Newest Reviews
Life at the Top
Whoopee Boys, The
Set, The
Cyrano de Bergerac
Death Walks in Laredo
Gemini Man
End of the Century
If Beale Street Could Talk
Raining in the Mountain
Day Shall Come, The
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown
Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, A
Sons of Denmark
Light of My Life
Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The
Jerky Boys, The
Chambre en Ville, Une
Mustang, The
Baie des Anges, La
Ready or Not
Seven Days in May
Hollywood Shuffle
Uncut Gems
Daniel Isn't Real
Presidio, The
Farewell, The
Challenge of the Tiger
Ad Astra
Winslow Boy, The
Pain and Glory
Judgment at Nuremberg
Newest Articles
Ozploitation Icon: Interview with Roger Ward
Godzilla Goes to Hollywood
Demy-Wave: The Essential Jacques Demy on Blu-ray
The Makings of a Winner: Play It Cool! on Blu-ray
Sony Channel's Before They Were Famous: A Galaxy of Stars
Start Worrying and Hate the Bomb: Fail-Safe on Blu-ray
Completely Different: Monty Python's Flying Circus Series 2 on Blu-ray
Bash Street Kid: Cosh Boy on Blu-ray
Seeing is Believing: Being There on Blu-ray
Top Thirty Best (and Ten Worst) Films of the 2010s by Andrew Pragasam
Top of the Tens: The Best Films of the Decade by Graeme Clark
Terrorvision: A Ghost Story for Christmas in the 1970s
Memories Are Made of This: La Jetee and Sans Soleil on Blu-ray
Step Back in Time: The Amazing Mr. Blunden on Blu-ray
Crazy Cats and Kittens: What's New Pussycat on Blu-ray
No Place Like Home Guard: Dad's Army - The Lost Episodes on Blu-ray
A Real-Life Pixie: A Tribute to Michael J. Pollard in Four Roles
We're All In This Together: The Halfway House on Blu-ray
Please Yourselves: Frankie Howerd and The House in Nightmare Park on Blu-ray
Cleesed Off: Clockwise on Blu-ray
Sorry I Missed You: Les Demoiselles de Rochefort on Blu-ray
Silliest of the Silly: Monty Python's Flying Circus Series 1 on Blu-ray
Protest Songs: Hair on Blu-ray
Peak 80s Schwarzenegger: The Running Man and Red Heat
Rock On: That'll Be the Day and Stardust on Blu-ray
  Town That Dreaded Sundown, The Don't go out after darkBuy this film here.
Year: 1976
Director: Charles B. Pierce
Stars: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, Jimmy Clem, Jim Citty, Charles B. Pierce, Robert Aquino, Cindy Butler, Christine Ellsworth, Earl E. Smith, Steve Lyons, Joe Catalanatto, Roy Lee Brown, Mike Hackworth, Misty West
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Biopic
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: "The incredible story you are about to see is true. Where it happened and how it happened. Only the names have been changed..." Eight months after the end of World War II, on the night of Sunday, March the Third, 1946, in the town of Texarkana, Sammy Fuller (Mike Hackworth) and Linda Mae Jenkins (Christine Ellsworth), a courting couple out for a drive are savagely attacked by a gun-toting maniac wearing a bag over his head. Deputy Norman Ramsay (Andrew Prine) finds them bloodied but still feebly alive, the woman with bite marks all over her body. Twenty-one days later the psycho strikes again, this time torturing then shooting a young couple dead after binding Emma Lou Cook (Misty West) to a tree. As panicked townsfolk board their windows, stock up on guns and, yes, dread sundown, authorities welcome the arrival of Captain J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson), legendary "lone wolf" of the Texas Rangers, who aims to catch the killer dead or alive. Yet even with hard-bitten Morales dogging his trail, the masked maniac continues his murder spree.

