Part mystery, part western, part slasher film, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is a good little picture from 1976.
Based on a true story, the movie is about a killer targeting young couples around Texarkana, a city on the border of Texas and Arkansas.
In 1946, a man described as big and “strong as hell,” assaulted and in some cases killed young couples parked at night on dark, deserted roads.
The movie opens in a semi-documentary style with an authoritative-sounding narrator setting the time and place. It then moves into horror film territory, when a man wearing a sack with eyeholes cut out stalks and attacks the couples. It then crosses over into a detective story when the local police, baffled by the case, call in a noted Texas lawman, played by Ben Johnson, to lead the investigation. Despite his efforts to protect the town and close in on the killer, the murders and attempted murders continue.
One of the intended victims is played by Dawn Wells of “Gilligan’s Island” fame. She is listed on the channel guide as co-starring with Johnson, but her part, unfortunately, is very small.
Johnson lends an air of authority and class to the low-budget film. In 1971, he appeared in “The Last Picture Show,” in a part that won him an Oscar for best supporting actor.
Others in the cast include Andrew Prine and Charles B. Pierce who also directed the picture. In 1972, Pierce’s first film, “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” was a low-budget hit.
Films like this were once hard to find, but “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” not only ran recently on Turner Classic Movies, but also is here on YouTube.
(For more overlooked films, see Todd Mason's blog.)