‘Based on True Events’ is, for Once …True!

the town that dreaded sundown 1976THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN

3 Stars  1976/18/87m

“In 1946 this man killed five people… Today he still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Arkansas.”

Director: Charles B. Pierce / Writer: Earl E. Smith / Cast: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Robert Aquino, Dawn Wells, Jim Citty, Charles B. Pierce, Jimmy Clem, Cindy Butler, Steve Lyons, Christine Ellsworth, Mike Hackworth, Bud Davis.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “This man is definitely a sadist.”

There’s a fair whack of horror movies that claim they’re based on true events, whether that be Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre borrowing from the crimes of Ed Gein, Wolf Creek incorporating elements of a 90s serial killer case, or every other ghost story being a retelling of the story, few of us actually buy into these claims with much faith. Well, I hope we don’t anyway.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown serves as an anomaly to this rule, being presented as more of a drama-documentary telling the tale of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, a season of attacks that plagued the town, notably built on both sides of the Texas/Arkansas state line, leading to much jurisdiction entanglement when the case was investigated in the mid-1940s. The tagline might be a stretch though, doubt the guy hung around and just LOL’d at the town for another thirty years.

Filmed before the likes of Friday the 13th and Halloween popularised the stalking of sexy teens looking for some space away from adult supervision to hook up, it’s a plausible theory that slasher films themselves owe something to these crimes, rather than the usual counter accusations: A sack-masked loon, not looking dissimilar to Jason’s first outing, preys chiefly on young folks parking.

town that dreaded sundown trombone 1976

Yeah, most of the victims are shot Zodiac-style, but there’s a truly unique scene in which a prom-goer is bound to a tree while the killer stabs them with a knife duct-taped to the end of a trombone, through which he practices his scales, knifing the poor girl as he goes.

Most of the film, however, revolves around the concerns of the police forces and their attempts to track the killer. Some obscure comedy inserts from an inept patrolman – played by director, Pierce – tank the tension, and the Robert Stack-style narration is weird in a post-millennial world, but this makes for an interesting sort-of-slasher movie, even if you just see it the once.

Check out its 2014 sequel-cum-homage for a revival of death-by-brass.

Blurb-of-interest: Ben Johnson was later in Terror Train.

A Dribbling Mess

nightmares in a damaged brain 1981


2.5 Stars  1981/X/100m

“The nightmare you can’t escape alive.”

A.k.a. NightmareBlood Splash

Director/Writer: Romano Scavolini / Cast: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, Mik Cribben, C.J. Cooke, Danny Rosnan, William Milling.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “You lose a dangerously psychotic patient from a secret experimental drug programme and all you can say is ‘I’m sorry’!?”

This one was notable for resulting in the imprisonment of its UK distributor after an uncensored version found its way on to video store shelves at the height of the 80s Video Nasty extravaganza.

Extra credit for trying to make a bit of sense out of the killer’s madness, but on the whole this is a bit of a boring picture, sensationalised because some of its violence excesses, often incorrectly credited to Tom Savini, who just advised the production on a few things.

George Tatum is a mental patient taunted by a recurring nightmare (actually a memory), who is being mentally reconstructed by a group of doctors using experimental drugs. When he is released back into society, he can’t handle any situations that relate to his dream, and runs away to track down his ex-wife and three really annoying children, who scream at one another far more than any of George’s victims.

nightmares in a damaged brain 1981

Things are cranked into Halloween gear when he murders the babysitter and comes after his kids. We are finally treated to the full uncut memory as he recalls gruesomely doing away with a hooker and his father when he caught them in the act as a boy, lopping off the woman’s head with an axe in slo-mo, then burying the hatchet in his bound-to-the-bed dad’s head. This blood-soaked scene, shot with a concerning almost sexual nuance, will most certainly be the one that earned the film its ban.

Shades of Problem Child dominate the rest of it with the fucking punchable C.J., all leading to a callous Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter-style last final shot.


maniac 1980


2.5 Stars  1980/X/85m

“I warned you not to go out tonight.”

Director: William Lustig / Writers: C.A. Rosenberg, Joe Spinell / Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Gail Lawrence, Kelly Piper, Rita Mantone, Tom Savini, Hyla Marrow.

Body Count: 7

“She’s a maniac, maaaaniac on the floor, and she’s dancing like she’s never danced before…” go the lyrics to Michael Sembello’s 1983 #1 hit from Flashdance, but it was originally penned for this grimy little flick, with the lyrics understandably altered from “He’s a maniac, maaaaniac that’s for sure, he’ll kill your cat and nail it to the door.”

Despite an impressive 6.5 on IMDb and some inventively gruesome FX work from Tom Savini (who later suggested be might’ve gone ‘too far’ with some of it), I’ve never really liked much about this depressing release, which would pair well with Don’t Go in the House. Less a straight-up slasher flick, more of a serial killer pic, in which Spinnell (who co-wrote and financed with his earnings from Cruising) is a schizophrenic madman who slashes, garrottes, and skewers his mostly young female victims, and keeps mannequins around his apartment that wear the dead girls’ scalps as wigs.

Between some extremely drawn out sequences of stalking and slashing, Spinell is nothing short of excellent as the perverse, slobbering killer terrorising New York City, in much the same way as Lustig’s later creation Matt Cordell would in Maniac Cop. The always lovely Munro – then wife of large financier Judd Hamilton – is a fashion photographer who dates him a couple times (if you believe that!) before he turns on her, but her role is minimal and she’s not really the heroine she would normally be set up as.

maniac 1980

The film has something to say about the people we fear without being too patronising, instead substituting much if the usually dull psychobabble with the grotesque slaughters of five women and two men, with the infamous shotgun/exploding head gag that caused Gene Siskel to walk out of the screening. The film was cut to shreds in various regional releases and refused a rating in the UK, eventually seeping through with about a minute of cuts in the early 2000s.

A strange picture to be sure, but an interesting one if you can look past some of the repulsions that plague the otherwise incisive script. Spinell started work on a sequel, which would never be finished due to his death at 52 in 1989.

Blurbs-of-interest: Munro and Spinell worked together again in 1983’s The Last Horror Film; she was also in Slaughter High and Don’t Open Till Christmas; Lustig later directed the Maniac Cop trilogy and Uncle Sam; the film was remade/re-imagined in 2012 with Elijah Wood.

Buy me! Read me! Love me!


Well, I’ve been writing again, and today (!) my fifth ‘lil slasher book has been released.

For years I had two ideas: One about a slasher movie festival where a killer began ripping off murder set pieces from the films played to lay waste to the local teen population, and one a friend brought to mind: “You should do Seven… but with The Ten Commandments?”

Mucho toiling later, I decided to combine the two and, with some hefty crowbarring, here is Tenfold (previously known as Let There Be Dark, Necessary Evil, All Things Sacred, God Watch Over You, The Holy Orders and a phonebook of other monikers).

Set in 1999 – hence the classic V-formation artwork – when we were all cartwheeling to the local cinemas to see that week’s new teen-horror flick, a quartet of small-town high schoolers decide to celebrate Halloween with a week-long slasher flick fest, much to the annoyance of the oppressive local Evangelical Church, who do all they can to stop it from going ahead.

Someone, however, has other plans, and begins offing attendees based not only on scenes from that night’s screenings, but also one of the Commandments. It’s down to lead horror-nuts Dash and Grace to find out who is behind it before they become the final victims in the reign of terror…

UK readers can pick it up here.

US readers can pick it up here.

Primary Cut

severed lives 2006SEVERED LIVES

3 Stars  2006/48m

“Five secrets. One to kill for.”

Director/Writer: Jake Helgren / Cast: Mary Alice Watkins, Ace Elliott, Cathy Baron, Heath Shelby, Erin Larson, Sarah Helgren Timming, Paul Alexander, Ashley Wood, Kris Dages.

Body Count: 7

This half-length debut was shot for south of a thousand dollars by Jake Helgren, who borrows shots and set-ups from some of his favourite slasher flicks to tell the story of a group of film students attempting to bring together the script for a horror documentary about the two-decades old murder that occurred on their campus. Unfortunately for their project – and even more unfortunately for them – a masked loon appears on the scene and begins strangling and skewering them one after another.

While the picture and sound quality occasionally suffers under the constraints of the price tag, this is a well put together film with good performances. It’s clear that the cast and crew were having a ball making it. Look for the shelf bowing with slasher movies in the bedroom scenes.

Blurbs-of-interest: Jake Helgren later wrote Bloody Homecoming and wrote/directed Varsity Blood.

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