In the summer of 1945, a double homicide rocks the small border town of Texarkana as two local teens are brutally murdered by a masked man at a secluded lover’s hangout.
“What you are about to see is true…”
Eight little words that provide an added veneer of terror to any horror film as you are transplanted from the hypothetical to the literal realm of would I survive these events? Drawing inspiration from the real life unsolved Texarkana moonlight murders, Charles B. Pierce’s shocking true story should be wider recognised within the slasher genre and thanks to Eureka Entertainment’s re-release and a Blumhouse remake (and this review??)… Watch this space.
Back in 1976, iconic cinematic serial killers – the likes of Messrs Vorhees and Myers – had yet to be unleashed on audiences and despite flying under the radar, inspiration for the established slasher super franchises was clearly drawn from The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Traits commonly associated with Friday 13th Part II (my favourite horror) – the camera focussing on the killers boots prowling through the undergrowth, the disturbing menace of a simple cloth sack on the head – can all be found deployed here first. Slasher films hinge on the personality, terror and motivation of their central killer and with his incarnation of the infamous Phantom Slayer, Charles B. Pierce gave birth to a true monster for the ages. He’s a denim clad, heavy breathing, eccentric psychotic triumph!
Where this movie falls down is in its lack of jeopardy to any established characters. Victims are introduced merely for the purposes of being killed off and so attention is solely focused for the duration on a Texas Ranger with the local sheriff and a bumbling sergeant in tow. It is in these moments The Town That Dreaded Sundown enters ill-advised comedy territory with high speed pursuits along dusty tracks and into lakes that Smokey And The Bandit would be proud of. Jumping from scenes of comedic anarchy to an isolated elderly couple spooked by a hooded figure in the darkness just plain doesn’t sit well.
But there is a reason why Kevin Williamson referenced this movie in his Scream script. Why The Town That Dreaded Sundown deserves to open your next slasher marathon.
The mystery surrounding an unsolved killing spree will always sell an idea but it is in the mask, the cinematography and the characters that the heart of the story is rendered and a seed of terror sown… And the fact the killer could be that guy sitting right behind you in the cinema.