The Town That Dreaded Sundown
|The Town That Dreaded Sundown|
|Directed by||Charles B. Pierce|
|Produced by||Charles B. Pierce
Samuel Z. Arkoff
|Written by||Earl E. Smith|
|Music by||Jaime Mendoza-Nava|
|Cinematography||James W. Roberson|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|Release dates||December 24, 1976|
|Running time||90 min.|
It is based on a series of actual murders attributed to a man dubbed locally as the Phantom Killer, who murdered five people between February and May 1946. The murders occurred in and around the city of Texarkana, which is on the border between Texas and Arkansas. Most of the murders occurred in rural parts of the Texarkana area in both states and in rural areas of Bowie County, Texas and Miller County, Arkansas. The Phantom Killer was never identified by law enforcement and therefore never apprehended.
The film is presented like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, with a narrator describing the actions as they are shown. Ben Johnson stars as the law-enforcement officer attempting to catch the killer. Dawn Wells (Mary Ann of Gilligan's Island) appears as one of the victims.
Although the movie was presented with the claim that "only the names have been changed," much of the film is fictional embellishment of the real events. A good portion of the film was filmed in and around Texarkana and a number of extras appearing in the film were recruited from the town's local residents.
Sunday, March 3, 1946. In the small town of Texarkana, Arkansas, Sammy and Linda Mae are out parking in a car. The car hood pops open and a man wearing a hood over his face takes something from the engine. Sammy realizes that someone is out there and fruitlessly tries starting the car as the hooded man breaks the drivers side car window with a pipe and pulls Sammy out. Linda Mae screams, and the man goes for her as well.
Linda Mae is found lying severely wounded on the side of the road the following morning and both she and Sammy are taken to a nearby hospital. A doctor tells Deputy Ramsey and Sheriff Barker that Linda Mae was "bitten" and "literally chewed" on different parts of her body by the assailant. Police Chief Sullivan asks about the Lovers Lane Case and he tells the other officers to warn people about parking on lonely roads. Ramsey states his belief that the mysterious person will strike again.
On March 24, Howard and his girlfriend, Emma Lou, go out driving in the rain. After hearing gunshots, Ramsey, patrolling in his car, finds Howard's parked car, but no one around. Ramsey hears more gunshots and in the woods he finds Howard and Emma Lou, both dead, having been shot several times. The hooded killer gets in the parked car and drives away.
Since the killer, now known as "The Phantom", seems to have no motive the townspeople begin to dread sundown. A few days later, Ramsey goes to the nearby train station to meet Captain Morales, a famous criminal investigator and Texas Ranger who arrives in Texarkana to find the killer. Morales has the officers set up a curfew for the entire town. Many people are on the case, including the FBI who arrive in town to assist. But a number of criminals and crazy people come forward admitting to the murders, while a horde of other citizens are demanding protection.
Ramsey tells Morales that on April 14, 21 more days after the second attack, the killer may strike again. Morales sets up decoys (cops posing as couples in unmarked parked cars). That very night at the local Junior and High Schools Prom, many people leaving under the watchful eyes of the police officers nearby. Peggy gets her trombone and leaves with her boyfriend Roy. Roy suggests parking at their favorite spot, despite Peggy's wariness over the recent murders. After making out, the two of them nod off and wake up in their car at 2:40 in the morning. As Roy starts the car and begins to drive away, the Phantom jumps on their car, grabs Roy and causes both of them to fall out. The Phantom whacks Roy on the head with a pistol and chases Peggy down, and ties her to a tree. A dazed Roy gets up and tries to run away, but the killer shoots him dead. The killer gets Peggy's trombone, attaches a knife to the end and "plays" the instrument, stabbing Peggy in the back a few times, killing her.
The next day, Morales is upset that the Phantom was able to kill again with all the law officers out looking for him. In a nearby diner, Morales, Ramsey and the group talk to Dr. Kress, who says that the Phantom is apparently motivated by a strong sex drive and will probably not get caught. He also says that the killings are like a game to the Phantom. Morales asks the doctor if the killer is insane, to which Dr. Kress replies "oh, yes!" At a nearby table, an unseen man, (wearing the killer's boots and slacks) stands up and walks out of the diner unnoticed after he has apparently heard everything the officers were talking about.
Back at the station, Morales talks to a man named Johnson, who says that he was held at gunpoint by a man claiming to have killed five people. Morales and Ramsey get a call about an armed man. They spot him speeding away from a store and chase him down. The man, Eddie, is arrested after they find that he is driving a stolen car. Johnson identifies him as the man with the gun. Under interrogation, Eddie says that he is the Phantom, but Morales does not believe him and correctly suspects that Eddie is just another nutcase who wants to confess to being the killer in order to gain publicity and fame.
On Friday, May 3, Helen Reed drives away after grocery shopping and is unknowingly followed by the unseen killer who is identified by his familiar boots. While she is at home in a remote farmhouse, her husband, Floyd, in the living room, is sitting in an armchair reading a newspaper when the Phantom walks up to the window and shoots him twice with a silenced pistol. Helen only hears the breaking glass and enters the living room to see Floyd fall out of his chair to the floor dead with two bullet wounds in the back of his head and neck. Helen runs to a phone to call the police when the killer bursts into the house through the front door and shoots Helen twice in the face. While the Phantom enters the living room to look at Floyd's dead body, Helen, despite having a bullet wound through her mouth and right cheek, and grazed in the head by the second bullet, manages to crawl out of the house through the back door and stumbles into a cornfield. The Phantom follows her out with a pick axe. After a cat-and-mouse game of hiding in the cornfield, Helen gets to a nearby house and bangs on the door and windows yelling for help. A concerned farmer, armed with a shotgun, comes out to help her in. The killer, seeing the man with a gun, angrily flees.
The next day, Ramsey and Morales get a call about an abandoned car that fits the description of the car Ramsey saw that rainy night. They find the car and they get some shotguns from their police car and run off into the woods to look for the Phantom. They find the Phantom walking around an old quarry with the hood still on. Morales and Ramsey chase the Phantom through the woods to railroad tracks where the Phantom jumps over the tracks and a moving train gets between them. Morales fires under the moving train and hits the killer in his left leg. The Phantom manages to stumble away into the woods on the other side of the tracks. Over the next few days, police officers and Bloodhound dogs search the woods and the nearby swamps, but the wounded killer is not found. Afterwards, the killings stop, but the fear continues to this day. The voice-over narrator explains that no one ever found out what happened to the Phantom.
- Ben Johnson as Captain J.D. Morales
- Andrew Prine as Deputy Norman Ramsey
- Dawn Wells as Helen Reed
- Charles B. Pierce as Patrolman A.C. Benson
The film received a VHS release by Warner Home Video in the 1980s. Shout! Factory released The Town That Dreaded Sundown on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack along with The Evictors on May 21, 2013, the first time the film made an appearance on any home video format since the VHS release. In 2012, a widescreen version of the film was shown on two different occasions (January 20th, September 21st) on the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable channel.
A second film, titled The Phantom Slayer begins production in early 2014. The film will be directed by Dustin Ferguson (director of The Legacy of Boggy Creek) and is a fictitious follow-up to the events that inspired the original film.
- Texarkana Gazette, Friday, December 24, 1976
- Kit, Borys; Goldberg, Lesley (Jan. 17, 2013). "Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum Teaming Up for MGM's Remake of 'The Town That Dreaded Sundown'".