Film / The Town that Dreaded Sundown

The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a 1976 docudrama thriller based on the Moonlight Murders.

In 1946, the town of Texarkana, Arkansas is plagued by assaults and slayings committed by "the Phantom Killer". Investigating deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine) is baffled by the first attack on a couple, and when the assailant kills his next two victims, Texas Ranger J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson) is brought in to investigate the crimes. Unfortunately, finding the killer proves difficult...

In 2014 a Meta Sequel was released by MGM. Produced by Ryan Murphy (of American Horror Story and Glee fame) and Jason Blum and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, the film follows a fictional copycat of the original murders. The original film is also featured in-universe as part of the town's Halloween celebrations.

This 1976 film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Ax-Crazy: The Phantom is a psychotic who targets others seemingly to slaughter them for the pleasure of it.
  • Based on a True Story: The story is true, but some liberties are taken. Particularly the final, dramatic attack on the Phantom and his near-escape.
  • Big Bad: The Phantom Killer's murders drive the plot.
  • Disguised in Drag: After the second attack, several cops disguise themselves as women in order to facilitate a sting operation.
  • Downer Ending: The Phantom Killer is never caught and basically gets away with all the crimes he committed.
  • The Faceless: The Phantom is never seen without a homemade White Mask of Doom (a burlap gunnysack with eye holes) covering his head.
  • Fearsome Foot: Halfway through the film, we are introduced to the killer this way, as he makes his way through town, supposedly running random errands, but in reality, earmarking potential victims.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Phantom was never caught or identified in real life, so it's a sad given he won't be here.
  • Instrument of Murder: The Phantom stabs a woman to death by using a bayonet attached to a trombone. He plays it to make the blade go in and out of her.
  • Karma Houdini: In real life, the Phantom was never apprehended. In the film, this is a possible example as the Phantom flees, injured, into the swamps. It is possible he dies, but also plausible he survives and escapes justice.
  • Lean and Mean: The Phantom, despite his size, is definitely quite slender.
  • Lost in the Maize: Wounded Helen Reed eludes her assailant by crawling to the cornfield next to her house. The Phantom Killer, with a pickaxe in hand, walks after her through the rows, but misses his change to off her as she manages to find sanctuary at her neighbors place.
  • Make-Out Point: The first attacks from the Phantom Killer takes place in these points
  • Man Bites Man: The Phantom Killer leaves bitemarks on his victims, seemingly for no reason other than being batshit insane.
  • Mood Whiplash: Largely courtesy of comic relief Sparkplug. And then there's the trombone murder...
  • No Name Given: The Phantom Killer is never identified.
  • The Place
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: After the Phantom Killer gets chased to the bayou, the film abruptly ends, and the narration starts telling what happened to the surviving characters.
  • Yawn and Reach: Sammy tries get his arm around his girl Linda Mae this way at the lover's lane, but she's having none of it. He then resorts to resting his head on her lap.

The 2014 film has the examples of:

  • Archer Archetype: The bag that the killer carries in the final chase is revealed to hold a bow, and he uses it shoot Jami through her leg.
  • The End... Or Is It?: A mysterious shadow is shown following Jami in the ending just before the credits start rolling.
  • Final Girl: Jami, the girl-next-door protagonist who is the last left to face the killer at the end. Somewhat subverted in that she has sex and lives.
  • Jack the Ripoff: The killings mimic the those from the 40s, right down to the murder by knife-trombone.
  • Moe Greene Special: One deputy is shot in the eye as he is in the receiving end of a blowjob.
  • The Reveal: There are actually two killers; Deputy Foster and Corey, who faked his death in the beginning.
  • Suicide by Cop: A teenager shows up at a commemorative ceremony for the Phantom's victims dressed as the Phantom himself. A suicide note he left explained that he intended to die like this and he got his wish.