The October Diaries: The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Illustration by Max Brown

 Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean and Christof

October 1st, 2014:
The Town That Dreaded Sundown


Year: 1976
Director: Charles B. Pierce
Vehicle: Netflix
From IMDB: A Texas Ranger hunts for a hooded serial killer terrorizing the residents of a small town, set in 1946 Arkansas. Loosely based on a true story.

Sean’s Take:

I had allowed myself to hype this one up too much. I would’ve enjoyed it more had I not nurtured a vague awareness of it for so long. If you google the phrase “underrated horror movies” as often as I do, which is seriously doubtful, you’ll find this title appear on numerous lists. Coupled with its wonderful cover art, and the evocative title, I had built up enough hype to torpedo my viewing a bit.

I give ample respect to Charles B. Pierce for directing an authentic period piece slasher movie on an independent film’s budget. The narrative follows a murder spree that plagues the small city of Texarkana, back in the forties. Pierce does a great job featuring plenty of vintage clothing and automobiles to prove the era. Along with the inclusion of a very informative narrator, these details help establish a tone of authoritative authenticity.

The periodically beautiful cinematography does wonders to help contrast the wholesome small town vibe with several unsettling murder moments featuring a killer who wears a burlap sack on his head. The most memorable kill featured a musical instrument (from the brass section), and the scene didn’t play nearly as funny as that description made it sound like it might.

Unfortunately Pierce felt the need to instill the movie with lengthy moments of broad comic relief (often featuring a role played by himself — an officer “Sparkplug” — who can’t seem to chill the fuck out the whole movie). These borderline slapstick turns derail the creepy tonal authenticity that was established early on.

It was this yo-yoing that kept me from going full-on gaga for this one. I was both impressed and baffled. As is often the case with horror movies, the movie wasn’t able to live up to the title.


Christof’s Take:

The movie’s title is too good to live up to, but the movie opens strong—as if it’s claiming it will live up to it—with a surprising and charmingly stern third-person voice-over narration explaining that the events of the film are true. The horror scenes are hitting some good notes with the added emotional creepiness of knowing some of this actually happened. But in all other scenes, which are usually led by the Sheriff’s Department, the tone changes, both in terms of mood and music.

It becomes a goofy comedy, one that is sort of funny, but mostly in regard to how obviously out-of-place it all seems. Since the death scenes are based on actual murders, the nonsensical comedic pandering in the police scenes feels uncomfortably disrespectful, especially since the most wacky character is played by the director. However, it is a strangely fun mess to watch if you have a mind for a good CineMess. Repeat viewings might even kick it up to Messterpiece standing, but I can’t guarantee a second viewing.

Regardless of its quality, it’s important to note that Scream wouldn’t exist without this movie, at least not the version we know. Kevin Williamson took a few of the good elements, at least one of the bad ones, and cleaned them up, hence Sidney’s intertextual comment about Woodsboro, “Looks like The Town That Dreaded Sundown.”

If there’s one reason to watch it: the killer’s bag-mask with eye-holes cut out is wonderfully creepy, especially since his heavy breathing pulls the bag in to reveal the shape of his open mouth with every inhale and puffs it back out with every exhale. A horrific visual metronome counting down and building tension. As far as slapstick biopic horror films go, it’s about as good as they get.



One Comment on “The October Diaries: The Town That Dreaded Sundown”

  1. 1 Da said at 4:40 am on October 10th, 2014:

    Very nice reviews. Have not seen this one, may have to check it out, particularly since I think I’ve seen the burlap breathing scene before, or I’m just flashing back to my own youthful time spent in a burlap bag.

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