The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1974) claims that “the incredible story you are about to see is true, where it happened and how it happened; only the names have been changed.” That’s a pretty serious claim, setting this film apart from the usual “based on a true story” horror movies.
There is another film of the same name that was released in 2014, but it is not a remake. (More on that later)
What is true:
- There was a killer known as the Phantom Killer who murdered five people and injured several others in the spring of 1946.
- The murders took place in Texarcana, Texas
- The four incidents (3 attacks on couples at the local Texarcana lover’s lane, 1 attack on an older couple).
- The killer was never caught.
What is not true:
- The first murder took place on a different date.
- The second set of victims were both found dead in the car, instead of outside the vehicle.
- The girl murdered in the second attack was not a high school dropout – in fact, she graduated at age 16. (The victim’s family sued the filmmakers over this portrayal).
- The timeline of when the killer was dubbed “The Phantom” and when the townspeople began to sleep with guns and set up makeshift alarms differs, as well as the timeline for the introduction of the Texas Ranger who went by the nickname “Lone Wolf”.
- During the third attack, the police are shown as setting up decoys, which did not happen until after the third attack.
Compared to so many other films “based on an true story,” this film is surprisingly faithful to real events. However, many of the details are inaccurate and the film is called “largely fictionalized” by Patricia Mackintosh in her article “Texarcana Murder Mystery.”
Texarcana shows the film The Town That Dreaded Sundown every Halloween at Spring Lake Park, the site of one of the murders, and a local country club hosts an annual Phantom Ball.
The 2014 film The Town That Dreaded Sundown involved a copycat murderer who kills couples leaving the yearly showing of the original film.
- Mackintosh, Prudence. “Texarkana Murder Mystery.” Texas Monthly, December 2014, pages 37-42.