Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Mark has been reviewing a lot of classic slasher films in recent weeks. It has inspired me to look at the remake of ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’. I’m a sucker for masked horror villains, but there’s something extra sinister about a maniac running around with a burlap sack on his head. It’s a lot more terrifying than a hockey mask.
The original ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ is a cult favourite, and one of those horror films all the more terrifying because it is based on a true story. In a little American town called Texarkana, the Phantom killer murdered five people in 1946. The killer was never caught.
The great thing about Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s remake is that it is able to directly reference both the 1976 original movie, and the murders which inspired that film in ’46. Cleverly there is a nod to a real life tradition of outdoor screenings of the film which occur on Halloween. The whole movie has a jerky, jittery retro feel which faithfully continues the lineage.
Texarkana is a traditional town which hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world, it is the kind of place where the majority of the town still attend meetings and the church is regularly full, particularly in light of a spate of murders which occur, reminding the town of what happened in 1946.
After a showing of the ’76 version of ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ a young couple named Corey and Jami go to a secluded spot. The couple kiss and fumble before they are disturbed by what they think is a peeping Tom who is watching them from the bushes. They then see a man wearing a sack on his head. It’s the phantom killer! The couple lock the doors but it’s all to no avail as the phantom attacks. The phantom kills Corey and sends off Jami (Addison Timlin), to spread the message about what he has done.
Addison Timlin is good as the plucky & resourceful scream queen who overcomes her trauma by trying to connect the dots between who killed Corey and who was behind the murders in 1946. Jami is a strong young woman who is determined to make the use of our second chance in life. In many ways she is portrayed like a cross between the characters of Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers in ‘Scream 2’. What I mean by this is that there is an element of poise in her character, and not your typical helpless pretty girl frantically running away from the murderer.
The gore of the film is wonderfully overdone, blood sprays all over the place as the Phantom continues to prey on young couples. The Phantom, and indeed this film is rather progressive, there is even a couple of gay men who are brutally slain in a scrapyard. This scene, perhaps overshadowed by the violent use of a trombone, should not be overlooked. It is progressive in the sense that it acknowledges that Texarkana, and in a wider sense horror movies, are not just populated by heterosexuals.
It is great also to see a horror movie with a well-developed supporting cast and not just nameless victims. Newspaper archivist Nick (Travis Tope), a cynical veteran policeman played by Gary Cole, the son of the director who made the ’76 film Charles B. Pierce Jr (Denis O’Hare) and Anthony Anderson as Lone Wolf Morales all add so much to the film. It’s also not entirely obvious who the Phantom is, with a host of possible suspects, and this makes the big reveal a genuine shock. Though I felt the reveal was a bit of a rush job, it’s a minor gripe about an otherwise gripping retro flavoured slasher movie.