The-Town-that-Dreaded-Sundown

Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

by Meredith Grau

http://lalalandhistory.blogspot.com/ 

.

Best Bad Quote:

“You think I’m gonna let the son of a bitch come in and fondle one [of my fake breasts] before I blow his head off?”

.

This is a movie about Texarkana, AR and how creepy, doughy, pillow-faced murderers live there. This is a film about victims that die and die badly— squeaking like toys and wriggling like worms. This is a movie about how not to make a horror movie. A comedy, maybe. But horror, no.

.

I had high hopes for this one. I’d heard about it before, due to its cult classic status, and naturally wanted to be able to compare/contrast since the remake will be hitting theaters in a matter of days. (Yay)? Loosely based upon the true story of a serial murder spree that occurred between February and May of 1946 in the Texas/Arkansas area, it was bound to be creepy if nothing else. The film did have some merits, and I must admit that I got what director Charles B. Pierce was going for, even if he didn’t quite get there. However, it lands more as a curiosity than an object of psychological intrigue, let alone one that induces the willies.

.

The primary problem from which this spine-tingler suffers is that every time it sets itself up to do something totally shocking to really push the audience’s comfort level— this is murder we’re talking about, after all— it corrupts the intention by making it accidentally laughable. I refer, as one example, to the use of a trombone as a murder instrument. In a moment that for me was probably the darkest in the film, or at least had the potential to be, the growing tension was quickly annihilated by some impromptu, stabby-stabby night music. There’s also the opening murder, during which the male victim keeps trying to speed away in his car, even though the killer is standing right in front of him with the engine wires in his hand. This nincompoopery lasts for an extended period of time and, obviously, gets the “escaping” idiot nowhere. But then, I’m getting ahead of myself.

.

Told in narrative flashback by the resonating, baritone voice of Vern Stierman, Sundown describes the quiet local life of a little Texarkana hub, which is disquieted by a slew of sudden slayings, all obeying the same basic style: pair of lovers mackin’ in the woods, dude butchered, woman tied to tree and butchered (sometimes by trombone), and the same again in 21 days. Everyone in town is panic stricken, boarding up their windows and hiding indoors before nightfall. At least, this is what the narrator tells us. People don’t seem all that upset or frightened by the happenstances… Thus, we have an utter lack of suspense. If the actors aren’t afraid, why should we be? The only iron-gutted interest in the film is delivered by Ben Johnson as Cpt. J.D. Morales, but then Ben is a tower of awesomeness, so no surprise there. (Also look for Mary Anne from “Gilligan’s Island.” I do love me a golden Holllywood cameo).

.

Despite the gratuitousness without gravitas, the film is an interesting experiment, at least in terms of its almost apathetic take on murder. There isn’t a hyped up score or exaggerated sound effects to make one jump in the seat. The killer appears, does what he does with much gusto and heaving of his bosoms, then takes off running like a scared little bitch. While this may not induce palpitations of terror, it does introduce the sad ordinariness of these circumstances in the world. There literally are nut bags like this around, preying on the innocent for whatever twisted reasons. They aren’t elaborate super-phantoms but people with deep psychological problems. And you know what? After they wreak their senseless violence and death havoc, the world still turns like nothing happened at all.

.

Perhaps that is the heinousness that Pierce was pointing to. I just wish he had done it a little better. With a little less trombone. And with a little more cowbell.

.

Rating: 

3 out of 5 Death Blow “Dorseys”

Sundown-trombone Sundown-trombone Sundown-trombone

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply