The Town That Dreaded Sundown, 2014.
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
Starring Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Joshua Leonard, Edward Herrman, Travis Tope, Gary Cole, Spencer Treat Clark.
65 years after a spate of murders in a small town the killings start up again, but how could it be the same killer?
This trend of delving back into our beloved horror movies and totally screwing with the mythology is a strange one, especially as there seems to be no such thing as a straight sequel any more. The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a title that should be familiar to most genre fans as it has a fairly solid reputation as a proto-slasher/crime thriller that pre-dates Halloween by two years and presents a masked killer stalking and killing the innocent inhabitants of a small American town. This sequel/reboot with the same name is a curious beast in that it continually references the original film as a real thing – the residents of the town go to the drive-in and watch the 1976 movie on the big screen – so it isn’t a proper sequel as such, but it also isn’t a remake as it picks up after the events of the first film so there’s a timeline to connect this film to the first film, which was supposedly based on real events that happened in the 1940s. It was so much easier with Friday the 13th and its numbered sequels…
Anyway, in this film the small town of Texarkana on the Texas/Arkansas is once again being plagued by killings that are very similar to a spate of murders from the 1940s committed by The Phantom, a masked madman that was never caught. The town screens the 1976 movie that was based on those killings called The Town That Dreaded Sundown every week on their drive-in screen and the local teenagers flock to watch it, despite opposition from the local church group, and during one showing Jami (Addison Timlin – Odd Thomas) and her boyfriend Corey (Spencer Treat Clark – The Last Exorcism Part II) go for a drive and are attacked by ‘The Phantom’, who kills Corey. After this, The Phantom seems to fixate on Jami and begins another killing spree, all the while sending Jami messages to ‘make them remember’.
And from then on in the film is Jami making her way around the local townsfolk trying to solve who The Phantom is/was until the inevitable showdown. That may sound like a slightly flippant summing up but unfortunately that’s how the film goes towards the end. However, up until that point The Town That Dreaded Sundown 2014 is actually a pretty decent slasher movie that manages to be both a sequel and a reboot and plays with the meta ideas that Scream pioneered 20 years ago but in a much less stylised and more serious way.
The tone of the film is very serious and there is very little humour coming from the script or the performances but director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon seems to know his stuff when it comes to staging kills as the film doesn’t shy away from showing you the brutality of The Phantom’s actions. More akin to the Friday the 13th or Halloween sequels than to the more gruesome torture porn stylings of a lot of modern slashers, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is happy to show you bullets going through eyeballs and knives through flesh, all accompanied with a healthy spray of blood, but the camera doesn’t linger on the carnage for too long before Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s constantly moving camera is off again. There are also a couple of scenes of gratuitous nudity to keep with the old-school vibe that Gomez-Rejon has managed to evoke a lot more successfully than 95% of other so-called ‘retro’ slashers currently doing the rounds.
Where the film does lose points, however, is in the clumsy way it tries to end with a twist that is supposed to shock us but really just plays into the Scream way of doing things that may have had more effect if we hadn’t had 20 years of production line Scream clones all trying the same thing. The way it plays out here is slightly baffling and leaves you with the feeling that everything you’ve just watched was all for nothing, as if the writers ran out of time and just added ‘the Scooby-Doo ending’ to get the film made quickly.
But other than that, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is, for the most part, a surprisingly taut horror thriller that actually manages to add a bit of an edge to a well-worn formula. With gore, nudity and a few recognisable genre faces popping up (Alien’s Veronica Cartwright and the late Edward Herrmann from The Lost Boys both offer solid support, although they are a little underused) there is enough to attract even the most jaded of horror fans, and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon brings a certain flair to what could have been a rather flat looking film (and he obviously watched a few Brian De Palma movies before shooting this one). You don’t need to have seen the 1976 film to enjoy this one as there is more than enough exposition to explain it all, although the makers are very keen to remind you that the first film exists by showing you snippets every so often, usually when there’s a kill that harks back to that first film, so overall The Town That Dreaded Sundown 2014 is worthy of your time if you’re looking for some old-school slasher thrills with a slick(ish), modern edge.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★