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The Town That Dreaded Sundown
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Index 86 reviews in total 

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Creepy little horror

8/10
Author: Zbigniew_Krycsiwiki from United States
14 November 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A hooded killer strikes on a quiet night in Texarkana, Arkansas in March 1946, attacking a young couple in their car, and leaving no clues and no motives. Well done move involves the killer quickly ripping the hood open and ripping out the wires, rendering the car useless, and taunting the two lovers by holding the wires up for them to see that he has disabled the car, and they cannot get away from him. Killer the pulls the guy out the window, seconds later, the girl. Such a brutal opening scene is difficult for the film to top, and indeed, the pacing falters a bit until the next attack.

Finding the two bodies in the field during the rainstorm was effectively chilling, with the killer still in sight, but just out of range. Film then introduces Captain Morales into the mix, to try to find the killer.

The kill scenes are some of the creepiest and most chilling on memory, they deliver scares and shocks, especially Dawn Wells' sequence, when the killer actually goes into his victim's house, having previously only attacked while his victim's were parked in cars on secluded roads. The hooded killer quietly stalking his victims in the dark was effectively creepy, and the acting is above average for this type of low budget horror. Unfortunately, the film is marred by some lulls in the action, during which time we have to tolerate really lame good ol' boy humour. The film's weakest link, indeed, is the painfully unfunny character called Sparkplug, played by producer/ director Charles Pierce, who should have known better.

Bad music score, also. I think the film would have benefited by not using a music score, only ambient sounds. During the scenes with no music score, I think the film has more atmosphere and tension, rather than with the music score played through, which almost sounds prerecorded.

Interesting to note also, that the film's climax takes place in broad daylight, which is unusual for a horror movie, especially one from this era.

What the screenstory doesn't tell you is they think *maybe* they caught the killer. Youell Swinney was arrested for numerous car thefts, all of them coinciding with the killings. He made some kind of an obscure reference to the killings and even provided the police with an address book stolen from one of the victims, but he couldn't be connected directly to the killings. He was tried and convicted of several car thefts, all of which became a federal offense because he drove the cars across state lines, and was sent to a federal prison for life. As soon as he goes to prison the killings stopped. He was eventually acquitted due to inadequate representation at his trial and released from prison in 1972 after nearly 26 years in prison, he is believed to have moved to Dallas Texas and spent the rest of his life there and died in an old age home there in 1993. No one else was ever arrested for the killings.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

One Good Scene

3/10
Author: blondie2000 from USA
26 April 2003

The only cool scene where was the killer killed a woman using her trombone as a 'weapon'. He attached a knife to it, 'playing' it so it stabbed her 3 times. That was pretty cool. :) But, that didn't really happen. I looked up the real story and it said nothing about him killing a young girl with a trombone. The rest of the movie was all talk, but it does kind of frighten you, late at night, wondering if that hooded killer will show up on your porch, like in one scene with a woman and her husband, waiting to kill you........

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Unconvincing drive-in fare

3/10
Author: biker45 from Florida
15 June 2002

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN was released at the time when the majority of drive-in theaters in the United States were suffering their death throes. This film quite possibly hastened their demise. It was obviously filmed quickly and on a low budget. The credibility of the story, set in 1946 and purportedly based on real events, was hurt by lack of attention to period detail. The most blatant of these scenes occurred during the high school prom sequence. Costumes and hair styles shown were straight out of the mid-1970s, and similar errors were sprinkled throughout the balance of the film. The film makers also introduced several unsubtle and unfitting attempts at humor periodically, and these tended to break the flow of the story line rather than relieve tension as intended. The most horrifying event in the entire film took place during one of these "humorous" scenes, when a vintage police car was driven into a swamp by an incompetent deputy and subsequently sank. The purposeless destruction of an antique car was much more disgusting than any of the badly acted and unconvincing murder scenes portrayed. Overall, a disappointing film that could have been vastly improved by the application of a little craftsmanship.

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9 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Mind sex at it's best.

10/10
Author: jeepmoi from Michigan City, Ind.
30 December 1999

I saw this film at the theater! It's truly not a cinematic masterpiece. But consider the fact's:

Although people do get whacked, this is not your average slasher film my friend. This is real life. This is someone's home movie. This is someone's actual nightmare. This really happened.

If you can get past all of your Jasons' and your Michael Myers', this film will send a chill through you that will cool you on the hottest of summer evenings. You might even want to pack a rock to crawl under.

You'll definitely need to bring your mind though and try to envision what really happened because again, people were killed, people are still afraid and the case is still open because they never made an arrest. Think about it.

Sweet dreams.

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16 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

Terrific film shamefully ignored over the years!

9/10
Author: Coventry from the Draconian Swamp of Unholy Souls
17 December 2004

"The town…" is an early triumph in the serial-killer section of the horror genre, handling about a small American town terrorized by a masked murderer shortly after the end of World War II. Actually based on true events, the maniac picks out his victims on Lovers Lanes and shoots them without mercy. This important low-budget production, from the hands of the legendary producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, completely depends on unsettling atmosphere and the icky sound editing. The isolated location of a town of the edge of Texas and Arkansas has something raw, primitive and terrifying. This aspect is stressed extra by the grim voice-over that repeatedly informs us about the facts. Although you never get to know much about the killer's identity or personality, it's one of the most fascinating madmen in film history. His heavy breathing and primitive mask (similar to the one Jason Vorhees wore in F13 part 2) make him look truly chilling and mysterious. What's also great about this movie is that it features so many tricks and familiar sub-plots, only they were used here of the first time! Profiling of the killer, copycat behavior etc… All this makes "The Town that Dreaded Sundown" a vastly underrated and film and more horror fans should reckon its brilliance. Too bad it's so hard to obtain a decent copy of it. I spent years looking for this film before finally seeing it in poor picture quality. The only few flaws to detect is the lousy and typical redneck humor that director Charles B. Pierce inserts in order to lighten the demanding tone of the film. The same mistake also almost ruined Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left".

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Not so much a horror as a police procedural

Author: JoeytheBrit from www.moviemoviesite.com
11 September 2007

Chiefly notable as a precursor of the rash of slasher flicks that hit the screens from the late 70s, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is as about as good as its title: if you think it's a great title, you're probably going to enjoy this flick, but if you think it sounds like the title of some cheap 50s pulp novel you're not going to be that impressed – although you are, at least, going to have an idea of what to expect.

Filmed in a docudrama style with a narrator providing huge chunks of information between killings, the film purports to give a true account of the 'Phantom Killer' that stalked the town of Texakarna directly after the war. Apparently, the film plays fairly fast and loose with the truth, inserting a bizarre 'murder by trombone' scene that is not only entirely fictional but also poorly shot. And while the film may efficiently transmit all the information it aims to, it fails to entertain as it does so. The characters are so sketchily drawn that they are little more than mobile cardboard cut-outs, and we are therefore left feeling indifferent to their plight. This failing isn't helped by the fact that many of the performances are inadequate to say the least, with only veteran 'name' Ben Johnson passing muster. Added to this is the misguided decision to add a number of 'comic relief' sequences – involving a comedy cop called 'Spark Plug' – which are truly annoying and completely out of step with the tone of the rest of the film.

Where the film scores strongest is in the details it provides about the impact the killings have on the town and its people as they go about boarding up their windows and observing self-imposed curfews. These are only brief moments, though, montage shots during the narration, and fail to save the film.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Interesting insight into the origins of the slasher movie...

