Friday, December 2, 2011
1976: The Town That Dreaded Sundown
The Town That Dreaded Sundown
Directed by Charles B. Pierce
Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, Jimmy Clem, Jimmy Citty, Charles B. Pierce
In 1946, the police of Texarkana, Arkansas are baffled by a rash of brutal attacks committed by a mysterious man in a hood. Luckily, the first two victims survive their ordeal but it isn't long before the brutality of the crimes increases and people start turning up dead. Captain J.D. Morales (played by Ben Johnson), a Texas Ranger known for always getting his man, is called in to help the local sheriff (Andrew Prine) capture or kill the evil bastard.
Thanks to the insistence of my friend Brad, I am finally dipping my toes into the world of Charles B. Pierce. I started with the excellent Legend of Boggy Creek and then moved on to this little almost forgotten gem. Mr. Pierce's strongest asset is his constant attempt to create films that are both documentary and fiction. I thought this was a loose version of the Zodiac Killer story but The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on a real case in Texarkana. The true crime business adds an extra layer of chill onto an already creepy film. The excellent score by Jaime Mendoza-Nava is also a plus.
There are shifts in tone in this film that could and most likely have thrown some people off. There are some comic moments of hillbilly slapstick which were probably meant to unsettle the viewer so that when the really shocking sequences come, they'd be that much darker. I've seen this method fail miserably in other films like the comedy cops from Last House on the Left but in Town That Dreaded Sundown, it all works.
The cast is a mix of B movie folks and non-professionals. The most surprising casting choice comes in the form of Dawn Wells of Gilligan's Island fame. It is just mind-boggling to see "Mary-Ann" menaced by a psychopath. Apparently, she was in The Legend of Boggy Creek but shame on me for not spotting her. (EDIT: She was in Return to Boggy Creek. Duh!) Ben Johnson is very good as usual. He and Andrew Prine try to out-cool each other during their scenes.
So all in all, I'd say The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a tight little film. The fact this has been hard to find for so long is unfortunate because I'm sure a lot of folks expecting a different kind of film will say this is overrated. Don't let the hokey narration (which I love!) and some less than stellar performances from non-actors throw you. This one is worth sticking with to the end. Any film that features a killer in a white hood assaulting a victim with a trombone is worth checking out in my book.