“World War II had ended only eight months earlier and the town of Texarkana, population 40,000, which straddles the Texas-Arkansas border, was re-gearing for peace after four years of rationing, war bonds and shortages.
Although a trickle was still arriving, most of the boys were back home and out of uniform. Many were enrolling in college or starting up businesses with the help of the GI Bill of Rights.
Some people still had doubts about President Truman and were worried over the growing tension with Russia. The wave of strikes sweeping the country, were being felt by many of the Texarkana businesses. But fears that the workforce at the United States Army’s Red River Arsenal would be cut to nothing, had not materialized.
There were long waiting-lists of people ready to buy the still scarce new cars, as well as all kinds of household appliances. The building business was booming, and people around Texarkana were generally optimistic about the future.
It was Sunday, March 3, 1946… the beginning of a reign of terror for the people of Texarkana and surrounding areas of Arkansas and Texas. A terror so indelibly imprinted that today, 30 years later, people still speak of it fearfully. The incredible story you are about to see is true – where it happened and how it happened. Only the names have been changed.”
We’re now well into week four of the 2014 Spooky Flix Fest and I hope we’ve managed to keep you entertained this far, and that you’ll like to see what more we have in store for you. I can guarantee we still have a few treats left in our Halloween goodie-bag and I suggest you check in every day right up to Halloween, so as not to miss anything. My treat for you today, is a little cult classic from 1976, directed by Charles B. Pierce (The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Evictors).
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a fictional depiction of what took place in the town of Texarkana and its surroundings, between late February and early May in 1946. Five people were murdered and three others badly wounded by an assailant nicknamed “The Phantom Killer”. Only two of the survivors saw him, but since he wore a white hood, or burlap sack, over his head, no one ever knew what he looked like. Despite a manhunt that involved the local police as well as the sheriff’s department, the Texas Rangers and even the FBI, the killer was never caught! Or was he? No one was ever convicted of these murders, that’s for sure!
Something about this case has always fascinated me; maybe it was the look of the killer, maybe it was the fact that he was supposedly never caught… I don’t know, but curiosity has made me return to read about it from time to time, over the years. As I said, no one was convicted, but they did later have a prime suspect, but there were even some doubts about his guilt too. It’s even believed that the last attack was carried out by someone else entirely, since it has a different M.O. than the three first attacks.
I’m not going to delve further into that though, but I will say that I was delighted to find out that a new book about the Texarkana Moonlight Murders is to be published in late 2014. It’s written by Dr. James Presley, the nephew of one of the sheriffs in the case, so it might actually shed some light on it. Whatever the case might be, I’m definitely going to check it out!
But maybe we should talk a little bit about the actual movie now, huh? It’s a low budget drama thriller that looks a bit “rough around the edges”, so to speak, but this documentarian tone only adds to the movie’s creepiness. And it is a creepy movie! Sure, it’s a slow burn, but whenever the phantom killer appears, the horror aspects of the movie skyrockets, because he is one scary character! Bud Davis, who is a stunt man/stunt coordinator, is absolutely terrifying as the killer! Just one look at his body language and those damn eyes, and you know he means business!
Our two main police officers, Captain J.D. Morales and Deputy Norman Ramsey, are played by Ben Johnson and Andrew Prine respectively. Mr. Johnson, whom you might recognize from Hang ‘Em High, Terror Train or Red Dawn, is great in this one. Mr. Prine has starred in Grizzly and Eliminators for instance and according to an interview with him, he actually wrote the ending to this movie, since they didn’t really have one at the time of shooting.
The ending doesn’t have much, or anything, to do with the truth, but that’s usually the case with this “based on actual events” type of movies anyway. Creative liberties are always taken, right? And that is, of course, also evident in The Town That Dreaded Sundown with the infamous trombone scene and the comic relief, for instance; much of which stems from the fictional character, patrolman “Sparkplug” Benson. He’s actually played by the director, Charles B. Pierce, himself and, unnecessary as those scenes may be, they are still pretty funny.
In case I haven’t made it clear yet… I love this movie! I like the characters; I love the 40’s setting and that killer… Holy Crap! The narration of the movie and the way some of the scenes play out, almost make you think of the way some documentaries dramatize the events they depict, you know what I mean? I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it actually kind of works here! As I said earlier… it adds to the creepiness!
Apparently the Swedish censorship thought so too and promptly cut 2 minutes and 35 seconds from the movie. Not that I would have noticed though, because at the time this was released here in Sweden in 1977, I was only 9 years old and way too young to watch it anyway. I’ve actually only watched bits and pieces of it over the years, believe it or not! But not that long ago, I was able to get my hands on a copy on tape and was finally able to watch the entire movie, and now, after its release on BluRay and DVD, I’ve watched it several times! If you haven’t seen The Town That Dreaded Sundown yet, I recommend that you check it out; they don’t call it a cult classic for nothing!
Oh, and before I forget… as one of the victims in the last horrifying attack, I’m sure you’ll recognize the beautiful Dawn Wells! Yup, she was Mary Ann on the hit TV-show Gilligan’s Island.
And with that little tidbit, I’ll end my final review for the 2014 Spooky Flix Fest. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourselves as much as I have, but as I said at the start… we still have a couple of treats left for you, so please stick around for the remaining week too. But for now, this is me signing off…
Until next time, my friends, please leave whatever thoughts you may have on The Town That Dreaded Sundown in the comment section below!