A Southern Movie Bonus: Another Spooky, Scary Southern Sampler, Old School Edition
In October, everybody loves horror movies. Even people who don’t like horror movies. All of the movies listed below are set in the South, are available on streaming services, and can satisfy a Halloween-time craving for a spooky, scary movie. This time, we’ve got five that are a little older, from the late ’60s to the early ’80s.
The Witchmaker (1969)
Set in the bayous of Louisiana, The Witchmaker follows the Satanic exploits of Luther the Berserk. With plenty of late ’60s kitsch and more than its share of maniacal laughing, this film is basically an exploitation film with all of the ingredients: scantily clad women, a creepy back story told by a local yokel, cheap special effects, city folks dropped off in the backwoods.
Though this might have a decent drive-in movie feature for a couple of teenagers on a double date, The Witchmaker wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards.
Moon of the Wolf (1972)
This made-for-TV movie, set in a small Southern town, centers on the murder of a young woman, who looks like she has been attacked by dogs. But no wild dogs are in the area. As the town’s manly-man sheriff investigates the killing, he is also trying to build a love affair with a pretty, middle-aged, blue-blood who has just returned to town. Meanwhile, he is also being harried by the dead woman’s redneck brother, who wants justice, and to complicate matters, the dead woman was pregnant with the local doctor’s baby!
Also very dated, this general-audiences horror flick offers an option for viewers who don’t have the stomach for more gruesome films. Truthfully, it’s barely a horror film at all, but since the last half-hour or so leans that way, I’ve added it to the sampler for good measure.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)
Made by Charles B. Pierce of Boggy Creek fame, 1976’s The Town that Dreaded Sundown is another docudrama about a frightening local mystery that came and went but was never solved. Like The Legend of Boggy Creek, this film is also low-budget and set in Arkansas, but unlike its predecessor, the story here is structured reasonably well. However, the charm that was achieved by that 1972 cult classic did not reemerge in this one four years later.
Set in Texarkana, Arkansas in 1946, The Town that Dreaded Sundown is based on the true story of what are called The Texarkana Moonlight Murders, which occurred in two adjacent counties: Miller County, Arkansas, and Bowie County, Texas. At the time of the movie’s release, The Philadelphia Inquirer derided the movie as “indigestible,” yet the reviewer for Greenville, Mississippi’s Delta Times-Democrat called it a “powerful undertaking into physical and real world blunt mutilation, and man’s capability of destroying his fellow man.”
Eaten Alive (1976)
Being blunt, Eaten Alive – originally titled “Starlight Slaughter” – may be the worst movie ever. Made by Tobe Hooper, who two years earlier had given the world the now-notorious Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this grindhouse film gathers the same boisterous bad acting, cheap special effects, and off-kilter storytelling into all of the gory glory that one might expect, this time setting its weird narrative in a backroads Southern hotel where the proprietor has a scythe and a giant alligator.
As bad as it is, the movie is based on the true story of a serial killer named Joe Ball, who was dubbed the “alligator man.” Ball lived in tiny Elmendorf, Texas (near San Antonio) and committed suicide in 1938 after police were tipped off that he killed women and fed them to his alligators. I don’t really get the appeal of grindhouse movies, but I can say that there is nothing particularly (or realistically) Southern about Eaten Alive, even though its characters and setting are supposed to be. You could pick up the story and move it elsewhere, and it would be a cheap flick in the spirit of Psycho or slightly less surreal version of Motel Hell.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
This made-for-TV movie is billed as being set in the Deep South but the locale looks more like rural California. The story is centered on the wrongful lynching of a mentally challenged man named Bubba who is falsely accused to hurting a little girl. (The truth is that a dog attacks her and Bubba saves her and brings her body home.) Led by the town’s ill-tempered mail man, the cadre of yokels find Bubba where he has disguised himself as a scarecrow and riddle him with bullets and buck shot, before the call comes in that Bubba had actually saved the girl. Of course, the lynch mob is acquitted by the courts, but vengeance will come in another form.
As horror movies go, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is pretty light, considering it was made in the early ’80s to show on television. Much of the suspense is built on creepy music and slow pacing, but we get what we expect from a 1980s flick: the mean guys, who bully everyone, get what’s coming to them.
See the previous Spooky, Scary Southern Sampler from October 2019