The Town That Dreaded Sundown is an interesting product being produced from the remake farm that is Hollywood of the last 15 years. Accused of now scraping the bottom of the barrel, Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions (known for Paranormal Activity, Insidious and Sinister) have decided to redo 1976’s film of the same name, itself based on a real-life series of murders that took place on the Texas-Arkansas border shortly after World War II.
The fresh hook being that within the context of this second go-around, the original film exists within the storyline of the film, to the extent that it is tied integrally to the present-day string of copycat murders affecting our hot young cast of vulnerable teenagers and salty policemen.
Addison Timlin plays ‘Final Girl’ well, singled out by the killer (christened ‘Sackhead’ on IMDB, evidently) to relay his message to the townsfolk of Texarkana. Ably assisted by Travis Tope’s twitchy, sketchy Nick, Jami (Timlin) desperately tries to discover the identity of the killer who left her the sole survivor of a brutal attack that opens the film – following a midnight screening of the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown, no less.
But the real kick of the film is its spaghetti mess of meta-textuality; the real-life director of the first The Town That Dreaded Sundown has a fictional son, represented within this film by the always-excellent Denis O’Hare. Victims from the original murders in the 1940s are referenced along with the supposition that history has forgotten them; that various deaths and disappearances were misrepresented or not mentioned at all in Pierce’s schlocky original – but are now mentioned here, in the mid-noughteens remake.
The more you think about it, the more it intrigues you and has you thinking about the age-old philosophical debates of art imitating life and vice versa (or not – you might just be here for the thrills and spills of another well-made slasher pic).
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s intense directing style coupled with a healthy, self-aware sense of humour keeps things ticking over nicely, but it’s the deviations from the normal horror tropes which elevate the material. One inspired sequence sees two young guys fooling around in a creepy, deserted setting instead of the classic hetero combo; and it’s played charmingly sweet and non-exploitative (a sign of the changing times). Until, of course, Sackhead gets involved.
The film is dripping with class and great technique, the kind of horror which uses all the best parts of those that came before without seeming trite. It’s fresh, gripping and covers new ground on a well-worn subgenre, it’s meta-textuality especially used to fine effect (“meta” shit these days is getting milked – see Scream 4, which had a good point to make on the matter – here, it remains welcome).
There is a last minute twist (of course) that is entirely pointless and tends to dampen the enjoyment of the preceding 70 minutes, although this is almost (almost) forgivable as what would a modern day masked serial killer film be without one final attempt at duping the audience? It’s just a shame this iteration of The Town That Dreaded Sundown had to go there, as it was doing just fine without said twist. But rest assured that for most of it, your eyes will be fixed to the screen in horror. And if that’s not what we want from our horror films, then by gum I don’t know what it is.
Dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, US, 2014, 86 mins.
Cast: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Travis Tope, Joshua Leonard, Andy Abele, Gary Cole, Edward Herrmann, Ed Lauter, Arabella Field, Denis O’Hare, Spencer Treat Clark, Wes Chatham
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN
Review by Daniel Woburn