31 Horror Films GUEST BLOG The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) Dir. Charles B. Pierce

Netflix, the lazy man’s Blockbuster, has changed the way we watch television. Never before has the human race had access to content of such varying quality. Whether you choose to spend your evenings in the company of recent action movies, documentaries on Victorian serial killers, or immersing yourself in the dizzying number of Children of the Corn movies, Netflix is there to caress your entertainment glands.

By far the most important function of Netflix, is to serve as a home for neglected horror movies. "Little Timmy Found Footage", with his gimpy leg and lazy eye, "Leonard Low Budget", forever hamstrung by his indie roots, can often be found in the warm embrace of instant streaming. It was there, dear reader, while sifting through the orphans of horror, that I discovered The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

Made in 1976 by Producer/Director Charles B Pierce, the film sets out to tell the tale of the horrifying events that took place in Texarkana during 1946. A serial killer, dubbed “The Phantom” by media, attacked eight people between February 22nd and May 3rd. Crucially, he was never caught. Pierce’s film plays loose with the facts and even though “only the names have been changed”, the actual murders themselves have been spiced up to better appeal to the rampant blood lust of a movie going audience.

Pierce almost pulls it off. The parts that are intended to be creepy, they’re creepy. The gore is sufficiently gory and the suspense is, well, suspenseful. It’s all the parts in between that serve to confuse a viewer. It really doesn’t know what genre it wants to be. It’s as if Mel Brooks screwed John Carpenter, somehow had a baby, and that baby grew up and screwed Robert Stack. I’ll give some examples.

During most of the movie, it plays out just like an Unsolved Mysteries type recreation. Heavy use of narration coupled with almost no background music, lend the film a documentary feel. Add in the final ingredient of some very wooden acting (residents of Texarkana were hired as extras to reduce the production costs) and you could well be convinced you’re watching another one of Netflix’s plentiful serial killer shows.

Also, the movie has the ability to switch gear, somewhat jarringly, into Halloween territory. A faceless killer stalks some unsuspecting teens. We know he’s there, we know what’s coming and it’s the build up to the final, deadly blow that draws you in and provides many a “watching through fingers” moment. This is the most successful part of the many-flavored soup that is this film. It’s also the reason I would recommend watching.

Lastly, we have the old chestnut of inappropriate comedy relief. Charles B. Pierce himself plays the role of the hapless Officer Sparkplug. Complete with his very own whacky theme tune, Sparkplug proceeds to be totally inept at every given moment. He’s a laugh riot. However, the funniest moment of the entire movie goes to our happy-go-killing hero, the Phantom. During one of the most prolonged and brutal kills of the film, Phantom picks up a victim’s discarded trombone and tries to play it. It’s a moment of genius. If that wasn’t enough, he then straps a knife to the end and trombones a lady to death. Glorious.

In all, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is worth a watch. In amongst the mutant baby offspring, there is bound to be something you will enjoy.

Maybe.

A bit.

Paul is occasionally heard podcasting for The Pharos Project and Hammered Horror.