Southern Fried Slasher: THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (AIP 1976)


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In 1946, the town of Texarkana, on the Texas-Arkansas border, was rocked by a series of brutal attacks on its citizens from February to May that left five people dead and three seriously wounded. The psycho, who wore what seemed to be a white pillowcase with eyeholes cut in it, caused quite a panic among the townsfolk, and the local and national press had a field day sensationalizing the gruesome events. The case was dubbed “The Texas Moonlight Murders”, and the mysterious maniac “The Phantom Killer”. Famed Texas Ranger M.T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullus was brought in to lead the investigation and rounded up a few suspects, but no one was ever formally charged with the grisly crimes. To this day, the case has never officially been solved.

Forty years later, Texarkana native Charles B. Pierce produced, directed, and costarred in THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, a film based on those…

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Horror on TV: Kolchak 1.16 “Demon In Lace” (dir by Don Weis)


Tonight, on Kolchak….

Young college students are dying of heart attacks and Carl Kolchak is on the case!  Could it be just a coincidence?  Could it be drugs?  Could it be anything other than a Sumerian demon?  Well, if you know Kolchak, you already know the answer to that question!

This episode originally aired on February 7th, 1975.

Enjoy!

Horror on the Lens: Night Slaves (dir by Ted Post)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have the 1970 made-for-TV movie, Night Slaves!

In this atmospheric film, an estranged married couple (James Franciscus and Lee Grant) find themselves in a small town.  It seems like a friendly enough place.  I mean, Leslie Nielsen is the sheriff!  How could anything go wrong in a town protected by Leslie Nielsen?

However, at night, the town changes.  Only Franciscus seems to notice all of the townspeople wandering about like zombies.  Is he going crazy or has he stumbled across something sinister?

You’ll have to watch find out!

Enjoy!

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Amityville II: The Possession (dir by Damiano Damiani)


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Agck!

The 1982 “prequel” Amityville II: The Possession is a film that is so grimy and icky and yucky and disgusting that you’ll want to take a shower right after you watch it.  And then you’ll probably end up taking two more showers, just to be sure that you’ve washed the film away.

Seriously, this is an amazingly disturbing film.

Claiming to show how that infamous house in Amityville, New York came to be haunted in the first place, this film opens with The Montelli Family moves into a big house with quarter moon windows.  The family patriarch is Anthony (Burt Young), a former cop who walks with a cane.  Anthony is an angry monster, an abusive husband, and a terrible father.  His wife, Dolores (Rutanya Alda), lives her life in denial, insisting that a new house means a new beginning and continually praying that her family will find peace.  Anthony and Dolores have four children.  The two youngest are at the mercy of their angry father.  Teenagers Patricia (Diane Franklin) and Sonny (Jack Magner) are both looking forward to the day that they can escape their family.

As soon as the Montellis move in, strange things start to happen.  It turns out that there’s a strange tunnel in the basement, one that appears to lead to nowhere.  When obscene messages appear on the walls of the house, Anthony starts to beat the youngest children but, fortunately, Sonny grabs a rifle and points it at his father’s head.  When the local priest, Father Adamsky (James Olson), shows up to bless the house, he ends up getting so disgusted at Anthony that he leaves without finishing.

In fact, Father Adamsy is a remarkable ineffectual priest.  When he attempts to talk to Sonny, he simply assumes that Sonny isn’t talking because he’s rude.  What Adamsky doesn’t suspect is that Sonny’s being rude because he’s been possessed by a demon for the basement!  When Patricia confesses that she and Sonny have been having sex, Adamsky doesn’t do anything about it.  When Patricia tries to call him to let him know that her brother appears to be possessed, Adamsky refuses to answer the phone and instead goes skiing for the weekend.

And, of course, while Adamsky is gone, Sonny grabs that rifle and, in a nightmare-inducing series of scenes, kills everyone in the house…

Of course, when Father Adamsky returns, he feels guilty and he decides to perform an exorcism.  MAYBE HE SHOULD HAVE DONE THAT EARLIER!  But no … he had to go skiing…

Anyway, Amityville II: The Possession is a deeply icky film.  It’s undeniably effective and has a lot of scary moments but it’s not an easy film to sit through.  Between Anthony beating his family and Sonny walking into Patricia’s room and asking her to “play a game,” this is a film that really gets under your skin.  You’ll never forget it but, at the same time, you’ll also never want to watch it again.

Interestingly enough, Amityville II was directed by Damiano Damiani, an Italian director who is probably best known for movies like A Bullet For The General and Confessions of a Police Captain, genre films that often featured a subversive political subtext.  Though Amityvile II is not overly political, the film’s portrait of the suburban Montelli family as a ticking time bomb does definitely fit in with Damiani’s other work.  Damiani reportedly set out to make the most disturbing film that he possibly could and he succeeded.

