Director Charles B. Pierce’s murder mystery is still a rather effective horror film, but one that hasn’t aged too well. It tends to watch more like a television movie or two hour special from “Believe It or Not!” rather than an actual horror film. Though very influential for its time, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” has all the interesting elements for a great horror film, but doesn’t quite stack up to a horror film based on a real life series of murders like “Helter Skelter,” or “In Cold Blood.”
“The Town that Dreaded Sundown” is mostly a crime mystery with a slasher angle based around a small town in Arkansas terrorized by a maniac with a sack over their head. For many years, Texarkana was paralyzed by the maniac, who spent most of their time stalking people in the darkness, and attacking in spontaneous bouts of violence. Sometimes the maniac murdered their victims, while other times they merely hurt them and traumatized them for life. “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” watches less like a fluid narrative with characters, and more like a case by case examination of the terror that occurred during this period of time.
Director Pierce’s horror film is still very creepy and tense dripping with atmosphere, but the narration along with a lack of a real protagonist makes it feel like a precursor to the procedural crime dramas that littered the nineties. “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” feels like a larger template for a future episode of “Law & Order” and never actually seems to know what to omit from the accounts, and what to keep. So while the scenes of the maniac lurking in the darkness, and folks around the town boarding up their windows still inspires goosebumps, watching the killer stab someone to death with a knife tied at the end of a trumpet is campy. “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” definitely is a spooky dramatization of actual events, but in the end it feels like a docudrama more than a horror film.
Scream Factory releases a plethora of features for fans of the slasher with the nine minute “Small Town Lawman:” an interview with actor Andrew Prine who discusses his love for filmmaking, and an assessment of the movie. “Survivor Stories” is a five minute interview with Dawn Wells who approaches her take on the movie with a new curious angle. There’s “Eye of the Beholder” a twelve minute interview with Director of Photography James Roberson, as well a the theatrical trailer, a Poster and Still Gallery, and “The Phantom of Texarkana” an essay about the film itself and the actual murderer behind the mask.
There’s also an Audio Commentary with Justin Beahm and Historian Jim Presley, both of whom provide historical anecdotes about the locations, as well as the actual murders, and how the real murders resulted. As well they separate fiction from reality in the actual film. Finally, exclusively for DVD, there’s the inclusion of the 1979 film “The Evictors” a very creepy film in the vein of “The Amityville Horror” where the newest young couple to inhabit a new shack in Louisiana where they begin getting terrorized by mysterious forces, including a prowler the young wife is convinced is following her.