DIRECTOR: Charles B. Pierce
WRITER: Earl E. Smith
Roy Lee Brown
Set in 1946, the movie takes place in the town of Texarkana, Arkansas. The people of this all-American town are being terrorised by a mysteriously hooded killer. The killer is stalking and killing couples who are meeting up at Lovers Lane. As the police force tries to unmask the killer, his kills become more ferocious, and no one in the town of Texarkana is safe. The entire police department of Texarkana is left at a loss as too who is committing these unspeakable crimes.
My first introduction to The Town That Dreaded Sundown was by way of name only. I had heard the title of this film in the original Scream. I had not a single clue about it other than it being a reference point. It would take me a further twenty years before I finally tracked down the movie and watched it. I was reminded of the movie when a remake of the original film was first announced. I decided to bite the bullet and give the film a watch. See what had inspired one of my all-time favourite slashers.
The movie from what I could remember before watching it as part of this seventies slasher retrospective was that the film was a fun slasher but ultimately forgettable. I didn't remember much about it at all. I just remember the killer wore a potato sack on his head. I think I had expected something different to what I got and for that, I sort of blocked most of the film out. Watching it again, I think I enjoyed it more the second time around. Still, this movie while clearly inspiring later slashers is one that has its problems.
When the movie starts, you know you aren't about to watch a regular slasher. This movie begins with a narration of the events that set this entire story into motion. It adds another dimension to the film. The whole film has an almost faux documentary feel to it all and its actually one of my favourite elements of the film. I loved that the film's narration offers you details about the characters and if they had survived the ordeal. It reads like an almost police report and fills in their details that may have been lost if the narration wasn't in the film.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on a real murder spree. They were known as the Texarkana Moonlight Murders. Knowing that the movie is filmed in the actual location of the murders makes this movie a lot more interesting. I think setting it in the town gives this movie some authenticity. Also knowing that the killer was never caught makes it even creepier. Imagine releasing this film and the actual killer sitting down in the theatre to actually watch it makes it even creepier. Another Zodiac Killer or Jack The Ripper.
When it comes to the kills in The Town That Dreaded Sundown, they aren't all that interesting or creative. Being based on real crimes though, you sort of can't get too creative and must stick close to the crimes you're depicting. The film does go down in history as having one of the most bizarrely original death scenes. If gunshots to the head aren't enough for you, you will likely always remember the kill involving a lady being tied to a tree, while the killer plays the trumpet with a knife taped to it. Every time he plays the instrument, she is stabbed painfully. The highlight of the movie for me.
What I also enjoyed about the killer in this movie is that he attacks. This isn't a killer that ends up hiding in the shadows and suddenly jumps out. He is resilient. He jumps on cars, smashes windows, breaks down doors and will give chase to all his victims. He isn't shy about running up to a car and dragging his victims out of it. I thought he was ferocious in his attacks. I find him much scarier than a killer who waits to strike. The scene where he hangs onto the car is one of the film's most enjoyable moments involving the killer.
My biggest problem with The Town That Dreaded Sundown is the wildly uneven tonal shifts. This has its fair share of decent tension and suspense during all the night time attack scenes. This being highlighted in the house attack where both of the victims are repeatedly shot in the face and head. It just hurts the film when you have these 'Dukes Of Hazzard' like car chases and that terrible country music soundtrack. The movie does have a hilarious scene where the male police officers dress in drag to try and lure the killer. This was the funniest scene for me.
Lastly, the acting in the movie is solid. Andrew Prine is the standout actor for me. He plays the chief deputy in the film. I thought he was great and likable. Ben Johnson as the Captain is also good in his role. I thought all the female actresses in the film were great. We need actresses who will be screaming, and boy do they deliver. Dawn Wells who is shot in the face and manages to escape is excellent in her chase scene. As we never see the killer, he is still a menacing and very large force. His performance is all based on those cold eyes.
DEATH TOLL: 5
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A man is dragged out of a car and attacked.
- A bloodied woman is found by the side of a road.
- A dead body is found in the woods.
- Someone is shot in the face twice.
- Someone is shot in the back of the head twice.
- The killer is shot in the leg with a shotgun.
- The uses a trumpet with a knife attached to repeatedly stab someone.
- A man is shot dead.
- A man is smacked in the head with a pipe.
- A woman's body is found tied to a tree.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is an enjoyable slasher. You can clearly see where this movie has inspired later slashers. The movie has a creepy and menacing killer, some solid suspense, good acting and setting the movie in the location of the real murders was a stroke of genius. Where the film loses points for me is that it has an uneven tone. The tonal shifts between horror and comedy really do feel very odd and misguided. This is still a lot of fun and should be seen. One of the early slasher films that have clearly made an impact.