THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)
Directed by Charles B. Pierce
On dual format from 24th August 2015
In 1946 Texarkana, Arkansas, two young lovers are brutally attacked and left for dead by a hooded attacker after parking up at country lane. Three weeks after the horrifying episode, the masked attacker known as “the Phantom” strikes again but this time he kills his victims. With very little evidence and no leads, Sheriff Ramsey calls upon Texan Ranger J.D. Morales to come to the small town to help catch the mystery killer before any more lovers are targeted.
Based on true events, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN is a horror thriller that centres around the case of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders of which the hooded killer was never caught. This film focuses on the investigation into the killings as young lovers appear to be targeted every 21 days. Despite deploying officers, the mysterious killer always seems to be one step ahead of the game and escapes in time before anyone else can witness his crimes.
Watching the events of 1946 unfold on screen is quite disturbing. The hooded killer, silent but breathing heavily, seems intent on hurting his prey for some sort of gratification. With the women suffering bite marks on their backs from him, it would seem as though there’s a sexual element to it all but in later scenes, when a knife is tapped to a trombone, it would appear that any sort of pain the ‘Phantom’ killer inflicts is enough to turn him on.
Though the film tells the story of a series of vicious unsolved murders, it does include some light-hearted humorous moments. Director Charles B. Pierce is the main supply of the comedy as he also stars in the movie as officer A.C. Benson aka Spark Plug. Chauffeuring Sheriff Ramsey and Morales around in a squad car, Spark Plug gets up to all sorts of shenanigans as it’s clear he shouldn’t be in charge of a telephone never mind a car. He’s not afraid of volunteering either as he agrees to be a decoy which ultimately results in him getting dressed up in drag, much to the amusement of his fellow officers. These often hilarious moments break up the film and though the comedic scenes are in stark contrast to the horrific attacks, it somehow works quite well.
Andrew Prine and Ben Johnson are perfectly cast as Sheriff Ramsey and Texan Ranger J.D. Morales respectively. Prine’s full of ideas and not afraid to get his hand’s (or feet) dirty to find his man whilst Johnson brings an experienced presence to Morales, the finest Ranger in Texas who’s professional and dedicated approach doesn’t go unnoticed. Representing the two sides of Texarkana which lies on the border of both Texas and Arkansas, the two counties must work together to try and catch the killer.
Throughout the film, a narrator provides a voice over explaining events that have occurred in Texarkana and a timeline of the killings. This helps to create a documentary feel to the movie as though it was a re-enactment of events which unfolded, which in a way it is even if it’s done for entertainment.
Eureka Entertainment have released THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN on dual format DVD and Blu-Ray. The Blu-Ray features a 1080p high definition transfer that retains its crackle and imperfections amongst the high quality visual. The film is accompanied by 2.0 stereo audio which is of decent quality and matches the visual. The Blu-Ray features Shout! Factory interviews with the stars Andrew Pine, Dawn Wells and director of photography James Roberson, who each give an insight into the making of the movie with some very fun and interesting facts. A trailer for both this film and the 2014 reboot also features on the disc along with a commentary with historians Justin Beaham and Jim Presley.
Though there’s more of an essence of the 70’s than the 40s era, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN remains a charming albeit disturbing slasher-esque Southern tale with style.