Author: RareSlashersReviewed from London
13 March 2004

Halloween is without a doubt my favourite ever horror movie. It was my first taste of terror and I became obviously aware that I had found something that I loved in those supreme slasher shenanigans. Eager to relive the experience, I ran round to the local video store, hoping that I would uncover something else that could provide me with similar top-notch entertainment. After witnessing a myriad of clones, Friday the 13th, Terror Train etc. I came to the forgone conclusion that it alone -was the true originator of the genre. The older I got and the more knowledge that I gained, I found out that the category had been around long before Michael Myers escaped an asylum and stole a blank Captain Kirk mask to stalk some hapless babysitters. Efforts like Black Christmas, Class Reunion Massacre, Savage Weekend and Drive in Massacre had already laid down the groundwork, all John Carpenter had to do was use his talent to make sure that the ‘rules' were engraved in stone. That's not any kind of criticism on my favourite underground helmer, it's just that I was convinced that he had heralded the idea without any outside inspiration. One other early offering that certainly had strong involvement in spawning horror's most mainstream style, was The Town that Dreaded Sundown. It was mentioned in Scream along with all the other proven founders and as another reference to its necessity, Jason Voorhees pinched the killer's disguise for his murderous debut, before he found a Hockey mask and boiler suit to be a more comfortable form of attire.

It's set in 1946, just a few months after the War, when the world was just beginning to regain some peace and serenity. After a narrated introduction, we switch to a scenario that would be reproduced time and time again throughout the years that followed. A young couple are parked up on a ‘Lover's Lane', isolated in some reclusive woodland. Sammy, tries the usual methods for getting his wicked way with his moody girlfriend, but she gives him the cold-shoulder. Isn't that always the way in slasher movies? One has to wonder why a lady would even drive out into the woods with her beau in the first place, if she were only going to reject him on arrival? Nevertheless, it's become almost as commonplace in these films as a knife-wielding killer. Almost immediately, menacingly shoddy boots appear between the trees and we hear familiar heavy panting that usually always means someone's in trouble. A guy with a sack over his head pops open the bonnet of the lovebird's car and rips out the spark plug lead, so the teens have no escape. Next he smashes the window and pulls the unfortunate boy through the frame, leaving blood dripping from the shattered glass. After the assailant has dealt with him, he returns to the vehicle to take care of the screaming female. Thankfully, he doesn't actually kill those two, but his next victims are not so lucky. And so begins a reign of terror as the hooded assassin continues to bring havoc to the town that begins to dread the time of sundown…

To class this as just a routine slasher film would be somewhat unfair. For the best part, this is wholly authentic, boasting a few elements that have remained uncommon to regular genre pieces. It's the only stalk and slash flick that I can think of that's loosely based on a true story and because it's set in the forties, it has a periodic look that's never been reinstated, only in the case of the odd opening prologue on rare occasions. Academy award-winner Ben Johnson sleepwalks his role, delivering a disappointingly colourless performance. Sadly, none of the supporting cast members shows any credible professionalism either. The teenage victims proved to be the worst of the bunch, leisurely moaning ‘please no…' when they were confronted by the killer and sounding more like they were telling a dinner host that they didn't want any dessert, instead of begging for their lives! The director tries to incorporate a happy medium between the fear and some needless slapstick that just feels completely unnecessary. Horror-comedies hardly ever work, and this just acts as further damning evidence. It ends up looking like a bizarre hybrid of Friday the 13th and Carry on Camping (!), which doesn't prove to be as fun as it sounds like it should be. Every time the killer makes an appearance the atmosphere becomes quite effectively creepy, but then the director unwisely chooses to immediately follow it up with some frankly ludicrous attempts at humour, that are truly non-fitting.

Black Christmas was made in 1974 and this was released some two years later; although you'd never in a million years guess that was the case. Bob Clark's classic looks like a brand-new movie compared to this elderly offering, which could easily be mistaken for being at least a decade older. It's literally begging for digital restoration and nothing could be quite as ancient as the horrendously out of place music, which sounds like it would have suited Mary Poppins more adequately than any kind of horror flick. Usually the genre depends on its instrumental-themes to help tighten the tension. Even Carpenter admitted that Halloween would've been a totally different story without the help of the memorable work from ‘The Bowling Green Orchestra'. This is perhaps the worst choice for un-atmospheric accompaniment in the whole history of scary movies. It's not that it isn't played competently, and I sincerely mean no offence to the musicians; it's just that it was the wrong kind of music to set the right state of mind and what we really needed was something far more suited, to escort the often-inviting scenes that were left painfully unaided.

