Town That Dreaded Sundown, The (Blu-ray / DVD)


The Town That Dreaded SundownStarring Addison Timlin, Travis Tope, Veronica Cartwright, Gary Cole, Joshua Leonard

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Distributed by RLJ/Image Entertainment

The sleepy town of Texarkana (nestled alongside the border of Texas and Arkansas) has always held the hometown horrors of the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown at arm’s length even though the locals are well aware of how entwined the identity of the city is with the real-life inspiration for the 1976 film. The so-called “moonlight murders” happened way back in the spring of 1946 involving a masked attacker who killed five people over ten weeks, causing panic in the streets and lockdowns at dusk during the phantom’s reign.

In a sort of twisted love affair, Texarkana has continued to host outdoor screenings of the original during Halloween up until just a few years ago. In Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s remake, the film opens at the Twin Star Drive-In, carrying on the tradition within one long tracking shot that careens down from the screen, eventually finding Jami (Addison Timlin) and Corey (Spencer Treat Clark), two kids on a first date in Corey’s flashy Mopar muscle car. After the two decide to park on lovers’ lane alone, it doesn’t take long for the denim-sporting, bag-faced stalker to appear, setting the town into a state of panic once again – even if the new attacks free them from the doldrums of small town life.

As the masked phantom flees his first kill, he warns Jami, “This is for Mary. Make them remember.” This stylized, kinetic opening delivers some excitement that doesn’t quite carry over to the sometimes stale, often rushed remainder of Town’s running time.

Realizing that the identity of the phantom in his current form might be revealed by re-opening the cold cases of the original “moonlight murders,” the sheriff departments from both sides of the border work together to uncover the truth, with an emotionally wrecked Jami doing some amateur sleuthing all her own. The need for a meeting room full of cops allows for the cast to expand, where veteran actors like Gary Cole and Ed Lauter have time to breathe and pompously interact with the younger, greener officer played by Joshua Leonard from Blair Witch Project fame. The cast continues to impress with appearances by Veronica Cartwright (The Witches of Eastwick) as Jami’s grandmother, Edward Herrmann (Lost Boys) as the opportunistic Reverend Hardwood, and Denis O’Hare (“American Horror Story”) as an eccentric alcoholic with ties to the past living on a land-locked houseboat.

The more energetic scenes between the murders involving the investigation are certainly more lively than the stagnant quiet moments between Jami and her concerned granny, but the script serves up heaping helpings of filler, restricting any of these great character actors from breaking out in any memorable fashion.

At first, the incorporation of the actual town legend and included footage from the original make the idea of a meta-slasher somewhat appealing, and although the aesthetic is inspired by the 1940’s and 1970’s, parts of Town feel fresh even when it’s going hardcore retro. Then the pace and look of the film cave in on themselves with frantic editing stinking of studio interference, blurred lighting that washes out the frame, and non-stop dutch angles that throw the movie off balance.

There’s also the issue of the ways in which the phantom goes about killing: A blade, a silencer, and a crossbow are all used. It almost becomes a boardgame of Clue where we are free to guess where and how the killer will strike. This detachment to any one weapon sets the phantom apart from other slashers but also feels a little lazy and lackluster. Is his heart really in this? The most memorable kill, of course, comes from the original and should deter any sexually confused student looking to join the school band from ever taking up the trombone. (Try the triangle; it’s probably hard to kill someone with the triangle.)

By the time the reveal comes, it feels like there should have been a fair amount of lead up to it since the finale lacks strong momentum even though it pays its respects to what came before – and for that it should be commended. Because this remake knowingly shares the stage with its predecessor and acknowledges the 1976 film and its impact, it’s forced to constantly compare notes with the original in order to pay homage and deliver a story that’s 66 years in the making. That’s unique among the slasher genre, and it should be applauded. The finished product, however, doesn’t quite gel together as a fluid film, failing to reach the potential on display in the first ten minutes. The phantom is the “soul of Texarkana” but The Town That Dreaded Sundown winds up feeling rather soulless once the credits roll.

Special Features:

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • Film
  • Special Features
User Rating 3.83 (18 votes)


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