The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) Poster


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This movie is a semi-documentary based on the real-life string of mysterious killings that terrorized the people of Texarkana, Texas, in 1946. The murder spree became known as the "Texarkana Moonlight Murders" and ultimately would claim five lives and injure many others. The only description of the killer ever obtained was that of a "hooded man". To this day, no one has been convicted and these murders remain unsolved.
Some of the swamp scenes at the end of the film are actually recycled footage from The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), Charles B. Pierce's first feature film.
With the film's scarce home video availability (the 1983, 1988 Warner Bros. VHS release and the later 1994 Good Times EP VHS release being long out of print) and occasional late night TV airings, it slowly started to become a cult classic. With the advent of online discussion forums and a proper widescreen version finally shown on cable TV in the mid 2000s, the film's popularity suddenly grew even faster with only bootlegged copies being available since an official re-release on Blu-ray/DVD would not happen until 2013. This would rectify the hiatus period of almost 20 years.
According to the interview with Andrew Prine on the Region 1 Shout! Factory release, Prine had to write the ending for the movie because the script didn't have an ending.
Dawn Wells only worked for one and a half days.
During the film the narrator says "If you should ask people on the street what they believe happened to the Phantom Killer, most would say that he is still living here... and is walking free". The Texarkana police's best lead in the case was a car thief named Youell Swinney, whose wife, Peggy, supplied them with details about the murders only the police and the killer would know. As the admissible evidence against Swinney was only circumstantial, police instead charged him with felony theft of a car; under Texas law he qualified for the state habitual crime act and received a life sentence for being a repeat offender. He served 25 years before getting his case appealed and being released from prison at the age of 57. In 1975, he was arrested again for counterfeiting coins and stealing another car, was sentenced to two years in prison again, walked away from a prison labor job, was recaptured four days later, and sent to Leavenworth prison to serve an additional two years for escaping. Though still alive, he was incarcerated again at the time the movie was made and shown. He died in 1994 at the age of 77.
At the end where they talk about "Texarkana hasn't changed much" they show a line at the movie theatre. The sign at the corner shows the name of the movie showing is "The Town That Dreaded Sundown".
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In the film, during the scene where a movie theater is shown, a movie poster for Charles B. Pierce's previous film Winterhawk (1975) is visible on the left.
Considered one of the first of many Slasher films, which originated as far back as 1960
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Cinematographer James W. Roberson had a broken foot when he shot this film.
Some extras can be seen several times in apparently different "roles" during the film. While this could be an indicative that Texarkana was a small town back in 1946, it's more likely an indicative of how the low budget prevented the production of hiring more extras.

-The actress playing Linda Mae Jenkins is clearly visible in close-up shot in a car leaving the Unites States Army's Red River Arsenal at the very beginning of the film;

-The actress playing Peggy Loomis can also be seen at the very beginning of the film at the Paramount Theatre in the back seat of a car;
  • At the same Paramount Theatre scene, an extra is seen crossing the street with a white and blue shirt. This same extra can be seen together with a small gathering of people right after the first victim, Linda Mae Jenkins, is found alive and the ambulance is arriving. Again, this same extra can be seen after the second attack, when a gun store is shown. Lastly, this same extra is probably used again carrying the groceries for the Dawn Wells' character during the "Friday, May 3rd" caption;

-The Police Department telephone operator who answers Mrs. Kiner phone calls can be seen reinforcing her curtain window right after the second attack. Also, at the high school prom, she can be seen pouring sloe gin at the red punch;

-The black guy identified as Mr. Johnson, who is giving a detailed statement to Captain Morales of how the supposed killer has threatened him, can also be briefly seen moments earlier as waiter on the restaurant scene.
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The Netflix version shows the more recent MGM logo when the film starts. The 2013 Blu-ray/DVD (although released first, but also derived from the same master) omits the logo.
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While 'based on a true story', the film's creative liberties stray so far from the real events, Dr. Robert Kerr, a Texarkana journalist, wrote about the movie, "Poetic license has rarely been stretched so thin" and described the film as "Total fiction."
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The 2013 Blu-ray/DVD release contains an onscreen essay in the bonus features called "The Phantom of Texarkana". The author refers to this film as a "creepy Techniscope horror film". While it's true that Charles B. Pierce did shoot some of his previous films using the Techniscope format, he actually shot this film using the Panavision anamorphic format. It was the second film that he had shot in this format, the previous one being The Winds of Autumn (1976).
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The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

One of the very few Slasher films where the Killer is never revealed at the end of the movie.
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