The Town that Dreaded Sundown
Directed by Charles B. Pierce (The Legend of Boggy Creek)
Starring Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells
Review by Jordan
The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a standout thriller with historical significance than employs an assortment of filmic techniques with varying levels of success. There are unexpected bouts of slow-motion shooting and attempts at slapstick humour that show its age, but overshadowing these strange inclusions is a feeling of anarchic terror born from a villain whose identity is as much a mystery as his motives.
Released in 1976, two years after Black Christmas introduced the slasher and two years before Halloween defined it, Charles B. Pierce’s film is lawless in its direction and plot, frequently breaking the soon-to-be defined rules of suspense and melding horror with a period setting and documentary like narration to accompany it’s intent on being based on a true American case.
The events take place in 1946, in the small town of Texarkana, Arkansas, where the police are generally overweight, being in the high school concert band is cool and a masked killer is attacking teenagers after dark. With his white cloth face covering and imposing figure he truly is a menacing presence, emitting increasing insanity with fierce, darting eyes that belong to man very unlikely to be caught.
A Texas Ranger is brought in to investigate, helped by the Deputy who was so painfully close to saving the second victims; he concludes that they’re dealing with an anonymous psychopath, who could be any one of them during the day but turns into a madman come sundown every 21 days. This theory is proven true to the audience when during this conversation in a cafeteria, the camera pans down to a nearby diner’s feet as he stands and inconspicuously exits to the street, stating quite clearly that as citizens we can be found ignorant and oblivious of what’s happening around us every day, paying attention only to the headlines and hysteria.
The frenzied and improvisational nature of the crimes committed are creepy (almost unbelievably so when you consider how well trodden this niche in the horror genre has become), especially once the suspected pattern is broken and things begin to escalate in the style of home invasion, and the haunting conclusion is perhaps the defining moment of a film that has long occupied the dusty corner and thoroughly deserves its high definition re-release in time for Halloween.