Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Town that Dreaded Sundown

TCM has really been delivering lately in terms of Horror programming (Thank you Mr. Turner).  I recently had the chance to catch The Town that Dreaded Sundown, which might be the best title for a horror film EVER.  But let me back up: The Town that Dreaded Sundown isn't really a horror film.  It's more along the lines of Zodiac.  I mean, it's really along the lines of Zodiac.  Both films are based on true unsolved murders. Both follow the Detectives (in the case of The Town that Dreaded Sundown, the Barney Fife type country bumpkins) who are trying to catch a masked serial killer.  Both films show how the murders terrorized the citizens of the respective communities. 

Released in 1976 by AIP, The Town that Dreaded Sundown introduced us to one of the first masked killers.  Known as "The Phantom Killer", this madman stalked and killed couples on Lover's Lanes in the Texarkana area in the late 1940s.  He may have served as an inspiration for the real life "Zodiac" killer.  The film, directed by Charles B. Pierce (who plays the bumbling Fife-like "Spark plug") is told documentary style, with a voice over narrator introducing us to characters and giving us a bit of back story. 

This technique gave the film the feel of those educational reels we used to watch in school (if you are over 35 you know what I am talking about).  But instead of "and that was the first and last time that Johnny smoked pot" we get "despite the murders, the stupid kids of Texarkana continued to park on lonely country roads and get killed in horrible ways."

This film is a weird, not always successful mix of docudrama, horror, and comedy.  Seven it ain't.  But it does have a lot of charm.  From Ben Johnson as Texas Ranger J.D. Morales to Dawn Wells (from Gilligan) as one of the few survivors of the Phantoms attacks, The Town that Dreaded Sundown is worth a look, especially if you like to get creeped out on real life horror.  "The Phantom Killer", much like the "Zodiac", was never caught.  He could have been killed or thrown in jail, or he could be an old man in a rest home, watching his story on TCM.  One never knows....

Why don't you go after Ginger!

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