Horror on the Lens: House of Evil (dir by Gus Trikonis)


Today’s horror on the lens in 1978’s House of Evil!

When Richard Crenna buys a new house, he recruits a few friends to help him fix it up.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the house is haunted by the devil himself.  House of Evil — which is also known as The Evil — is an entertaining little time waster.  If the idea of being in a house with the devil doesn’t scare you, just check out some of those the 1970s fashion choices!

On the Border: BANDOLERO! (20th Century-Fox 1968)


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BANDOLERO! was made at an interesting time in the history of Western movies. Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy had begun to exert their influence on American filmmakers (HANG EM HIGH, SHALAKO). Traditional Hollywood Westerns were still being produced (FIRECREEK, 5 CARD STUD), but in a year’s time, Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH would change the Western landscape forever. Andrew V. McLaglen’s BANDOLERO! is more on the traditional side of the fence, though it does exhibit a dash of Spaghetti flavor in its storytelling.

Outlaw Dee Bishop and his gang attempt to rob a bank in Valverde, Texas. The heist is going well until rich Nathan Stone walks in with his beautiful Mexican wife, Maria. Stone tries to break it up, and gets shot for his troubles, thus alerting the attention of Sheriff July Johnson and his deputy, Roscoe. The lawmen successfully catch the gang as they’re leaving the bank. Stone dies, and Dee and…

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The Daily Grindhouse: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (dir. by Charles B. Pierce)


Down here in Texas, we love our legends and the Phantom Killer is one of the most haunting.  In 1946, as American soldiers were returning from World War II and the country was looking forward to a future of peace and prosperity, an unknown killer stalked the moonlit streets of my former hometown of Texarkana, Texas.  (Technically, of course, Texarkana is located in both Texas and Arkansas.  In Texas, it’s usually assumed that the killer had to be from the Arkansas half of the town.)  From February until May, he attacked 8 people and killed 5 of them.  He stalked lovers who were parking at night and those that survived said that he hid his face underneath a white mask.  Despite the best efforts of both the Texas Rangers and the Texarkana police, the Phantom Killer was never captured and his reign of violence ended just as mysteriously as it began.

(My personal theory is that he ended up moving to California where he later became the Zodiac killer because, seriously, the two cases are so disturbingly similar.  Eventually, he left California and moved to Ohio and, living under a false name, he killed himself in 2002. )

When you read the facts of the Phantom Killer’s murder spree (not to mention all of the rumors and urban legends that have sprung up around the case), the main thing that jumps out at you is just how much it all truly does sound like a low-budget horror film.  Therefore, it’s not surprising to discover that, in 1976, the case served as the basis for just that.  What is surprising is just how effective The Town The Dreaded Sundown is.

The film was directed by Charles B. Pierce, an independent filmmaker who was based in Arkansas.  Pierce had previously directed The Legend of Boggy Creek, a “documentary” that was about the mysterious Bigfoot-like creature who is rumored to live in Fouke, Arkansas.  (Fouke, incidentally, is a town that my family briefly called home though none of us ever saw or heard any Bigfoots wandering about.)  Using the money that he made off of the Boggy Creek film, Pierce wrote, directed, and produced The Town The Dreaded Sundown.

Using the same technique that made The Legend of Boggy Creek such a success, Pierce filmed The Town That Dreaded Sundown on location in Texarkana and, along with established actors like Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, and Tina Louise Dawn Welles, Pierce cast the film with local citizens.  When seen on screen, it’s obvious that these citizens are not professional actors.  However, what they may lack in talent they make up for authenticity.  (If nothing else, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a rare Texas-set film in that it doesn’t feature any yankees butchering the dialect.)  The fact that the film is narrated by a grim-sounding narrator only adds to the film’s documentary-like feel.

Admittedly, the film does take some liberties with the story of the Phantom Killer but what’s important is that it’s accurate when it matters.  The film gets the basic facts correct and even the most outlandish of embellishments (such as a scene where the killer uses a trombone to kill one of his victims) don’t detract from the film’s power to frighten and disturb.  If nothing else, these feel like the type of details that one might spontaneously mention while telling an old ghost story.  Unlike a lot of “true crime” films, The Town The Dreaded Sundown never devotes too much time to trying to figure out the killer’s motives or drop hints as to his identity.  Instead, the film emphasizes the fact that the Phantom Killer could never be understood and was never stopped.  He simply existed, a malevolent force of evil.  This makes the film far more effective than it would have been if Pierce had spent the movie trying to explain that which can not be explained.

Unfortunately, The Town That Dreaded Sundown has never been released on DVD but it does show up occasionally on TCM.  Keep an eye out for it!

