Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Director: Charles B. Pierce
SCREAM Factory! - 2013 Blu-Ray release

Many times, the best inspiration for horror, is real life. Terrible acts are perpetrated by terrible people every second of every day. Without the despicable acts of serial killer Ed Gein, we would not have THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Without the terror carried out by Charles Manson and the Manson family, Jeffery Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, O.J. Simpson, The Zodiac Killer, Ted Bundy, etc. The world would be without hundreds entertaining of books and movies.

That's the interesting thing about the True Crime genre. It's human nature to be entertained by the death and suffering of other people. Reading stories or watching movies about actual events is generally more exciting. It's not like some paranoid, schizoid in a cabin in Maine is writing off the wall crap about a dude that has a curse placed on him and gets skinny. . . or a dude that bites monkeys. . . or the end of the world. True Crime is real horror. Psychological profiling, suffering families, police procedure. True Crime is a genre that can go in many different directions depending on perspective or expertise of the person presenting the information.

"They call me Tater Salad."

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (TTTDS) is based on the  unsolved case of the Texarkana Phantom Killer. Back in the spring of 1946, Texarkana was just like any medium sized American city: trying to readjust after World War II. According to witness accounts, the Phantom Killer wore a white hood over his head. He attacked eight people and killed five. He used a .32 caliber pistol to take the lives of young couples in "lover's lane" areas. The killer shares many similarities with the infamous Zodiac killer.


TTTDS was directed by Charles B. Pierce. Pierce is best known for the 1972 docudrama THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK about swamp monster that lurks in an Arkansas swamps. Apparently it's a terrible movie, but was hugely successful on the grindhouse and drive-in circuit. It was made for $100,000 and made roughly $20,000,000.

With such success with the docudrama style film, a True Crime story seems like a slam dunk for Pierce. TTTDS features a narrator describing the events that occur. At times, the camera is acting as an observer while at other times, the film moves like a narrative movie.

The plot of the film centers around Texas Ranger J.D. Morales and Sheriff Deputy Norman Ramsey in the hunting for the killer. The plot is as basic as it gets for a crime story. Bad guy does bad things. Good guys try to find him.

While TTTDS is an hugely entertaining film, it is obvious that the story told is an extremely loose representation of the events that actually occurred. There are several funny scenes in the film. Director Charles Pierce plays a cop clumsy and dumb enough that would make the Keystone Kops second guess their shtick. In the real life events, a saxophone was found at one of the murder scenes. It was later found the instrument belonged to the victim. Pierce and company took this piece of information. They changed the saxophone into a trombone with a knife on the slide, and created one of the most bizarre and "what the hell" moments I have ever seen.

"Powerful Drivist"
While being a fairly goofy movie, TTTDS is also somehow effective as a horror film. Many of the confrontations between the killer and his victims are brutal, violent, and for the most part, pretty realistic. There is no over-the-top gore. Much of the violence is suggested and just enough is shown to show why the citizens of Texarkana feared being out after sundown.

With prior knowledge of what the film is based on TTTDS is not what I expected. But the departure from my expectations is certainly what makes me feel this is a special film. True Crime can be dry and a plot focusing on police procedure is usually pretty dry. Charles B. Pierce made a film with a brisk and exciting pace, and marries suspenseful and funny scenes in a fashion that makes a great popcorn flick. If you like your True Crime, "True" you likely will not like the way this movie unfolds, however, you will still likely be entertained.


The Scream Factory release is a nice release. I may be wrong about this, but I believe this film was only released a handful of times on VHS and never released on region 1 DVD.

The HD transfer is very good. The original film elements were apparently lost for many years so the must have been pretty well kept, wherever they were. . . The release also includes Charles B. Pierce's follow up film, THE EVICTORS as a bonus feature. An unrelated feature film as a special feature? It makes no sense, but it's pretty cool. THE EVICTORS is a pretty mediocre movie, but it's worth checking out. You may like it more than I did.

The disc also includes an audio commentary with Historian Jim Presely (Author and Texarkana native). He provides a lot of information about how the events of the film contrast with the real murders and essentially spends the most of the commentary debunking the film. However, he does it with facts and the perspective of a native of the town. It's an enjoyable track.

One gripe I have every Scream! Factory release I have seen is that the interviews always seem to be on the short side and seem severely edited. Interviews on the disc include Actor Andrew Prine and Actress Dawn Wells (yes, Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island is in this movie). There is also an essay by Writer Brian Albright. But it's on the disc and I'm not reading an essay off my TV. If a paper copy was included, i'd read it.

Overall, the commentary is good, but I feel that the rest of the features are a little skimpy. I'm a special features whore. The features on this disc fall just short of good in my opinion, just because I have a sneaking suspicion that more than half of the interviews ended up on the cutting room floor and the essay isn't on paper. I'm not sure The Evictors counts as a special feature. It's a nice throw in as I'm sure the movie would never be released otherwise.

TTTDS is a great, little talked about movie with a lot of charm. I'd recommend picking it up and watching it before the 2014 remake comes out and destroys the perception and reputation of it.

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