“The incredible story you are about to see is true. Where it happened and how it happened. Only the names have been changed”
Eight months after the end of World War II, on the night of Sunday 3 March 1946, in the town of Texarkana, Sammy Fuller (Mike Hackworth) and Linda Mae Jenkins (Christine Ellsworth) – a courting couple out for a drive – are savagely attacked by a gun-toting maniac wearing a bag over his head.
Deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine) finds them bloodied but still feebly alive, the woman with bite marks all over her body.
Twenty-one days later the psycho strikes again, this time torturing then shooting a young couple dead after binding Emma Lou Cook (Misty West) to a tree.
As panicked townsfolk board up their windows, stock up on guns and (as the title suggests) dread sundown, authorities welcome the arrival of Captain J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson), legendary “lone wolf” of the Texas Rangers, who aims to catch the killer dead or alive.
Yet even with hard-bitten Morales dogging his trail, the masked maniac continues his murder spree. With a creepy mask and crazy eyes, the wheezing killer cuts a frightening figure and his murders prove genuinely unsettling.
It is not an especially gory film yet the intensity of the murder scenes are disturbing as victims sob, squeal and beg for mercy while they are beaten to death.
In the film’s most infamous scene, the killer ties a knife onto a trombone and repeatedly stabs Peggy Loomis (Cindy Butler) to death in a manner both ridiculous and horrifying.
The killer’s gruelling pursuit of Helen Reed (the lovely Dawn Wells from Gilligan’s Island), is another taut suspense sequence.
The film has proven somewhat influential, inspiring a like-named meta-horror sequel in 2014 while in a strange (and slightly unsettling) twist of fate, it has been fondly embraced by residents of the real Texarkana.
Screenings of the film have become a Halloween tradition at Spring Lake Park near the town in a free event sponsored by the Texas Department of Parks and Recreation.
Captain J.D. Morales
Deputy Norman Ramsey
Sgt. Mal Griffin
Police Chief R.J. Sullivan
Patrolman A.C. “Sparkplug” Benson
Charles B. Pierce
Sheriff Otis Barker
Earl E. Smith
Roy Lee Brown
Linda Mae Jenkins
Emma Lou Cook
Captain Gus Wells
Dr Preston Hickson
High School Principal
Charles B. Pierce