This 1976 movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a film about a serial killer that terrorized the town of Texarkana. This is based on a true story and was a series of crimes that where never solved. I can’t help but see many similarities between this case and movie to the case and movie of Zodiac. I reviewed Zodiac here:
This film is not the best acted, minus a few good performances from Ben Johnson and Andrew Prine.
This film has a cult following, usually among horror fans, and you can’t help but think this film may have been made to cash in on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre hype that came out 2 years before. Though there is some terrifying scenes in this, the overall tone is more of a serial killer hunted by our main characters of detectives and a famous Texas Ranger. There is also some comic moments, these didn’t really work for me and I feel took away from the movie. Most of these comedic scenes come from the director himself, Charles B. Pierce that also plays the bumbling rookie “Spark plug.”
The story starts out with a couple out on lover’s lane who are attacked by a masked man. Then a few weeks later a similar crime is committed, bringing the town to a panic. They bring in a Texas Ranger to help with the case and our story continues from there.
Though the film is based on real events, it does take many liberties with the story. None of the murders or crime scenes are very accurate, and the few close run ins between the law and the phantom killer never happened. The number of crimes and basic time frame is fairly accurate. To this day, the crimes have never been solved.
This has become a cult classic over the years and is looked at as one of the early slasher movies that would start a trend continued by Halloween and Friday the 13th. It also was released on VHS back in the mid 80’s and was not put out on DVD until 2013, making it a hard film to find and watch. This seemed to give it more cult status.
There is also a remake/sequel that was recently made and I have not seen it. It looks like that film is more of a straight up horror movie.
The film is a slightly above average drive-in movie from the 70’s and is worth watching if you are a fan of slasher movies or of 70’s horror. I think it will appeal to those who love true crime stories as well. Though it does have some noir elements, like the voice over docudrama style and it takes place soon after World War II in the 1940’s, I don’t think hardcore film noir fans will like it, especially if they are expecting a traditional neo-noir. Personally I felt it was more a cheap neo-noir then it is a horror movie and is something different to watch on a boring Sunday afternoon.