December 14, 2014

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Starring Addison Timlin ("Jami"), Veronica Cartwright ("Lillian"), Anthony Anderson ("Lone Wolf Morales"), and Travis Tope ("Nick"). Rated R.

Source: iTunes - HD
Running time: 01:26:03
Country: USA

Hold up, don't go calling this a remake just yet. This is sort of a meta sequel that acknowledges Charles B. Pierce's original film. This particular movie is set once again in Texarkana but in October of 2013, and, like the original, it opens with narration, except this time discussing the Phantom Killer and the legacy of Pierce's 1976 film.

Following the opening bit, we're introduced to a handful of characters at a local drive-in during one of the town's annual screenings of the original TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (much to the dismay of the town's conservative citizens). A young couple leaves the drive-in and stops at a lover's lane type of spot in the woods; life goes on to imitate art when a masked man bearing an identical resemblance to the Phantom Killer attacks and humiliates them, with the glaring difference being the fact that the masked man actually speaks - something the original Phantom Killer never did. The masked assailant kills the boyfriend and mentions something about "Mary" before disappearing back into the shadows, setting up the female victim, Jami, as the Final Girl for reasons that come into play as the story unfolds.

So in the opening ten minutes it's established that this is a self-referential sequel that revolves around a copycat killer whose motives seem to be revenge based. But then the lines gradually start to get blurred when there are elements that suggest it's trying to be a remake as well. It reminded me of THE THING (2011) in that respect, in that it's technically a sequel (or in the case of THE THING a prequel) but yet it plays out like a remake. For example, this has a similar character to the Texas Ranger from the original (played by an unconvincing Anthony Anderson) and there's even a guy in the police department nicknamed "Sparkplug", which was the name of Charles B. Pierce's character in the original. Not to mention the fact that a few of the Phantom Killer's attacks are identical to the original, including an updated, gorier version of the trombone scene. Yeah, I get that the killer is a copycat, but does everyone else in the film realize that they too are copycats?

At times, this is almost like a love letter to the original 1976 TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. Surprisingly, this also reminded me of a Giallo - more so than your traditional American slasher. For one, it's very stylish and colorful, and it also features some brutal violence and graphic sexual content against the backdrop of a mystery story. But then you also have the fact that two of the lead characters (the female survivor of the initial attack and a friend of hers) are spearheading their own investigation while the cops - for the most part - are seemingly just twiddling their thumbs and waiting for a dead body to fall in their laps. And finally there's the potential unmasking of the killer, which is what the film hints at setting up. All that said, while under the slasher umbrella, this is more of a mystery film than a body-count flick, although the kills (as sporadic as they may be) are definitely highlights.

This is a fun horror movie that moves along at a good pace. My only real complaint is what I mentioned earlier about it being a sometimes-sequel and sometimes-remake. Other than that, it's a neat little updated, hyperstylized version of the original, presenting the hooded Phantom Killer as sort of a manifestation of the memories and tragedies that have haunted Texarkana for decades, with some SCREAM-esque twists and a meta approach to the storytelling. And to those who like their slashers full of the "good stuff", keep in mind that this one definitely earns its R-rating.

Score: 6.5

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