31 Days to Scare ~ The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: 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.

Stars: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells

Director: Charles B. Pierce

Rated: R

Running Length: 86 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Original Release Date: December 24, 1976

Review: In all my visits to the horror section at my local video store I never got around to toting the clamshell package for The Town That Dreaded Sundown up to the counter for a check-out.  Not that the box art didn’t make a large impression on me, with that scary masked man peeking out from a lone eyehole popping up once or twice in nightmares brought on by my impressionable imagination.  Up until earlier this week, I actually though I’d seen it at some point over the years but when the trailer for the remake of this came out I realized that I had yet to make a visit to this terror town.

Turns out, some childhood memories are better left to staying put as hazy recollections because after trudging through all 86 very long minutes of this cheap-o 1976 horror film on Amazon Prime (nicely remastered in HD, by the way) I just don’t get why it’s remembered at all, let alone remembered fondly.

Playing like an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard with a Zodiac plotline, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is light on the scares and heavy on seemingly endless scenes of exposition that are more likely to lull you to sleep instead of keep you up at night.  There’s probably a total of 10 minutes where anything actually happens and the rest is comprised of hokey acting and comedic moments (intentional and otherwise) that take you completely out of whatever momentum director Charles B. Pierce was trying to build.

To its credit, the film does take a page from actual history by documenting the bizarre murders of five people over the course of several months in a tiny town on the border between Arkansas and Texas.  The crimes were grisly and the murders were never solved…all this should have provided the basis for something very eerie and unsettling but I was never engaged in the goings-on to much care what happened next.

While the murder scenes have a certain creepy frankness to them (and boy can some of those ladies scream!), the low-budget affords no style or imagination to be employed.  As a respected Texas Ranger, Ben Johnson makes convincing work of his character but is weighed down by being involved in the aforementioned comedic moments.  Escaped from Gilligan’s Island, Mary Ann herself (Dawn Wells) filmed her scenes in a day and a half and didn’t read the script before shooting her scenes…and it shows because Wells acts like she’s wandered into a Tennessee Williams play instead of a budget-less horror film.

Though attempts at atmosphere are admirable, it’s not enough to save the film from striking out when compared to other thrillers of the era.  I don’t need blood and guts to call a horror movie a classic…but it needs to be interesting and this film is a huge bore.  The remake has it easy, actually, because it can improve upon its source material with little effort.

Don’t visit this town.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Judge

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Synopsis: Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

Release Date: October 10, 2014

Thoughts: Though I’ve seen the poster and the trailer for The Judge several times now, I still fight with telling myself that it’s not the latest adaptation of a John Grisham thriller…not that the preview doesn’t suggest something similar to Grisham’s sweaty courtroom dramas that were all the rage in the mid-90s. With a nicely meaty role, star Robert Downey Jr. (The Avengers) ,may have found a nice antidote to the Iron Man/Sherlock Holmes track he’s been on for the last few years. Paired with Oscar winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies), I’m looking forward to seeing the two generationally different actors work alongside one another.

The Silver Bullet ~ American Sniper

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Synopsis: A Navy SEAL recounts his military career, which includes more than 150 confirmed kills.

Release Date:  January 16, 2015

Thoughts: I’ll be more than willing to forgive director Clint Eastwood for the musical tragedy of Jersey Boys earlier this summer if December’s American Sniper is as breathless as this first trailer.  Starring Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) as the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and based on Kyle’s book of the same name, this is the film that could once and for all seal Cooper’s Hollywood A-List status if he can carry it off.  I’ve always thought Cooper was an interesting actor but didn’t really take notice of his leading man potential until his Oscar nominated turn in Silver Linings Playbook…so here’s hoping Eastwood’s laid-back style works for both the movie and his star.