The Kids Are Not All Right: 6 More Trailers That I Love


Continuing my ongoing survey of classic exploitation and grindhouse film trailers, here’s six more.  

1) Simon, King of the Witches — I’ve never seen this film but I caught this trailer on one of the 42nd Street compilation DVDs.  It doesn’t really make me want to see the film but I love the trailer because it is just so totally and utterly shameless.  Seriously, could this thing be more early 70s?  As well, I’ve always wondered — would witches actually have a king?  I mean, seriously, get with the times.

The film, by the way, stars Andrew Prine who apparently had a really promising film career until his girlfriend, Karyn Kupicent, died mysteriously in 1964.  A lot of people believed that Prine killed her though he always denied any guilt and there’s really no evidence to connect him to the crime.  Interestingly, even more people seem to think that Kupicent was murdered because she knew something about John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  Finally, true crime author Steve Hodel has suggested that Kupicent was actually murdered by his father, Dr. George Hodel.  (Steve also claims that George was the Black Dahlia killer, the Zodiac killer, Chicago’s lipstick killer, and that George was responsible for just about every unsolved murder in history.  Oedipus much?)

2) The Town That Dreaded Sundown Though I didn’t consider this while selecting this trailer, this is another film that features the unfortunate Robert Prine.  I’ve seen this film exactly one time when it showed up on late night television once.  Unfortunately, considering that it was 4 in the morning and the movie was obviously heavily edited for television (not to mention that constant commercial interruptions), I didn’t really get to experience the film under ideal circumstances.  As a result, I’ve been trying to track this movie down on DVD ever since.  It’s not an easy film to find.

One of the reasons this movie fascinates me is because it’s not only based on a true unsolved crime but it actually follows the facts of the case fairly closely.  In the late 40s, Texarkana was stalked by a masked gunman known as the Phantom Killer.  The case was never solved and its gone on to become a bit of a local legend in the rural Southwest.  Part of my interest in this case comes from the fact that I grew up in the rural Southwest.  It’s the part of the country I know best and this film was actually filmed in the southwest as opposed to just an arid part of Canada.  Interestingly enough, the Phantom Killer had a lot of similarities to the later Zodiac Killer.  However, as far as I know, Steve Hodel has yet to accuse his father of haunting Texarkana.

The film itself was made by Charles B. Pierce, a filmmaker who was based in Arkansas and made several independent films in that state.  Perhaps this explains why the trailer refers to “Texarkana, Arkansas” even though everyone knows that the only part of Texarkana that matters is the part that’s in Texas.

3) Nightmares in a Damaged Brain This is one of the infamous “video nasties” (trust the English to not only ban movies but to come up with a stupid and annoying label for those movies).  Like many of those films, this is a gory Italian film that seems to bathe in the sordid. 

It’s also fairly difficult film to find.  The DVD I own is actually a copy of the severely cut version that was eventually released in England, of all places.

(Another thing about the English — why is it that a culture that obsessively uses the word “cunt” in casual conversation seems so driven to distraction by a little fake blood?  It’s as if someone told them that banning movies would somehow make up for the attempted genocide of Catholics in Northern Ireland.)   

However, even in cut form, this is a disturbingly dark and frequently depressing film.  Evil seemed to radiate through my entire apartment the whole time I was watching it and that atmosphere is captured in the movie’s trailer.

As a sidenote, the gore effects in this film are credited to Tom Savini.  At the time of the film’s release, Savini announced that he actually had nothing to do with this movie.

4) To the Devil a Daughter — I recently read a biography of Christopher Lee in which he cited this movie, along with the original Whicker Man, as one of his personal favorites.  It was also the film debut of Natassia Kinski, the daughter of Klaus Kinski.  Considering Klaus’s reputation, the title is ironic.

5) Vampire Circus This is another movie that I’ve never seen but I’ve heard great things about it.  Supposedly, its one of the last great Hammer vampire films.  Reportedly, it was controversial at the time of its release because it featured vampires attacking English children.  (Which, if nothing else, at least prevented from growing up to kill little Irish children.)  Seeing the trailer leaves me even more frustrated that it has yet to be released, in the States, on DVD.

6) Dr. Butcher, M.D. — This is actually a rather odd zombie/cannibal film hybrid from Italy.  It was originally titled Zombie Holocaust but the American distributors retitled it Dr. Butcher.  I love this trailer for much the same reason I love the Simon, King of the Witches trailer.  It is just pure and shameless exploitation.  Plus, it features some of the best moments of the great Donal O’Brien’s performance as the “title” character.  I recently forced my sister Erin to watch Zombie Holocaust.  Ever since, whenever I start to ramble too much, she simply looks at me and says, “Lisa’s annoying me.  About to perform removal of vocal chords…”  She actually does a fairly good impersonation.  Consider this just more proof that the Grindhouse brings families closer together.