THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014)
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The original The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on a true series of murders that occurred in Texarkana, Arkansas in 1946 and were committed by a person known only as “The Phantom”… a man who was never caught. The 1976 film is considered a cult classic but, when I finally caught up with it, I wasn’t impressed with the pseudo-documentary flick. Now comes a new version which actually is a sequel of sorts that not only acknowledges the actual crimes but, the existence of the 1976 film, as well as, Texarkana’s morbid custom of screening Charles B. Pierce’s original film every Halloween… and it’s at one such screening in 2013 that the film begins…
The movie opens with pretty Jami Lerner (Addison Timlin, the scene stealing Stormy Llewellyn in Odd Thomas) and her date Corey (Spencer Treat Clark) leaving a Halloween drive-in screening of The Town That Dreaded Sundown as Jami is put-off by the film’s violence. The two retreat to a local make-out point but, much like the movie, a masked man appears and forces them out of the car, murdering Corey and letting Jami live as long as she “makes them remember Mary.” The traumatized girl makes her way back to the drive-in where the film is showing and soon the town is caught in a real grip of fear as the locals believe The Phantom has returned. Whether he is truly back or someone is imitating the killer from real life and the 1976 film, the result is the same, soon the bodies begin to gruesomely pile up. Worse for Jami, is that the killer has chosen her to be his messenger as he threatens to kill more unless she delivers his message of remembrance. But, Jami decides to fight fire with fire and begins to investigate the original case to try to find out who is the one actually stalking her and murdering innocent townsfolk and why. But, will she uncover the real killer or will he catch her first?
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, this film takes the Blair Witch 2 concept of making a film about events inspired by the original film but, does it so much better. This is a stylish and sometimes strange… in a good way… flick that is basically a slasher that chillingly references real events and playfully references the original film, even cleverly having the director’s son Charles Pierce Jr. (Denis O’Hare) as a character. There are some brutal and disturbing sequences depicting the killer’s wrath and Gomez-Rejon gives us some nice suspense throughout, especially in the last act when Jami and the masked killer reunite. Not only does the director have a nice visual style to enhance his story and off-kilter storytelling but, gives the film a nice atmosphere of foreboding and bravely paces the film more moderately, much like the original film and the films of that era were paced. This is complemented by Michael Goi’s moody cinematography and Ludwig Göransson’s atmospheric score. The killings are also quite gruesome at times and have a lot of impact and the FX portraying them are well rendered and makes this overall a very effective slasher whether it be a remake/sequel or whatever you want to classify it.
The cast are all good with Timlin being a moody yet, resourceful heroine. She conveys the emotional trauma of a young woman who witnesses her date’s murder yet, the strength to fight back by investigating the very psychopath that may be waiting outside her door. A far different character than Odd Thomas‘ Stormy Llewellyn and proves this is a young actress to keep an eye on. Film vet Veronica Cartwright plays her grandmother who lived through the time of the original murders and gives us a woman who is pained to see her granddaughter living through similar events. Gary Cole is solid as the local sheriff, Anthony Anderson plays an updated Lone Wolf Morales echoing Ben Johnson’s character from ’76 and Travis Trope is charming as Nick, a young man who befriends Jami and helps her with her investigation. A solid cast who do good work in bringing this chiller to effective life.
Overall, I really liked this movie and was pleasantly surprised by it. It cleverly is both sequel and remake, yet, is also a film made outside the original so, it may deviously reference that film and use both the film and the actual crimes from 1946 as part of it’s story history. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has a bit of a quirky and offbeat storytelling style that adds to the unsettling atmosphere of the film and gives us some nice suspense and some disturbing and brutal scenes of violence to punctuate it. All in all, a solid and somewhat off-beat horror/slasher that is one of the more interesting horror flicks I have seen this year. Sad, it’s gotten too little attention, especially coming from the horror factory that is Blumhouse. It deserves more.
3 and 1/2 killers.