Turkey Thursday:The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976)
When I first looked up the IMDB page for Charles Pierce I was quite impressed. I scanned down the role of credits Coffe, Black Belt Jones, and The Outlaw Josey Wales among them, but then I noticed that those credits were for set decorating. Needless to say even though all three of those movies have a great and very specific look, I had never taken a long look at the sets. I skimmed down and saw he did have some other directing credits including the beast flick, The Legend of Boggy River. I wish that were the film we were here to discuss tonight, but instead we're going to learn a lesson in why I dread voice over as badly as...
The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) starring Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, and Charles Pierce. Directed by Charles Pierce.
It's the spring of 1946, and life is as peaceful as can be in Texarkana, Arkansas. That is until the night in March when a couple are found after being beaten on a lover's lane. Their white hooded attacker had all but killed them, and the peace of the town was shattered. Slowly over the next month things got back to normal, but 21 days later the attacker struck again. This time he killed the young man and woman. Deputy Norman Ramsey (Prine) almost caught him that night, but the killer managed to slip away.
With fear gripping the community legendary Texas Ranger Captain J.D. Morales (Johnson) is called in to assist on the case. Three weeks to the day after the last killing, they set up decoys to ensnare the killer. They stock cars on lover's lanes and lonely roads with undercover cops posing as guys and their dates. The killer finds another set of victims instead, a young couple just leaving their Senior prom. Right under their noses he strikes again. It's up to Morales and Ramsey to get a lead and bring him down before night falls again over Texarkana.
--The film was based on true events that occurred in Texarkana, Arkansas in the case of the Phantom Killer or the Texarkana Moonlight Murders.
--Dawn Wells, Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, makes an appearance as one of the killers victims.
--There have been similarities mentioned between these killings and those of the Zodiac killer.
The Bug Speaks
I'm so glad I get time to speak because the narrator in this film will not shut up. There are very few times that narration has worked in something without feeling shoehorned in. Fight Club, A Christmas Story, The Wonder Years, and maybe a few others, but on the whole it's just not good. This film is no exception because it turns what could be a lackluster American International picture into a cross between a school filmstrip and prehistoric History Channel. The whole film comes off like a reenactment, and yes, I know it is. What I mean is instead of being able to get into this world, you're closed out by the feeling like someone is keeping you at arms length.
It's too bad because the story itself is very interesting, but I got more out of it on the Wikipedia page than from the film. It's also very unfortunate that director Pierce found in necessary to break up the still procedural drama with punctuations of the most off key comedy I've seen in a while. By the time they are after the killer and launch a car into a lake Dukes of Hazard style, I was about ready to start dreading even waking up today.
I may be being a bit harsh. Some of the performances were, well, adequate. Veteran actor Ben Johnson seemed sturdy as Moralas, but I had a feeling he was there for a payday. Andrew Prine was the shining moment of acting in the film as the solid and determined Ramsey. Pierce appears as screwball deputy "Sparkplug", and if the movie had been a broad comedy about a crazy bunch of cops, he probably would have been at least tolerable. However, playing a performance like that in the midst of some fairly sadistic murders would seem crass if it already wasn't so unbearably lame.
The best thing I can say for this film is that the killings were pretty brutal proto-slasher affairs. We only see the whole ordeal of one of them, but the white hooded killer is menacing, and his look seems to summon up visions of a later slasher when Jason donned a sack on his head in Part 2. The killer is featured on the poster, and I think the film may have gotten half a bug from having a cool poster and tag-line.
In the end I can't see how anyone would get much out of seeing this film, so I suppose I've made it once again. With only one more Thursday to go in this month, I am getting more and more thankful each week that it's almost over. So I'll see you back here next week. Check back to see if I make it though the last Turkey myself or end up soaking in basting, putting myself in the oven for 3 minutes a pound, and waiting for that little thing to pop in my side and let me know I'm done.