in 1976 where we see the premier of the film "The Town that Dreaded Sundown" in the town of Texarkana and guess who's waiting in line to see it? The "Phantom Killer" himself, as we only see his well polished shoes or loafers, as he's limping on his way to buy his ticket at the box-office to see, I would assume, just how accurate the movie is about his exploits back in 1946!

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Loosely Based on a True Story

Author: Uriah43 from Amarillo, Texas
24 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film is loosely based on a true story which took place in the city of Texarkana which just happens to to be located directly on the Texas and Arkansas state lines. Anyway, in 1946 a serial killer began attacking innocent people in the rural areas outside of Texarkana. Now, according to the movie the killings took place mostly on the Arkansas side during a period of almost 6 months. In reality they occurred on the Texas side and lasted for approximately10 weeks (from 22 February to 3 May). Likewise, other discrepancies can also be found if a person wanted to research them but suffice to say this clearly wouldn't be the first time a true story is embellished for artistic purposes. On that note, as far as the film is concerned the overall plot seemed to be a bit disjointed as it combined elements of a documentary, comedy, crime-drama and horror movie. Unfortunately, the horror isn't very keen and the comedic portions weren't that funny. So in essence the movie succeeds only as a crime-drama which is narrated in a style similar to a documentary. I liked the performances of Ben Johnson (as "Captain J.D. Morales" of the Texas Rangers) and Andrew Prine (as "Deputy Norman Ramsey"). Along with that I liked the inclusion of Dawn Wells ("Helen Reed") who some people might recognize as "Mary Ann" of Gilligan's Island fame. In any case, this was an interesting movie for the most part and in spite of the uneven feel of it all I rate it as about average.

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