The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Plot: Set in the late 40′s the residents of Texarkana, Texas are left terrorized by a mysterious hooded killer who is stalking lovers parked in secluded areas during the evening and leaving the local police at a loss. This is based on the real case of “The Phantom Killer” also known as the “Texarkana Moonlight Murders”

My Review: I’ve been wanting to see this movie for years. I kept hearing about it and of course being a huge Friday The 13th fan I really HAD to see this. Jason Voorhees’ hooded pillowcase sack over his head in Friday The 13th Part II was pretty much lifted from this film/case. Its no wonder why! The killer in this movie is creepy! Its probably much more frightening knowing that stuff like this really happened too.

I was lucky enough to recently find the movie online (legally and free) to watch at EpixHD (free trial at the time of this review does NOT require a credit card, you can just use your name and email address). The movie is not streaming in HD, but its near perfect DVD quality for those interested.

To be honest, I really thought I was going to dislike this movie. I’m not a huge fan of older films (unless I grew up with them) and I’d been hearing about this movie for 20 years. I figured my expectations were a little too high by this point. But I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it.

I’m fascinated with real unsolved “famous” murder cases. I guess a lot of people are. I don’t know why, its sorta creepy if you think about it. Obviously a lot of people have a need to be scared for “fun” in the safety of their own home, otherwise horror movies and the like wouldn’t be so popular. But when you’ve watched horror movies for as long as I have (about 24yrs at this date & time) there comes a time where you just aren’t frightened and you don’t get that thrill you got before, you still enjoy the films, but that fear isn‘t there anymore. But when you have these real cases that movies are based on you actually get scared because you know that this happened to someone and you easily place yourself in that situation – at least I do. Your not terrified like you would be if you were actually IN the situation, but you have that fear from the film back. . And this movie made me a little creeped out! Ok, I’m rambling now. Onto the movie…

The movie starts off with two teenagers parked out on “lover’s lane” a stranger with a pillow case over his head attacks them and leaves them for dead. Twenty-one days later another couple are attacked, twenty-one days later another couple is attacked, and so goes the pattern (roughly) until the murder’s just one day stop.

The movie has a voice over like a documentary would, but it isn’t a documentary. They never bring in a bunch of people to be suspects because they really didn’t have any. The movie solely concentrates on the murders and the police patrolling the streets. There is some brief comedy mixed throughout – such as the bad driving of one of the police officers.

The killer creeps around these couples without them noticing at first, its quite creepy, especially the one couple who is attacked while driving. I had NO idea what that scene was going to lead to. The Phantom sometimes tied his victims to trees and bites them. Creepy stuff. And what was up with that trumpet death? WEIRD!

Its easy to see a lot of the same mannerisms between Jason Voorhees and The Phantom, obviously the sack on his head, the way he walks, the shoes, the breathing. Heck, listen closely for some of the names of the people, I wonder if some of the names were used on purpose for some of the Halloween films. There is a Loomis in there (which Halloween supposedly lifted from Psycho, maybe this one did too), a deputy Ramsey (there was one in Halloween 2) and I think a couple others. Hell, the whole time I was watching the movie I just kept thinking about the Zodiac Killer that struck California in the 60s & 70s and also was not caught. I couldn’t remember the dates of those attacks and was wondering if perhaps they were the same killer. If the profiler’s were right and the guy was in his late 30s or 40s then I highly doubt the same guy did both murders as he would have been in his 80s. But perhaps it’s The Phantom that gave the Zodiac Killer his ideas for his murders.

Gore/FX: There is minimal gore throughout this movie. But it isn’t needed. Its based on real events and I think bucket loads of gore would have been in very bad taste. However, some of the neck/head/face gunshot wounds are pretty decently done for the time this was made in.

Sexual Content: Its implied at one point that the killer is killing people for sexual gratification. But they do mention that no rapes have taken place. According to stuff I’ve read about the real cases, the women were in fact raped or sexually assaulted in some ways.

Acting: At first I was a little worried because older movies just have this “funny” acting to me. But really after I was sucked into the film I didn’t notice it at all. Its really not that bad at all.

Overall: The movie is very simple, but chilling. The people are all likable in it, and I’d GLADLY watch it again. Watching this it almost feels like I’m watching some early Jason attacking people, but then I remember its based on real events…creepy. I’d recommend you give it a watch, especially if you are a fan of Jason in Friday The 13th Part II

As a side note, if you are interested in the real case check out this websites:
TruCrime TV (formerly the Crime Library website)
The Phantom Killer of Texarkana
Wikipedia

[rating:4/5]

View The Trailer

3 Responses to The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

  • avatar
    Struckworld says:

    I hope they give this film a perfect DVD/Blu-Ray release.

  • avatar
    Kat says:

    Did you watch it yet Struck?

    I think I would have rated it 5 stars had the deaths been more creative (as in the movie he mainly used a gun) and graphic IF it hadn’t been based on a real story. Otherwise that’s just wrong and creepy.

    I think they did a good job at not glorifying the murders or murderer. However, I’m reading the real accounts of what happened, and it did veer off (like most true story movies do) and I would have liked to see it stick with the true case as much as they could have. Of course I haven’t finished reading everything so I don’t know how different it is. I read about this case years ago on the same sites I listed above, and that’s where I’m reading about it again.

  • avatar
    Kat says:

    I just rewatched this one for a second time. Definitely not as entertaining as the first time around. But still decent.

    I’d be interested in a remake of this one honestly.

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