Where it really matters, The Town that Dreaded Sundown delivers the goods exquisitely. Even though he may just be another masked psycho with heavy breath, ‘The Phantom Killer' (as he's known) manages to come across as an effectively sinister stalker. In one scene, he ties a young girl up to a tree and murders her boyfriend right in front of her eyes. On his way over to deal with the unfortunate female after, he finds a trombone lying in the grass and creates himself a weapon by tying a switchblade to the end. It may sound like a silly idea, but keep in mind that he does all this while she's pleading for survival right in front of him, completely unaware of her grisly fate. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is the fact that it's based on a true story, which really helps to make it all the more fearsome. Credit also has to be given for the time taken to acknowledge the fear that was created around the small Texarkana town where the murders took place. Ordinary folk beg the police for protection and the media campaign for the killer to be brought to justice. Nut-jobs offer false confessions and the struggles of the people are portrayed realistically, giving the viewer a chance to sympathise with their pains. Most slasher films concentrate mainly on dispatching some victims and forget to include the extreme grief that it would inflict upon an average community. It was a good use of insight that made a neat change from the norm.

Admittedly, this does look a little long in the tooth to be thoroughly recommended and the attempts at comedy were truly disastrous. Still, if you are a fan of slasher films, The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a decent insight into the roots of the genre. It was released before knifes had become an essential ingredient, so unfortunately most of the murders are committed with a gun. The stalking scenes still build up some credible suspense, and at times it even manages to deliver the odd noteworthy scare. It's just a shame that Charles Pierce presumed that we needed comic-refreshment, when what we really wanted was more morbid mayhem!

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Terror In Texarkana

Author: dlp from El Dorado, Arkansas 71730
15 November 2001

As many times, I have been to Texarkana, I never knew about the phantom killer. When this movie was released, I went and saw it. The line was very long, that night, I will never forget it. This movie along with Psycho, is where I draw the line. I don't go for this gory horror like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Nightmare On Elm Street. If this happened today. Police officers would be warning kids, not to park. At night the police, sheriff's department, state troopers and a SWAT team, would be on the case, trying to capture the phantom.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

The Town That Dreaded Sundown -- THE MUSICAL!

Author: Ljack (jgsimcoe@hotmail.com) from York, Pa.
8 June 2000

My wife and I rented this one after she remembered how much her father loved it. She said it used to scare the Ba-Jesus out of him when he was a young man.

So, we watched it. "Town" wasn't what I expected. It's kind of a docudrama that really doesn't have much drama in it. However, it does have lots of police cars in it and they're dramatic -- aren't they?

Anyway, the story, which is supposedly true, unfolded with all the tension of a pancake. The director just trudged along ... "And then they did this... and then they did this." He didn't approach "Town" with a thought of how he could build up the suspense. It just languished in a feeling of promised panic it failed to deliver.

As a slasher flick, there was the trombone death. Odd. Very odd. By far though, the best was Dawn "Mary Ann" Wells' death. That was the only really great scene in the whole movie.

Beyond the occasional killing and in between the baritone newscast narration, was another oddity. There was this deputy sheriff who was supposedly in "Town" for comic relief. He would smash his car into things and just act goofy. This just left me with a furrowed brow, as I thought to myself, "Why is this Jerry Lewis-wannabe in this film?" Other reviewers stated the same thing too. He was just completely out of place and completely unfunny.

It was this deputy's antics that got me really thinking. This movie doesn't work as a horror film. It doesn't work as a drama, but what if it were ... A MUSICAL! Just think ... chorus lines, big production numbers involving trombone-induced murders, a snappy rhythm and a goofy deputy! It works, man! It works!

6/8/00

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

OK

Author: Scream-7 from USA
24 October 1998

This film was OK. At sometimes it seemed like "Andy Griffith Show" meets "Scream", but still good. Love that trombone death!

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