Texarkana, Arkansas looked normal in the daylight hours... but everyone dreaded sundown.
I'd like to admit upfront that I've never been a big fan of the slasher horror subgenre. It's not that I have anything in particular against slasher films or the directors who make them, I just often find them to be less imaginative than their supernatural-themed counterparts. Case in point, Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives is (at least in my mind) one of the best entries in the entire franchise thanks to Jason Vorhees entirely Frankensteinian resurrection.
There is merit, however, to films that are so real, exploitative and gritty that they tap into the subconscious, uneasy voyeur inside us all. Films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or I Spit on Your Grave both stand out in that regard, especially having seen them both at a relatively young age. That's why, when I first heard about The Town that Dreaded Sundown, I approached it with both skepticism and a predetermined sense of distaste (not the most open-ended way to approach a review, I know).
The film definitely exudes a dated, high school documentary feel from the very first scene onwards with its monotone narrator chiming in at uneven intervals throughout the story. To its credit, this adds a slight credence to the film's claim of being based on a true story (albeit however loosely that truth is told). It also technically isn't a slasher film, despite appearances to the contrary, The Town that Dreaded Sundown has more in common with Cape Fear or Silence of the Lambs in terms of "modus operandi."
"If you think this is cool, just wait 'til you see what I do with my flute!"
I also found the acting to be a bit rigid, though actor Andrew Prine does put up a valiant effort as Deputy Norman Ramsey. Ben Johnson is even less impressive as "The Lone Wolf" J.D. Morales, a reknowned Texas Ranger based on the real life Captain Manuel T. Gonzaullas who led the actual "Phantom Murders" investigation in 1946 upon which this movie is based. Although the film claims to have taken certain creative liberties with their depiction of these events, public records on the case actually prove to be much more brutal than anything the film volunteers in its 1 1/2 hour runtime.
It's an exercise is patience to sit through the entire film without being distracted by any number of equally trivial things (scratching your nose, getting a snack, taking a bathroom break) and not being afraid that you'll miss something along the way. To be sure, The Town that Dreaded Sundown offers little in terms of suspense and instead focuses on a splattering of random and ultimately pointless killings by either bludgeoning or gunfire. There is one incident in which the killer gets creatively bizarre by using a trombone/pocket knife combination to dispatch a helpless victim, but it hardly makes up for the other lackluster slayings.