True-crime exploitation movies were a staple of drive-ins throughout the Seventies from Walking Tall (1973) and Macon County Line (1975) to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1973) which while not a true story per se sprang from the grisly exploits of real-life serial killer Ed Gein. American International Pictures and drive-in auteur Charles B. Pierce scored a minor triumph in this field with The Town that Dreaded Sundown. Although rarely rated a seminal Seventies horror the film has proven somewhat influential, inspiring a like-named 'meta-horror' sequel released in 2014 while in a strange (and, given the context, slightly unsettling) twist of fate been fondly embraced by residents of the real Texarkana. Screenings of the film have become a Halloween tradition at Spring Lake Park near the town in a free event sponsored by the Texas Department of Parks and Recreation! Nevertheless the film remains controversial not least because its fabricated facts caused rumours and folklore to spread for generations around Texarkana. Pierce amped up the drama by monkeying around with the chronology of events and specifics of the crimes.

Even so The Town that Dreaded Sundown stands as one of Pierce's more accomplished works combining his interest in westerns and horror. The Forties setting adds a tone unique for a proto-slasher film alternating warm nostalgia with a brooding sense of unease. Although intrusive at times the dryly ominous narration by Vern Stierman contextualizes events within the post-war climate, addressing the elation in society as result of the economic boom and lingering anxiety from the war. It is never explicitly stated but implied the killer might be a soldier traumatized by war and venting his psycho-sexual frustration on a thriving community. With a creepy mask and crazy eyes, the wheezing killer cuts a frightening figure and his murders prove genuinely unsettling. It is not an especially gory film yet the intensity of the murder scenes are disturbing in a manner eerily prescient of David Fincher's more celebrated true-crime opus Zodiac (2007). These are not the quick clean kills of Halloween (1978) nor the showy splatter deaths of Friday the 13th (1980). Victims sob, squeal and beg for mercy while they are beaten to death in a manner that is really disturbing. In the film's most infamous scene the killer ties a knife onto a trombone and repeatedly stabs Peggy Loomis (Cindy Butler, Pierce's girlfriend at the time!) to death in a manner both ridiculous and horrifying. The killer's gruelling pursuit of Helen Reed, played by lovely Dawn Wells (who set hearts a-flutter as Mary-Ann on lovably silly sitcom Gilligan's Island), is another taut suspense sequence.

Yet the film is frustratingly inconsistent, alternating moments of visceral terror with misjudged knockabout comedy courtesy of Charles B. Pierce himself in his on-screen incarnation as clumsy cop A.C. 'Sparkplug' Benson (Sparkplug being an actual childhood nickname bestowed on Pierce on account of his restless demeanour). Aside from the eerie main theme the music by Jaime Mendosa-Nava sounds like something out of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon whenever Sparkplug does something dumb. Which happens a lot including a comical car chase that ends with the heroes crashing in the swamp. Everyone has a good laugh when Sparkplug has to pose as a woman to lure out the killer. It is a little funny when his partner jokily cops a feel but, given this is a true story and the murders are so brutal, in questionable taste. While Pierce's direction wavers from gripping suspense sequences to sub-sitcom staging at the Sheriff's office, the performances also veer from accomplished (Johnson, Prine and Wells are top notch) to amateurish (everyone else looks like they fell off the turnip truck). Pierce injects a little action with a cod-Sam Peckinpah slow-mo shootout between Morales and the maniac but wisely retains the ambiguity inherent in the real-life outcome. According to Andrew Prine, Pierce did not know how to end the film and the actor himself scripted the final third although it was supposedly the director's wife who concocted the slightly jokey coda.

[Eureka have released this title in a dual format, Blu-ray and DVD edition. The extras include two trailers (one for the remake), interviews with three participants, expert audio commentary, and a specially composed booklet.]
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


This review has been viewed 1628 time(s).

As a member you could Rate this film

Review Comments (1)

Untitled 1

Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.

Latest Poll
Which star is the best at shouting?
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Brian Blessed
Tiffany Haddish
Steve Carell
Olivia Colman
Captain Caveman
Sylvester Stallone
Gerard Butler
Samuel L. Jackson
Bipasha Basu

Recent Visitors
Graeme Clark
  Butch Elliot
Andrew Pragasam
Darren Jones
  Rachel Franke
Enoch Sneed
Paul Smith
Paul Shrimpton


Last Updated: