The Town That Dreaded Sundownwas a disturbing 1976 docudrama based on a string of murders that took place in and around Texarkana in 1946. A post-modern remake was released in 2014 that used the original film and true crimes as a backdrop for a fictional narrative.

The late Charles B. Pierce’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown was a low budget account of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders that occurred in 1946. Five people were murdered by an unidentified assailant that the press dubbed The Phantom Killer. Loosely based on the crimes, it used a docudrama format to add weight to what was essentially a horror film capitalizing on the infamous incident. Pierce’s film was a modest hit on the exploitation circuit, but became a popular video title in the ’80s. Alongside the rural horrors of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deranged, it rode the popular wave of slasher films from that period.


While lacking in narrative drive, The Town That Dreaded Sundown was a genuinely unsettling thriller that used its rural location and local actors to great effect. Similar to Pierce’s first film, The Legend of Boggy Creek, it captured the distinctive flavor of the area, which added a sense of authenticity that a major studio film could not replicate. However, Sundown had a bigger budget, which allowed the filmmaker to hire a few marquee names to help sell the film. Academy Award winner Ben Johnson, TV mainstay Andrew Prine, and Gilligan’s Island’s Dawn Wells added to the legitimacy of the production.

Differences Between The Town That Dreaded Sundown And Its Reboot

A remake from producer Jason Blum was announced in 2013 with little fanfare. Though there was a substantial fanbase for the original film, few were even aware that a new version was in production. When the film was made available the following year, both horror fans and critics were pleasantly surprised at the results. While it claimed to be a remake, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film was, in reality, a post-modern follow-up which acknowledged the Pierce film as well as the actual murders in the 1940s. The remake takes place in present-day Texarkana with the annual Halloween screening of the 1976 film at a local drive-in. A hooded phantom begins killing people again, this time with a connection to a teenage girl (Addison Timlin) who begins to investigate the crimes.

Since the 2014 film is a “meta-sequel”, there are several allusions to the original film, which is given more focus than the actual crimes. Aside from the hooded killer and the location, the two films are completely different. Charles Pierce Jr., an actual person who appeared in several of his father’s films, is a character in the follow-up, played by actor Denis O’Hare (American HorrorStory). The character within the film even offers a potential lead regarding the (new) killer’s identity – blurring the lines between fact and fiction even further. While Gomez-Rejon’s film relies a little heavily on post-Scream meta posturing, it manages to be a fairly tense and involving film in its own right. The Town That Dreaded Sundown takes an interesting route for a remake by acknowledging its past and trying to create something interesting for modern audiences while still holding reverence for its origin; while certainly different, both versions are worthwhile entries in the slasher sub-genre.

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