Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Jason goes to Gilligan's Island

1976's "The Town that Dreaded Sundown" graced the drive in theaters for years.  A docu-thriller about a serial killer mashing up lover's lane couples in 1946 Texarkana.  I had avoided this film largely because of the reviews which described it as boring.  Shame on me!  After viewing this work last week, I couldn't disagree with it's critics more.  Effective as a period piece, capitalizing on middle-America's distrust of the Truman Administration, and as a scary thriller, TTTDS is a winner.  Ben Johnson is perfect as Captain J.D. Morales of the Texas Rangers, who personifies the confidence and arrogance of State and Federal law enforcement while dealing with local police departments, perfectly.  Also starring Dawn Wells ("Gilligan's Island") as a would be victim and Andrew Pine as a very competent deputy, the supporting cast is terrific, as well.
The plot:  On March 3rd, an attractive couple parks in the woods with the expressed purpose to kiss a lot and get naked.  Probably unmarried, our amorous couple meets a painful fate, as they are bludgeoned by a masked man.  Both survive, but the future victims will not be as fortunate.  Three weeks later, a Navy Sea Bee and his 17 year old date are shot to death as they park down an abandoned dirt road.  The girl was tied to a tree by our fiend before being shot to death.  The killer also bites the neck, back, and breasts of his female victims.  This time, Deputy Ramsey (Pine) is able to pursue the masked fiend, but this elusive phantom barely gets away.  Gun stores and locksmiths in Texarkana start doing great business.  Then, to take charge of the investigation, Capt. Morales of the Rangers (Johnson) arrives.  In true magnanimous fashion, he announces to the local PD and sheriff's department, "Things will be handled my way." This works magnificently, unless you are a resident of Texarkana, as three weeks after the last attack, two high school students, a hunk and a babe trombone player, are murdered.  Our killer went to special efforts in murdering the trombone player, as he tied her to a tree, too, and made the trombone into a weapon to do his deed.
The national media, FBI, and every crackpot wanting credit for the murders then converges on Texarkana.  As Morales and Ramsey work around the clock, sometimes with comedic results, the phantom begins to eye Helen Reed (Wells).  Despite the increased police presence, and various stakeouts, Reed and her husband are targeted for an excruciating demise by the murderer.  Without Ginger and Gilligan available, Reed will endure a tortuous evening. 
Many will be reminded of the story of the Zodiac killer when viewing this film, as this is also a true story.  Filmed in Texarkana, Charles B. Pierce effectively turns middle America into a creepy world.  Will the police capture this phantom?  Will Donna Wells survive to become the most notable advocate of marijuana use in this country?  Chilling and horrifying, this is a hard to find film, only recently available on Blu-Ray and Netflix.  The makers of "Paranormal Activity" have remade this film, set in 2014, with a paranormal flare to it.  The original 1976 version will have you thinking, and may give you the creeps well after the film ends.  

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