Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Days of Horror-Day 27: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

(dir. Charles B. Pierce)

*First time viewing

     Two years before John Carpenter’s Halloween, there was The Town That Dreaded Sundown, an early step in what would later become the slasher-film phenomenon. Given what I’d heard about the film, my expectations were a little high. So I’ll tell you now right, that despite the awesome title and the poster for the film, temper your expectations my friends. Based on real life events, the film focuses on the town of Texacana in 1946 as police try to apprehend the Phantom, a mouth-breather with a sack over his head who takes pleasure in killing teens on lover’s lanes.

     As someone who can appreciate dated horror movies (even ones of low-quality), The Town That Dreaded Sundown was too much even for me. Do you remember the great opening narration that began The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Now imagine if that narration was delivered by a guy who sounds like your earth science professor and that it kept popping up at random times during the movie, explaining what you’d just seen. That’s what this film does. Coupled with music that sounds like it came from The Brady Bunch episode where the Bradys were stuck in a ghost town, and a plot point that involves police officers dressing up as women to lure the Phantom, you’re left with a movie that is completely incapable of being taken seriously. 

     The real-life events the film is based on are chilling, and there are a few scenes involving the Phantom that work well. The rest of the film surrounding them is so filled with attempts at comic-relief and bland dialogue that it damages the overall intent to frighten. Things do pick up a little near the end (before the narration kicks in again), and if the whole film could have been as consistent as that, it really could have been a stand-out effort.

Scare Factor: 1/5 While the film’s drive-in quality looks great, The Town That Dreaded Sundown won’t scare you and for the most part it may barely hold your interest. It may be one of the first of the slasher sub-genre, but it makes a lot of the classics that followed look all the more innovative in comparison.

**Available to watch on Netflix Instant

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