Monday, April 20

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)


Directed by Charles B. Pierce
90 Minutes / Warner Home Video / Cropped from 2.35:1 to full screen

Based on an unsolved true crime, a masked serial killer terrorizes the small town of Texarkana, Arkansas with a mounting body count and authorities led by a crack police captain on his trail.

You know, after all the hype, it's honestly like a docudrama/thriller geared towards the elderly who crave the thrill of one of the more action-packed episodes of Matlock. Oscar winner Ben Johnson gives an uneventful turn as Captain J.D. Morales. The problem is the ol' cap doesn't do much and primarily looks to those under him for insight. It's also annoying that the film casts the man as "the best" and a patron saint to the citizenry--despite doing essentially jackshit and looking like he just took a long, relaxing trip to the john. No, I don't expect David Caruso to come busting the door down with a forensics laboratory, but this guy was the best? Really?

The film features persistent and wooden '50s educational film narration providing a more "factual" sense of the true details. This aspect comes off as more of a storytelling crutch to move the picture along instead of actually acting out the details. One example is when they chase down a thief who admits to being the "phantom" killer and the narrator simply states he was able to convince Morales that he wasn't the killer during the car ride to the station. Huh? I would have loved to actually hear and see how he accomplished that feat.

Though they're small quibbles compared to the entirely unnecessary comic relief sprinkled throughout. We laugh heartily at the antics Patrolman "Sparkplug"; who can't seem to drive properly at all, fumbles for keys that are right in front of him, and is made fun of by his partners when he dresses up as a woman for bait on a stakeout. Of course we don't laugh, but just groan as the film throws away all of its shaky credibility during these scenes.

The stalk and kill sequences involving baghead are staged well and hold tension enough to seem like they're almost inserted from a different film. The killer's disguise is unsettling and would certainly be something I wouldn't want to experience coming out of the darkness on a quiet night. It's a damn shame nearly everything else in the film is so cripplingly pedestrian and hokey. Spend the time with Fincher's Zodiac instead to see how this kind of film should be handled.

Film: 4.5/10
VHS Picture: 2.5/10 (painfully cropped with constant forms of print damage)
VHS Sound: 5/10

1 comment:

Sehnzeleid said...

*Added another paragraph, I always seem to forget a few important details while initially writing these! Haha!

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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