Wednesday, November 14, 2012

31 Horrors: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (#24)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Curiously unreleased on DVD (not even in America, let alone Australia), I didn't feel quite so guilty acquiring this 1976 small town slasher through a few dubious means. There's a decent quality version currently airing on TCM in the states, but the copy I watched was a pretty shoddy VHS rip that, if little else, added to the atmosphere of watching an old horror title that came to exist in the age of video cassettes. I watched Charles B Pierce's film on Halloween (after Vampyr and before Hardware) so I was very much set for it to blow me away, and given it is one of the more obscure (yet amazing) references in Kevin Williamson's screenplay for Scream - "It's like The Town that Dreaded Sundown!" - I was really hoping for it to blow me away, too.

"It's about a killer in Texas, huh?" - Deputy Dewey, Scream

And whenever the movie was directly following the killer on screen The Town that Dreaded Sundown was a fabulously freaky experience - and the VHS transfer made the deep midnight blues and blacks that permeate these sequences feel appropriately grubby ala The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The stalk-and-kill scenes featuring the baghead killer who wields a shotgun and, in one particularly odd yet scary scene, a trombone are really well done and reminded me of David Fincher's Zodiac in the way they happen to matter of factly and straightforward. Another film it reminded me of was Maniac, but I think any film I watch from now that features a shotgun blast through a car windscreen is going to remind me of that fantastic film.

Sadly, the killer - known as "The Phantom", and based on a real unsolved case in Texarkana, Texas - isn't really the focus of the majority of the film, but rather the police investigation into his case. I say "sadly" because these passages of the film, centered around Ben Johnson's detective character, are like the dopey cop sequences of Last House on the Left stretched out to feature length. Much like Wes Craven was somehow able to juxtapose the absolute horror of the action with bumbling idiocy of those two police characters, whenever the Sundown killer isn't on screen it succumbs to tedium. It's all so incredibly uninteresting and silly and goofy and I don't understand how these scenes fit into the same film that the killer himself was a part of. There are far too many banjos and cross-dressing coppers getting felt up by overweight detectives. It amuses me to find (after having written most of this) that Jason at My New Plaid Pants had the exact same opinion as me. If Jason agrees then I know I'm on the right page and not just watching a movie in the wrong mood.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown: B+; All that other crap: D+. Let's give it a median C+, shall we?

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