The Town That Dreaded Sundown Film Details
Overview: The story of a hooded, berserk killer who terrorized the border town of Texarkana, Arkansas in 1946–leaving no fewer than five murder victims in his wake. He was never caught. Based on one of America’s most baffling murder cases.
Tagline: In 1946 this man killed five people… Today he still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Ark.
Review: THE TOWN THE DREADED SUNDOWN is one of the most original horror films of the 70’s. And that’s saying a lot. It starts off as a square-footed documentary with voice over and all the rest. But in the midst of this rather sweet evocation of Texarkana, Arkansas, a hooded madman runs rampant, sadistically killing and killing and killing. The violence, though not particularly graphic, is disturbing because of the way Pierce places it within his documentary structure. The movie’s goal, I think, is to show the unspeakable chaos that lies just beneath the facade of America’s post war prosperity. How secure is the picket fence world when a hooded maniac may be lurking in the shadows? The mystery is never solved; we don’t find out who the killer is, nor is there a climactic moment where all the action peaks. The killings just stop and the dread never really ends, it just recedes back into the city’s shadows. What makes this movie so compelling is the straight forward and uncluttered way Pierce lays out his facts. He will dramatize certain situations, but not in the conventional way, not with a continuous rising and falling melodramatic plot. Pierce’s approach circumvents the usual horror movie gestures to zero in on what is, in this case, a purely mythic concern: evil in our midst. The killer, not shown to be a “character” in the traditional sense, is a burlap hood with eyes looking through eye holes and black work boot. The killer’s visual presence and violent actions are given no motive, no personality beyond the moments of mayhem we see and the destruction we hear discussed. This killer is merely a faceless force, a depiction of nameless chaos, and, because he exists in this removed state the viewer is instinctually compelled to make sense of his actions. Pierce takes the trappings of exploitation and weaves a creepy and, for me, unforgettable midwestern epic. Charles B. Pierce, an independent producer- director, was the Otto Preminger of the drive-in market. Like Preminger, he was rarely taken seriously as an artist. One reason could be that his film subjects jump all over the place, from horror to Native American stories, to a movie about Vikings staring Cornel Wilde! He thought big and was not afraid to put his name above the title. Even in the post BONNIE AND CLYDE era, the idea that a regional film maker could both embrace and bypass the Hollywood system to actually get films like these made and shown must have seemed strange to most of the status quo. The one that put him on the drive-in map, THE LEGEND OF BOOGY CREEK combines what appears to be genuine documentary footage with horror movie antics. At first, you think it’s a joke, but as it goes on, a strange kind of unvarnished beauty emerges. I wouldn’t say the movie’s entirely successful (TOWN plays with the same concept and is more assured and less loopy), but it’s bold and original and it reportedly made a lot of money. I’ve seen most of Pierce’s movies, not all of which work as well as TOWN, but all of them exhibit a splendid sense of place and style. The late 40’s vibe in TOWN hits the mark, and on shoestring budget, I’m sure. Charles B. Pierce was a true film maker, and I’ll bet there’s a lot to be learned by studying his work and the way he put together his productions. Where is he now, and what’s he doing?
Duration: 90 min
Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
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