The Town that Dreaded Sundown

AKA: The Phantom Killer

Tag line : In 1946 this man killed 5 people, today he still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Ark.

The Town that Dreaded SundownBased on a true story, this often overlooked B-movie attempts to recount the story of a serial killer, known as  "The Phantom", who stalked the lovers lanes preying on courting couples in the American town of Texarkana during the mid-1940's.

Its 1946 and most of "the boys" have returned home from World War 2 and are busy settling back into civilian life. The mid-western town of Texarkana was just a quiet farming town back then, so when the local police are called to investigate a brutal attack on a young couple by a man wearing a white hood, the town is shocked beyond belief.

Despite a massive manhunt operation by the police and sheriff's office, who even draught in the FBI to help, they fail to net the hooded killer who continues to strike at each full moon. Leaving a trail of dead teenage couples in his wake.

Determined to crack the case, they bring in one of the country's top investigators, Captain Morales of the Texas Rangers, as played by Ben Johnson (no its NOT Chuck Norris). But with the various law enforcement agencies patrolling the woods and back lanes, the killer continues to stay one step ahead of them as he starts switching tactics and attacking couples in their own homes.

Some of the sharper eyed viewers will notice similarities in the camera work between this and some of the earlier Friday the 13th films, which isn't surprising as the pre-hockey masked Jason in the second film was actually based on this character, right down to the white hood.

Told in a docu-drama style, complete with a narrator filling in between scenes, it should be noted that the truth has undoubtedly been  stretched for some scenes. The scene with Officer 'spark-plug' Benson and the other patrolmen going out on stake-out duty dressed as women just seemed too ridiculous to be true and I can only assume was included for comic relief. In addition, those who are familiar with the real case will know that the end shoot out in this is entirely fictitious.

However, aside from this, the film still proves to be an interesting and somewhat chilling look at these real life crimes which terrified a town and still remain unsolved to this day.

Overall Marks : 6/10.

Terrifying Trivia.

  • Ben Johnson, who played Captain Morales, was a regular in cowboy movies and shows, being a former rodeo performer and horse wrangler, and has worked with directors Howard Hawks and John Ford. As well as having roles in films like "Will Penny", "Hang em High" and Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" he also starred in "The Mighty Joe Young" and "The Swarm".

  • Director Charles Pierce and writer Earl Smith both have small roles in the film. The director played the part of bungling officer "spark-plug" Bernson, the writer played the role of Dr Kress.

  • The actual killings were dubbed in the press "The Texarkana Moonlight Murders" owing to the killer always striking on full moon.

  • Narrator Vern Stierman also did the commentary for Pierce's earlier film "Legend of Boggy Creek". He was actually working as the weatherman for the Texarkana-Shreveport NBC Affiliate channel 6 when "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" was filmed

  • Dawn Wells, who plays one of the final victims, had previously played "Ginger" in the US TV show "Gilligan's Island".

  • The phantom was played by stunt man Bud Davies, who had previously worked on "Race with the Devil". He still works in the industry as a stunt-coordinator and has over 100 films to his credit. His most notable works include some of the "Star Trek" movies.

  • Director Charles Pierce and writer Earl Smith also produced the 1972 docu-drama "Legend of Boggy Creek". They also worked together on the script for the Clint Eastwood film "Sudden Impact".

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