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I’ll say one thing for this half-baked historical saga: it has a GREAT video box cover picturing a hooded figure’s upper torso silhouetted over a small Southern town, a singularly haunting image that promises everything this tawdry film fails to deliver. 

The Package 
     The subject of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN is the mysterious hooded individual who terrorized Texarkana, Texas back in the forties and spawned one of the largest manhunts in US history.  Five people were brutally murdered before the “Texarkana Phantom” disappeared forever.
     Filmmaker Charles B. Pierce must have seemed like an ideal choice for helming this story; he’d already made the infamous Arkansas based “true story” THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK.  With TTTDS, Pierce was again working in the deep South with an extremely tawdry budget, although he had the (light) weight of American International Pictures behind him, complete with vintage sets and costumes that appear to have been recycled from earlier AIP productions like DILLINGER and BLOODY MAMA.  Piece also had some fine actors this time around, most notably the veteran Ben Johnson, who plays the police Captain who oversaw the case.
     But does any of this make the film any good?  Not by a long shot.

The Story 
     A hooded man bludgeons to death a couple necking in a car one night back in 1946.  This sends the town of Texarkana into a panic, and a dragnet is formed to investigate the killings.  Weeks later another couple is attacked in their car…and a few weeks after that another, this time in their home.  Panic grows among the townspeople, who take to literally sealing themselves in their homes.  Finally, acting on an anonymous tip, the police manage to track down the killer (in broad daylight, no less), but he escapes into a nearby swamp.
     THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN is, if nothing else, a perfect example of how NOT to tell this particular story cinematically…or, better yet, proof that the material should have been left in the hands of documentarians.  Since the killer’s identity was never discovered, no reason exists as to why the Texarkana phantom killed people in the ways he did or how he chose his victims, which makes for a mighty unsatisfying movie.  I don’t know enough about the real-life events to attest how authentic this film is, but it’s clear that Smith was trying for a straightforward recounting of the facts.  This, however, is one case where a little conjecture might have helped a lot!

The Direction
     The opening scenes, of Texarkana residents going about their business while hilariously monotone, Joe Friday-esque narration outlines the events the film will relate, gives us a good idea of the type of tackiness we’re in for…and it only gets worse. 
     Pierce’s filmmaking is every bit as grindingly obvious as the opening narration.  Some gratuitous gore might have livened things up—it’d be something—but there’s little to be had in this terminally dull, witless account (not that it really matters, as the murder sequences are all so poorly lit I couldn’t make out much of anything).  In Pierce’s defense, this film was made several years before HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH established the ground rules of the Slasher Film; that does not, however, excuse the fact that this is a terrible movie by any standard.

Vital Statistics 

American International Pictures

Director: Charles B. Pierce
Producer: Charles B. Pierce
Screenplay: Earl E. Smith
Cinematography: James W. Roberson
Editor: Tom Boutross
Cast: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, Jimmy Clem, Jim Citty, Charles B. Pierce, Robert Aquino, Cindy Butler, Christine Ellsworth, Earl Smith, Steve Lyons, Roy Lee Brown

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