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The Town that Dreaded Sundown
Phantom Killer

USA 1976
produced by
Charles B. Pierce, Samuel Z. Arkoff (executive) for AIP
directed by Charles B. Pierce
starring Ben Johnson, Andrew Pine, Dawn Wells, Jimmy Clem, Jim Citty, Charles B. Pierce, Robert Aquino, Cindy Butler, Christine Ellsworth, Earl E. Smith, Steve Lyons, joe Catalanotto, Roy Lee Brown, Mike Hackworth, Misty West, Rick Hildreth, Jason Darnell, Mike Downs, Bill Dietz, Carolyn Moreland, Michael Brown, Woody Woodman, James Duff McAdams, John Stroud, Mason Andres, Richard Green, Dorothy Darlene Orr, Don Adkins, Bud Davis, Vern Stierman (voice)
written by Earl E. Smith, music by Jaime Mendoza-Nava

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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1946: Texarkana, a small town on the Texas-Arkansas border is shocked by the case of two teens who wanted to make out in their car on lovers' land, but got attacked, mutilated and almost murdered by a masked maniac. Exaclty three weeks later, again on lovers' lane, another couple actually does get murdered, and evidence points to the same perpetrator. The local authorities, not used to this kind of (serial-)crime, call in a specialist, "lone wolf" special investigator Morales (Ben Johnson), and he and his local sidekick deputy Ramsey (Andrew Prine) do everything to track down the killer, now dubbed the Phantom Killer (Bud Davis) and to prevent him from killing again, even if that means a installing a curfew and patrolling the city night after night after night ... but to little avail, where there's teens there's making out in cars, right - so it's really only a matter of time before the next murder happens, despite all the precautions and despite our heroes having figured out a temporal pattern as to when the murders are always happening (every three weeks). Eventually though, to catch the authorities by surprise, the killer changes his m.o. ever so slightly by attacking a woman in her own house ...

Eventually, Morales and Ramsey rather coincidently track down an abandoned car that can be linked to the killer, manage to trail the Phantom Killer, even injure him in a shoot-out ... but somehow he can escape into the nearby swamplands, and while the killings stop from then on, nobody can say for sure if he died in the swamps, just skipped town, or is sitting in jail for another crime ...

Director Charles B. Pierce shows a great strain of self irony by playing a totally clueless police officer - who's even in drag in one scene.

 

The Town that Dreaded Sundown, a film based on a true story (which is why it's still shown every year at a local theatre in Texarkana), is widely regarded as one of the very early slasher movies, predating Halloween by two years - but while the movie most certainly features many a slasher trademark (the masked killer, the teens who are trading in their lives for sexual shenanigans [no nudity here though], the whodunnit aspect that takes backseat to the killings as such), it actually plays more like a police procedural ... and frankly, not a very good one at that. Our heroes seem to come to their conclusions rather randomly, several of their ideas to catch the killer (including policemen in drag) seem to be far-fetched, the way they actually get their lead on the killer and the fact that he wears his mask during daytime (he only kills at night) for no reason at all are on the feeble side, and the whole thing tries way too much to appear factual to actually succeed in evoke too many emotions.

All that said, this film is certainly no train wreck, it's got its era, the mid-1940's lovingly recreated, there are enough suspenseful and violent scenes in there to keep one at the edge of one's seat - but all that is not to say the film couldn't have been better in most departments all the same.

 

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
Amazon!!!

 

 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD