The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Article 4431 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-26-2014
Directed by Charles B. Pierce
Featuring Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells
Country: USA
What it is: Based-on-a-true-story serial killer thriller

In 1946, a serial killer began a reign of terror in the town of Texarkana. A famous Texas ranger leads the investigate to catch him.

Charles B. Pierce wasn’t a particularly good director, but he had a good handle on how authentic locations and local color could enhance a movie, and he knows enough about how to keep you on the edge of your seat to get by. When the movie embraces its semi-documentary approach and keeps the tone serious, it works quite well. Unfortunately, the script makes a big mistake; instead of concentrating on focusing on the details of the investigation of the killings, it tends to gloss over them and shift the attention to a comic relief character played by the director himself. The character isn’t so bad that he becomes intolerable, but his scenes are so poorly integrated into the main story that they reveal themselves for the padding they are. That’s a real shame; I’d rather have been presented with a real-life investigation of the murders, and had the movie gone for that, there would have been no need for the padding. Still, the tension, suspense and horror are strong enough to compensate for this, but I do feel it’s merely a good movie when it could have been a great one.

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