Horror films from the 70’s are an interesting bunch, and visiting or re-visiting them is always an experience, whether or not the film is any good. The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a film that has certainly been influential with the genre and in particular the slasher sub-genre. But is it any good and worth looking back on? Certainly, this film has a lot of positives going for it and seeing it now I do believe that director Charles B. Pierce had a unique style and he did something with this I don’t recall seeing much of in the 70’s.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is not only a horror film but it is also almost a documentary done by doing re-enactments of what actually happened. This is based on actual events that took place in 1946, where in Texarkana a mysterious hooded figure attacked and murdered several towns folk. A Texas Ranger and the Sheriff department attempt to track down this murderer, before more people could get hurt.
The real case does sound like a fictional one, made for a scary film. As they say the truth is stranger than fiction, and this case still over 60 years later is one that is terrifying and haunting. With films that deal with a killer, the audience is used to having a reveal of who it is and or why. This presents the facts as the police and law enforcement (and the witnesses/victims) saw it. Is there any reason to all of this? A question that will likely forever remain unanswered. More films certainly took their queues from this, with Black Christmas and Halloween sharing a few things in common also.
This film succeeds when it is telling the audience what is happening through a wonderful voice over that gives us updates as the film goes on. The scenes of the masked killer are quite chilling for the most part, the murders and attacks are quite horrific and extremely well acted. Where the film falls apart and loses focus is when it does drag along with the Sheriffs, Deputys and Texas Ranger just hanging about. There is a bumbling officer known as ‘Sparkplug’ who I guess is the comedy relief but it feels extremely out of place for a film so serious. Think of the bumbling cops from The Last House On The Left and how weird they feel in that film when most of it is quite horrific.
In a way this film feels more like a documentary, and when it does that is where it is at its strongest. It is a really well put together film, shot very well and I really liked the way the film was lit, especially during the night scenes. It is an entertaining film, one that deserves a visit, it will certainly be remembered as a classic of the genre from it’s time.