A horror movie “based on a true story” that was, actually, based on a true story. Fun fact, it features Dawn Wells who you may recognize as Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island. Or maybe I just think that’s a fun fact.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown, 1976. Dir. by Charles B. Pierce, Written by Earl E. Smith. Starring Ben Johnson, Andrew Pine, Dawn Wells.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is about a serial killer who terrorized the town of Texarkana, Ark in the summer of 1946. The story is based on a real series of murders and, as far as these things go, sticks fairly close to the actual events. There are of course creative liberties taken but when compared to something like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, these guys are practically wedded to the truth.
It’s an interesting movie. Rather than going the way of the slashers we’re more used to, it follows a pseudo-documentary approach with voice over narrating facts and details about the victims, the attacks, and the investigation. It tries its hardest to make us believe what we’re watching is real.
The murder scenes are really, really well done. Pierce manages to create massive amounts of tension and dread. A combination of presenting the events as real and in how he structures the scenes. It’s effective and brutal.
What doesn’t work as well are the odd breaks of humor. Pierce plays the comedic relief himself, an officer nicknamed “spark plug” for whatever reason. He’s bumbling and goofy, which may have worked in another movie but only serves as a weird distraction here. I guess I understand the urge to break up the tension but the instinct here wasn’t a great one.
Otherwise the performances are all solid. There’s some nice character work by Pine and Johnson. Most everyone else appearing in the film is only there briefly. It’s entertaining to watch Dawn Wells in this kind of role. Her chase scene through the house and then the cornfield is great.
I feel like this is the kind of movie I would love to see at a drive-in or a midnight screening. It would be blast to watch with a theater full of other horror lovers. While it’s by no means great it’s fun, effective when it tries to be, and certainly worthy of a watch. The ending is a bit muddled and it’s maybe not completely satisfying. But it works. I dug it.