I was not familiar with the original Town That Dreaded Sundown, but I liked the approach of this remake. It exists in a world where the Charles B. Pierce film exists, and has become an annual tradition in Texarcana where the true story took place. So really it’s a meta sequel about the continuing “true” story.
After a screening of The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Jami (Addison Timlin) and her boyfriend are victimized by a copycat Phantom killer. She tries to warn others and help the police root out the killer, while the Phantom keeps killing, recreating kills from the first movie of which we are reminded as characters continue to watch it.
Perhaps because The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a more obscure film, the remake has the benefit of paying homage to kills that still feel totally fresh and new. When the Scream movies pay homage to famous slasher movie scenes, and eventually to themselves, it’s so well known it’s hard to play straight. They did really well, but since I’d never heard of the trombone kill before, it’s as frightening when I see it recreated as it was when the original version was referenced a few minutes earlier in the film.
The kills are relentless and brutal. When the Phantom strikes, it’s sudden and unavoidable. There’s no lumbering chase, and when some resourceful victims try to make a run for it, it’s hopeless. As in, no one is caught because they are stupid. The Phantom is just that deadly.
Jami is a really smart heroine. At least she tried to drive away, and she’s proactive about identifying the Phantom. She fulfills the role of the chaste heroine in a relatable, likable way. For one thing, she’s just been through a trauma so she won’t be ready to make out again. Yet when relationships get awkward, it’s also a sweet bit of human foibles that may still lead to warm feelings.
Another victim of the Phantom fulfills the booby girl quotient for this horror movie. The update/remake also features what may be the first gay couple in a parked car out in a secluded area. That is a huge step for diversity, even though they’re just as screwed as their heterosexual counterparts. I mean, why would they be any safer? The Phantom is still the Phantom.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon shoots The Town that Dreaded Sundown brilliantly, getting a lot of shots from within the environment so we feel like we’re in there, yet not any cliched point of view shots. He gets the shots of the kills, head through the window, victims thrown off high floors and impaled. A pursuit through a wheat field is particularly clever, and he has a way of making the light bounce off the top of his characters’ heads.
I was really impressed with The Town that Dreaded Sundown. It is a hardcore slasher movie with a clever take on its pre-existing material. Gomez-Rejon and Timlin are ones to watch, and the veterans in the cast (Gary Cole, Edward Herrmann, Veronica Cartwright, Ed Lauter, Anthony Anderson) fill out the town with well-meaning if ineffectual authority figures. Gomez-Rejon really throws down the gauntlet for indie filmmakers to shoot their films creatively. It doesn’t always have to be found footage.