The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)


On March 3, 1946, in Texarkana, Texas, two young lovers are brutally attacked by a hooded assailant. Although both victims survive, this is the beginning of a crime spree by an unidentified madman. While the authorities try to capture the elusive criminal, the local residents live in a state of constant panic.

Reaction & Thoughts:

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a straightforward, somber, and very creepy pseudo-documentary style slasher, loosely based on the real-life murder case dubbed “The Moonlight Murders.”

Nicely directed by Charles B. Pierce (The Legend of Boggy Creek) from a script by Earl E. Smith, The Town That Dreaded Sundown strives hard for the same kind of immediacy the current found-footage craze aspires to create.

The Dragnet-like voice-over narration (by Vern Stierman) accentuates the “just-facts” attitude. The camera angles are simple and the cast is mostly composed of amateurs. Yet it doesn’t work as well as it should. But make no mistake; it’s at times disturbing, even scary. It’s also very atmospheric — The Town That Dreaded Sundown captures the American postwar ennui of the late 1940s.

The film is not for rabid horror fans, though. It’s a very low-key affair, for the most part. Personally, I didn’t mind its lack of over-the-top mayhem. That sets it apart from classic slashers like Maniac (1980), The Burning (1981), etc. That being said, it’s obvious that the look of the killer was resurrected for Friday the 13th – Part 2 (1981).

Oscar-winning actor Ben Johnson (The Last Picture Show) turns up in the key role of the seasoned sheriff in charge of the investigation. The actor’s naturalistic approach to acting fits the film like a glove. Andrew Prine (Simon, King of the Witches) plays a local deputy. Director Pierce plays Patrolman A.C. Benson.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Overall, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is an imperfect, but spooky horror film for people who can’t handle too much blood and/or gore. It’s refreshing to see a slasher movie about a real-life horror. Remade in 2014. Color, 90 minutes, Rated R.

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