Retro Review: The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976)

As I slowly look through the Scream Factory Collector’s Edition releases, I realize I am missing out on something big.  The 1976 classic, The Town That Dreaded Sundown.  Firstly, I want to say a couple of things about the Scream Factory release.  Usually the Scream Factory has a ton of features, this one has only a few.  I would love to see a Horror’s Hallowed Grounds episode in Texarkana.  But, the sound quality and picture were fantastic for an older film.

 

The events of the Town that Dreaded Sundown are based on the killings in Texarkana in 1946.  These killings were referred to as the “Phantom attacks”.  In the film the Phantom wears a sack on his head and appears over the course of a couple of months to kill some people.

That is the basic story of the movie.  The way the film was made, well it reminded me of a driver’s education film you’d see in high school.  The film was narrated and just had the feel of some kind of education film, may be even a sexual education movie or a movie against drugs from the 1970s.  The movie plays out over the course of a few months.  Other than some date changes and changing the names of the victims, the movie seems to stick closely to the stories that came from Texarkana after the event in 1946.

The movie itself, well it is is not scary.  Sure there are some terrifying moments and having a masked killer like the Phantom, faceless and never knowing who he is was great.  But then there are moments with the police that are very comedic.  Like I said it feels like some kind of educational video at times and other times, the Dukes of Hazard.  But the thing I like about the Town that Dreaded Sundown and why it is one of my favorites, it just feels genuine.  Not only that, it is a revered movie for the town of Texarkana.  It is a good one, but sandwiched in between films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, it gets lost in the shuffle a little.  I think there is a nice balance to this film overall and if you pushed it aside before, maybe give it another look.  It really is a good one.  One of the scariest parts of the movie and real life, the Phantom was never found or identified.  He could have been walking the streets of Texarkana until he died.  He may have even seen the film when it was released.  That is the crazy thing.

I wanted to also mention the Phantom, Bud Davis a stuntman played the Phantom.  He was terrific, using body language more than speaking.  There are things we would see later in films like Halloween or Friday the 13th that I saw in Davis’ performance as the Phantom.  One of my favorite things and it is strange, watching him breath with the mask on, pulling the sack into this nostrals almost.  It really shows how intense the Phantom is in the film.

Not long after its release, Texarkana city officials voted to file a lawsuit against the ad campaign.  Some of the family members of those slain by the Phantom even filed lawsuits.  But eventually the actual town that dreaded sundown somewhat embraced the film.  It premiered in Texarkana on December 17, 1976.  Starting in 2003 The Town that Dreaded Sundown is shown to the public at Spring Lake Park near Halloween.  It’s the last film they show for their “Movies in the Park”, which plays a film on each Thursday during May and in October. They show the Town that Dreaded Sundown as a free event that is even sponsored by the Texarkana, Texas Department of Parks & Recreation.  So, I guess that is embracing the film based on the town.

IMDB.com has a rating of 6.1, not bad.

I give the Town that Dreaded Sundown 8.0 overall.

I personally would love to visit Texarkana sometime to walk the path of the Phantom and see some of the sites.  The Phantom attacks were terrible, but a great film came out of the attacks nearly 80 years ago.  Maybe one of these days I will travel down to see the Town that Dreaded Sundown in Texarkana.

A couple of other tidbits, Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th wears a similar mask to the Phantom in Friday the 13th part II.  In 2014 a meta sequel to the Town that Dreaded Sundown was released.  I loved it and I think it is worth a watch as well, maybe even a review.

Pick up a copy of the Scream Factory release, it is worth buying.

 

About Ray Marek III 409 Articles
I have been watching horror films since I was 6 years old. The story, one Saturday night, my mom and I were watching movies and she fell asleep on the couch. We had the channel set on HBO and the movie we were watching ended and the next one, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. This was some time in 1986. I watched then entire film, I was sitting on the edge of my seat. When my mom woke, she asked me what just ended and I told her, “Freddy”. That was all I talked about for weeks and finally she broke down and rented more horror films for me. She rented, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2, Re-Animator, Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives and Halloween II. I watched all and fell in love with horror films forever. 5 Horror Films to Watch Inferno (1980) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) The Beyond (1981) Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives (1986) Horror of Dracula (1958)