Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cult Oddities: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

The Town That Dreaded Sundown looks back on some of America's most shocking true crimes and the resulting fear and paranoia unleashed on a vulnerable community. But Zodiac this is not...

The savage crimes that rocked Texarkana, Arkansas in 1946 remain unsolved to this day, and one assumes this movie only led to the disinterest in finding the killer. Narrated like a newsreel or classroom educational video, it's almost like we're meant to take some sort of message from the film -- like "Duck and Cover" or "Puberty is a Part of Life." The best we get is, "You CAN Sleep with Your Eyes Open." Or at least that explains the pillowcase.

Rain soaked woodland settings, a maniacal killer stalking young lovers... Sounds like perfect slasher movie material. But director Charles B. Pierce isn't all that interested in that. Nor is he interested in suspense, intrigue, character or -- outside of Ben "Sam the Lion" Johnson -- serviceable acting. Unless you count all that melodramatic head shaking.

has a tone as bumbling as its central police force. It aims for a documentary-style recreation of true events mixed with more modest genre aims, and admittedly it has momentary successes with both. The attack scenes have the occasional unnerving air about them given the Phantom Killer's forcefulness and his KKK/pre-Friday the 13th Part 2 appearance. Unfortunately that's underscored by the rest of the film's slogging narrative, as well as the fact that the killer might as well be passing you at the mall for as much he's casually bandied about onscreen.

Even his methods for murder are a snore. The Phantom Killer's mostly prone to a swift clubbing or a no-fuss-no-muss shooting. Although that's not to say he's entirely devoid of creativity... Given the inspiration he binds a woman to a tree and trombones her to death.

He blows alright. He blows HARD.

Don't bother dreading Sundown. It really is the best time to fall asleep.

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