The Town That Dreaded Sundown – 1976 vs. 2014


Fans of Charles B. Pierce’s 1976 shocker The Town That Dreaded Sundown are no doubt curious to see how a contemporary depiction of the story may pan out. The doubters are out in abundance, but it’s the inquiring minds who seem truly interested in the new feature and the differences it may showcase. Is it as good as the original? Has the story changed to any dramatic degree? Is it frightening, and perhaps more relevant, was it even necessary?

Here’s an attempt to address the typical concerns coming in.

Two Towns


Don’t anticipate any wild story differentials between these films. They are essentially the same story. The angle in which the tale is told is obviously different, but at the end of the night, it’s all about a deranged bastard with a burlap sack over his head and a gun in his hand targeting random (or are they?) innocents. The motivations behind the killings of both features differ, but on the surface we’re eyeing two very analogous stories. The latest film travels to almost meta lengths, but at its heart the same blood is in motion.


Near polar opposites, Charles B. Pierce’s original picture is an atypical amalgamation of slap humor and straight-laced horror mocumentary. It’s inconsistent in its purpose, but there’s a high level of charm in that twisted confusion. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s rendition, however, completely alters the mood of the flick. It’s hard-boiled, edgy and profoundly dark right from the jump. There are a few slightly humorous lines sprinkled throughout the story, but they’re few and far between, and they certainly aren’t hammed up in the least bit. In this instance the message could not be clearer: This Town That Dreaded Sundown was designed to scare the shit out of viewers.


Both visions of this story operate on similar wavelengths in regards to general conflict. A rural community is being terrorized by a masked man who holds no qualms with terminating life. He picks and chooses at random (there’s a variation of this in the reboot), and when he finds you, chances are you’re moments away from expiration. But the resolutions of these films do not run parallel. In the remake the antagonist meets a grim demise. This killer will not return to take another life. The closure that we lack in Pierce’s film is on prominent display here. And while it’s nice to see the bow tied tight, there was something infinitely more disconcerting about Pierce’s finale. We don’t know what becomes of that killer. We don’t know if he’s moved on, adding more bodies to his extensive homicidal ledger in another part of the company, or if he’s put his murderous ways to bed. That’s a thought that climbs under the skin and wriggles freely, but there’s no cutting that sensation out (a la The Ruins). It’s there, forever. The Phantom appears out of thin air in Pierce’s feature, and that’s precisely how he departs.

Narrative Format

As previously noted, there’s an almost mocumentary approach utilized throughout the 1976 film. Vern Stierman even delivers a “Bill Curtis,” narrating the entire film. On one hand it’s a little cheesy; on the other hand it adds an unsettling sense of realism to the picture. Furthermore, it’s a fairly original idea, setting itself apart from films of similar ilk. 2014’s spin plays by the rules. There’s no narration, just one disgusting tale that unfolds – with the assistance of flashbacks of the original pic – before the eyes in jarring speed. While the creativity of the original approach goes heavily lauded, Gomez-Rejon quite obviously does something very right as there isn’t a dull minute in his film.

Character Standouts

If there’s one thing that Alfonso Gomez-Rejon gets really wrong, it’s the character development and excavation. Understand that we do indeed care about our survivor girl, but beyond that there aren’t many personalities that are likely to linger in your memory bank. Anthony Anderson’s Lone Wolf Morales is a likable guy with a good head on his shoulders, but will we remember the character in a few years? Probably not. The thing about Pierce’s picture is the fact that it’s loaded with personalities that stick with the viewer. Captain Morales is hard-edged and great, “Spark Plug” is a riot, and Andrew Prine was absolutely born to play Deputy Norman Ramsey. There are even a few bit players that summon memories. These are individuals that we can relate to for different reasons. In that department the original flick most certainly holds an edge over the reboot.

The Look of The Phantom

There isn’t much of a difference in the look of the story’s antagonist. A burlap sack still covers the facial features. Crude diamond-shaped slits still allow unnerving glimpses of a mad man’s eyes. Even their physical habits are similar, strolling when the situation calls for it, exploding in rage when the pressure is on. The one major difference between the two is a slightly sleeker look applied to our contemporary player. The mask is pulled tighter, almost in a – for lack of better term – fitted style, and his apparel, while similar, seems to match the upgrade of the sack. They’re essentially identical, but if one were to strike just an extra hint of fear in a victim, it’s The Phantom 2.0.


The major homage to be taken away (from both pics) can be seen in the original film. Anyone who has watched the movie enough to remember the outrageous police station scenes and the ignorant acts of “Spark Plug” has likely drawn an obvious comparison to the classic sequences that occur in the police station during Bob Clark’s stunning Black Christmas. Gomez-Rejon’s piece does indeed incorporate a few hat tips, but they’re primarily to the original film, which doesn’t quite carry the charm it could.

General Thoughts

While Charles B. Pierce’s movie is and always will be a personal favorite, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s rendition is respectful of the source while adding just enough twists to bring a refreshing element to the production. Neither picture can be labeled flawless, but both qualify as entertaining precursors to the slasher craze (with the latest edition being far more slasheresque), and both boast moments that are popcorn-dropping frightening. Each film looks great, with Gomez-Rejon’s being a bit more stylized and exhibiting some mesmerizing colors. The fact of the matter is, if you view these films for what they are – shock pieces – you’re going to find yourself pleased with each offering. Neither constitutes any relation to a loss.



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