Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Film Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (Review)
United States/1976
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...when it works, it really works."

Loosely based on real events, this is the story of the Phantom Killer, an unidentified serial killer who tormented the town of Texarkana, Texas.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown has a straightforward plot. The story follows the police officers tracking the Phantom killer. It mainly follows Captain J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson), a well-known lead investigator, as he heads the case. Meanwhile, the Phantom killer attacks people every 21 days or so, particularly during the night. The town becomes nervous and begin to dread sundown, and the stakes are raised as the victims pile in. That's pretty much it -- not much investigative work going on. The ending of the film is great, though.

I didn't really have a problem with the simplicity of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. In fact, I thought it was often an attractive simplicity. The main issue with this film was the inconsistent mood. Separately, the elements work. When it's dark and ominous, it is exactly that. When it's aiming for a laugh, it's actually humorous. But, these two elements fail to blend seamlessly. It was almost like watching two different films: a cheesy b-movie horror/comedy and a serious crime thriller. The conflicting mood made it much less effective. The pacing was also an issue on occasion, especially during some of the uneventful parts of the film.

However, like I said, when it works, it really works. Parts of the film reminded me of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- which is a good thing for me since I love that film. The actual serial killer aspects of the film, like the killings and (minimal) investigations, are chilling and creepy. There are some very ominous and unsettling scenes here and there. Some great suspense and tension, too. I laughed out loud at least a handful of times during the film. On the other hand, though, I think this film would have been tighter and more consistent without the comedy.

The acting was good from the main cast. The role wasn't very demanding, but Ben Johnson delivered a strong performance. Some of the supporting cast was terrible. For example, one of the early attacks on this film had an actress screaming hysterically; instead of feeling her fear and hoping she got away, I wanted her to get caught so the screeching could stop! (I'm a bad person.)  The film looks great, though; the high definition print allows this film to shine. Director Charles B. Pierce does well in developing the ominous mood and delivering chilling scenes -- at certain times. On the other hand, the mood changes so often and inconsistently, it makes the film less effective and less focused.

Overall, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a good film. It's not a superb film or a classic, but it's also far from terrible or bad. I couldn't fully immerse myself into the film due to the constant mood swings, but I did enjoy a bulk of the film -- especially the horror/crime scenes. The humor worked, too, but it didn't fit. If you have an hour and half to kill and enjoy the genre, this is at least worth a rental or stream.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

No comments:

Post a Comment