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Film / The Town That Dreaded Sundown

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The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a 1976 American docudrama thriller film directed by Charles B. Pierce, based on the Moonlight Murders.

In 1946, the town of Texarkana, Arkansas is plagued with a series of 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 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:

  • Arch-Enemy: Captain J.D. Morales has the Phantom Killer, a Serial Killer he was called into Texarkana to stop, and whose escape from capture haunts him for the rest of his life.
  • 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.
  • Clueless Deputy: Patrolman A.C. "Sparkplug" Bensonn who fills the role of Comic Relief and whose antics create some extreme Mood Whiplash in an otherwise serious film.
  • 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 unmasked.
  • 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 conclusively 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, though the killings ended when the primary suspect was arrested for an unrelated crime. In the film, this is a possible example as the Phantom flees, injured, into the swamps. It’s 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 chance to off her as she manages to find sanctuary at her neighbor's 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: Texarkana is the eponymous town that dreads sundown.
  • Powerful Pick: The Phantom Killer takes a pickaxe to chase a woman with through a cornfield.
  • Red Herring: While Captain Morales and the investigators are at the restaurant with the psychiatrist, a man is shown leaving, wearing a familiar pair of shoes and trousers.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The film is based on the actual Phantom murders that plagued Texarkana in 1946.
  • Sackhead Slasher: The Phantom is never seen without a burlap gunnysack with eye holes covering his head. The real life suspect was described as wearing a white mask with eyeholes cut into it.
  • Silent Antagonist: The Phantom for most of the film, though he can be heard grunting and panting from time to time. He can also barely be heard shouting in rage as he breaks into Helen Reed's house.
  • Terror at Make-Out Point: The first three attacks by the Phantom are on couples parked in secluded 'Lover's Lane' locations. Truth in Television as the film is based on the Real Life Texarkana Moonlight Murders.
  • Train Escape: The Phantom escapes from Captain Morales and Deputy Ramsey by dashing across the railroad tracks ahead of an oncoming train.
  • Vader Breath: The Phantom Killer breathes heavily throughout the movie, justified as he probably doesn't have enough oxygen in the white hood he wears on his head.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Assuming the Red Herring above is the Phantom.
  • "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:

  • Actor Allusion: This is not the first time Joshua Leonard has played a murderer in a slasher film who's identity is revealed in the final act.
  • Bury Your Gays: The two male band members were about to have sex in a junkyard when the new Phantom kills them.
  • 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.
  • Homage: The movie bears a great deal of similarities to Scream (1996), with the killer basing his murders off a slasher film, sending the Final Girl threatening phone calls, and even re-using the same twists, namely the reveal that Two Dun It, and that one of the killers is the boyfriend of the Final Girl, who had faked their death beforehand.
  • 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.
  • Moral Guardians: A group of these are shown protesting showings of the original film, proclaiming it as "godless". After the copycat murders start, they try to ban further showings of the movie.
  • The Reveal: There are actually two killers; Deputy Foster and Corey, who faked his death in the beginning.
  • Sex Signals Death: A significant amount of the new Phantom's victims die during, after, or right before sex.
  • 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.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. Jaime goes to see a therapist after her boyfriend Corey is killed.


Video Example(s):


The Phantom

The Phantom is never seen without a burlap gunnysack with eye holes covering his head. The real life suspect was described as wearing a white mask with eyeholes cut into it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / SackheadSlasher

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