18th Mar2015

‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Travis Tope, Joshua Leonard, Andy Abele, Gary Cole, Edward Herrmann, Ed Lauter, Arabella Field, Denis O’Hare | Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Earl E. Smith | Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Town-that-Dreaded-cast

When you think about it, John Carpenter and Wes Craven are to blame. Without them we wouldn’t have the stone-cold genre classics Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. And without them we wouldn’t have their dubious legacy of derivative sequels, remakes and reboots that has plagued multiplexes for going on fifteen years now.

Outside of such an environment, a remake of (or sequel to?) The Town That Dreaded Sundown would never have been greenlit. The blind greed of studio executives is the only logical explanation for this movie’s existence. The creative merit of the enterprise certainly evades me.

Perhaps you need some context; I certainly did. The original was a 1976 slasher set on the border between Texas and Arkansas, based on the real-life murders of a slew of young lovers by a hooded maniac nicknamed ‘the Phantom’. Like in real life, there’s little structure to the film and no real sense of closure or even excitement or tension. The killer is seen in plain view from the very beginning, removing any possible tension from the key scenes, and the movie is perhaps most notable for its attempts at slapstick humour that reduce both the Phantom and the cops on his trail to incompetent buffoons. And the kicker is it’s not even funny; it’s just weird in the most boring way possible.

Fittingly, The Town That Dreaded Sundown takes that ropey legacy and runs precisely nowhere with it. Set in the ‘real’ world in which the first movie exists and is shown annually at the Texarkana drive-in, the film follows an insecure young woman (who is hilariously unaware that she’s beautiful) as she is terrorised by what appears to be the Phantom, killing again after 60 years of silence.

What follows is not an ironic critique of modern horror tropes or even a reasonably well-executed slasher. It’s simply a straightforward rehashing of the original’s most memorable moments before an ending even less satisfying (and somehow more baffling) than the the first.

A wasted opportunity, then, made all the more puzzling by the filmmakers’ clear (but incomprehensible) affection for the source material. Why include a Texas Ranger who – like in the original – shows up to take charge of the investigation but is entirely forgotten about by the last third? Why devote a series of scenes to the fictional son of the first film’s director when he has all but no impact on the story? Why this girl in the first place? All these questions and more go unanswered, and I started to wonder if maybe this was never intended to be a compelling reinvention of the slasher movie but a completely earnest homage to the tedious oddness of the 1976 movie, with its shifting tone and general crapness kept entirely intact.

But even on that front the film fails. It’s not quite as bad as the original, thanks to much higher production values and the casting of halfway decent actors. Sadly, that just makes it all the more pointless.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is out in UK cinemas on April 10th. Read our thoughts on the film from it’s 2014 Mayhem Film Festival screening right here.

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