The Town that Dreaded Sundown
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
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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
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.
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