Directed By: Charles B. Pierce
Starring: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells
Tag line: "In 1946 this man killed five people... Today he still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Ark"
Trivia: This movie is a semi-documentary based on the real-life string of mysterious killings that terrorized the people of Texarkana, Texas, in 1946
Four years after he made his directorial debut with The Legend of Boggy Creek, a documentary-style film about a monster that, for decades, was rumored to live in the swamps of Foulke, Arkansas, Charles B. Pierce returned to tell yet another tale of horror with The Town That Dreaded Sundown, the story of a real-life killer whose identity remains a mystery.
The year is 1946, and the citizens of Texarkana, Arkansas, are being terrorized by a serial killer targeting young couples. In each case, the murderer quickly disposes of the men, then assaults the women (by biting and chewing their bodies) before finishing them off as well. The local police, including Deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine), are baffled. In need of some fast help, they call in Capt. J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson) of the Texas Rangers, the top criminal investigator in the territory. Yet, even with Morales on the case, tracking down this elusive killer isn’t going to be easy.
As he did with The Legend of Boggy Creek, Pierce brings a documentary-like feel to The Town That Dreaded Sundown, using a narrator (Vern Stierman, who also narrated Boggy Creek) to give us the particulars of each separate incident (dates, locations, names, etc). But where The Town That Dreaded Sundown excels is in its depiction of the various attacks, which grow more gruesome as the film progresses. The first couple, Linda Mae Jenkins (Christine Ellsworth) and Sammy Fuller (Mike Hackworth), who were parked out in the woods, actually survived their ordeal, yet were unable to give an accurate description of their attacker because he was wearing a burlap sack over his head. Unfortunately, most victims wouldn't live long enough to tell their side of the story.
Prine and Johnson are believable as the lawmen determined to bring the murderer to justice, but the film's best performance is delivered by Bud Davis, who’s terrifying as the masked killer, a cold-blooded psychotic who seems to enjoy the carnage he creates (during one attack, he even gets a bit creative with a trombone). His portrayal, along with Pierce’s detailed recreation of the murders, is what makes The Town That Dreaded Sundown a truly chilling experience.