I am quite easy to turn a head around when it comes to film trailers and the look of The Town That Dreaded Sundown had a real head-turner of a trailer; bringing a meta-busting sequel to the cult original. An early example of a slasher movie (it predates Halloween by two years), there’s an aura surrounding it as a unique and brutal horror that makes a vintage choice still today. Must be that awesomely smooth, roll off the tongue name. Sadly, despite an embarassing wealth of talent involved, this follow up lacks any innovation or special aspects to make it notable in the modern name dirge of horror movies.
On the anniversary of the release of the titular movie of the ‘based on real life’ events, someone decides to don the same costume as the Phantom serial killer from the story of The Town That Dreaded Sundown and pick up where the movie left off in inspired killings from the original. After bumping off her date, Jami (Addison Timlin) is thrust at the forefront of the outside media coverage that begins to grip the usually quiet corner of Texarkana as the Phantom gives her cryptic messages as he goes about on a brutal murder spree. The town goes into lockdown with residents daring not to venture outside after dark in fear of the Phantom, whilst Jami tries to figure out who is behind the mask to stop the carnage.
Given the level of talent involved behind the scenes fans expected something truly exceptional; Ryan Murphy & Jason Blum are both noteworthy in horror film and TV alone (the former being the producer & creator of American Horror Story and the other heading up Blumhouse Productions; which pumps out noteworthy modern franchises like Insidious & Sinister). Not only that but director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has worked on AHS & directed the recent critically acclaimed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and screenwriter (& former comic book scribe) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has prior in the most recent remake of Carrie. These four creative brains put together are quietly a thinking man’s dream-team of modern horror… yet there does not seem to be a real vision between them of what to do with reimaginging/re-quel attempt at a cult classic.
In what could be a case of too many masked killers in the kitchen, there is an intensity factor that is sorely lacking here. There is a level of violence when the masked Phantom goes about his merry way brutally despatching victims in various ways, yet none reach the level of shocking. Some of the kills you’ve seen previously, whilst others are just laughable (the Instrument kill especially seems more work than needs be to bump someone off). With an element of a deranged copycat serial killer that hides behind a simple but effective bag mask to conceal his identity so he could be anyone from the Sheriff’s son to Wilson the war veteran, or Ritchie the local store clerk who lives next door, there is no hype or drama about the identity of the killer, nor is there any real impetus to display any intensity to the various killings. A feeling of undercooked comes through which is strange for a slasher film to say the least.
For a film that boasts it’s gimmick in the title, we never really see the streets of the town filled with people going about their happy normal lives before the carnage begins, to compare when we see the Phantom’s lockdown. The scenes capturing the desolate and quiet town are all well and good but there’s no context or balance. It could just be yet another random city shot at a particularly bright sundown.
Another element that comes into play is the frankly confusing meta-sequel/re-quel elements. At points, the characters here refer to the events of the movie as if they are real… well, they are kind of. This film doesn’t make overly clear the difference between the events of the original Town That Dreaded Sundown movie that takes place in it’s own universe and the actual real life horror that it was based on. The original movie is taken as fact. Which it shouldn’t be; it’s a false interpretation of events. The police here look over the film instead of interviewing people related to the original incidents! Utterly silly. Whilst it is definitely a fresher twist of using a media property as a fictional piece in a pseudo-follow up, it takes a certain je ne sais quoi to balance that aspect as a serious part of a film’s mechanics and it’s not here at all.
The trailer to The Town That Dreaded Sundown crowbars the more moody and colourful setpieces of the film into itself which are it’s real highlights. The bright but shaded colours make for an interesting film to look at and the various murder locations are well shot. The movie devolves into a Scooby Doo level of ‘whoddunnit?’ towards the end however, which passes away the shockingly short below 90 minute runtime but fails to get the excitement of any viewer going. The extras on the fine DVD release leave alot to be desired. Some reasoning as to the why the staff behind this decided to make a limp meta-sequel wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Truth be told, this re-quel of The Town That Dreaded Sundown is more of a disappointment rather than a bad film. There are some exceptional film and TV behind the scenes talents here but lord knows how much of an impact they actually had since no good ideas excel to the forefront. Whilst the unique but confusing meta-sequel nature of the plot makes for an interesting watch with some nice visuals, it creates some plotholes and doesn’t quite live up to it’s brilliant title. The lacklustre DVD release with sod all extras is the blood on the knife too. Could be worth a watch still with the lack of any horror releases on the horizon on home media.
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