Director: Charles B. Pierce
Stars: Ben Johnson, Dawn Wells, Andrew Prine, Bud Davis
Co-starring Dawn "Mary Ann" Wells (of Gilligan's Island fame), director Charles B. Pierce's film is presented as a fictionalized reenactment, like the ones you'd see in old TV shows like Sightings and Unsolved Mysteries. Its antagonist is the "Phantom Killer," who, between February and May of 1946, committed a string of homicides in Texarkana (resting between Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas), dubbed as "the Moonlight Murders." Of the eight people the Phantom Killer encountered, five lost their lives. The Phantom was never caught.
With an effective documentary feel, complete with dry-toned, John-Larroquette-in-Chainsaw-Massacre-like narration, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is an odd bird within the slasher movie lexicon. There’s very little gore, with Pierce going for the kind of sadistic realism David Fincher would later pull off in Zodiac’s similarly real-time murder sequences.
Pierce also contributes horror’s most memorable band-geek-friendly kill: the white-masked Phantom ties a girl to a tree, sticks a pocket knife into a trombone, and stabs her to death by blowing into the instrument as if he’s playing a tune. No wonder why Glee creator Ryan Murphy spearheaded this month’s Sundown remake.