It’s fair to say that contemporary horror movies have been regurgitating the same old themes for a while now: found footage, paranormal activity, and the constant bombardment of remakes and sequels. So, expectedly, it is with some trepidation that one approaches yet another horror with the same title as its 1970s predecessor. But The Town That Dreaded Sundown is not a remake, nor is it solely a sequel. It is a re-imagining that falls into the category that Wes Craven re-invented with Scream and New Nightmare: meta-horror. The self-referential horror film can be refreshingly different but, unfortunately, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is not as clever as it wants to be.
Much like the original, Alfonso-Gomez-Rejon’s directorial debut begins with a deadpan narration describing the true events of 1946 in which an unknown masked man nicknamed The Phantom Killer committed a series of murders along the back roads of the Texas-Arkansas border. The voice continues by stating that these are the events that the 1976 film are loosely based on (true), and that this film is also based on true events that happened in Texarkana in late 2013 (not true). The meta-sequel is introduced via an impressive tracking shot of a packed drive-in showing the original film. The Town That Dreaded Sundown starts off promising but slowly gets sillier with each murder.
Addison Timlin carries the film as the survivor of an attack, trying to figure out what happened in 1946 and who is responsible for the most recent murders. The other characters, however, are not memorable and the victims are shockingly underdeveloped. There are some interesting choices made as to how some of the shots are edited; scenes from the original film are filtered in alongside present-day scenes, which adds an authenticity to the story, while the camera regularly focuses in on physical reflections that suggest the new film is self-consciously mirroring the old. But even with a team of horror aficionados including Ryan Murphy from American Horror Story, The Town That Dreaded Sundown falls prey to too many bad clichés to be original.
The Phantom Killer is a Michael Myers stock villain with a laughably bad voice. The killings are, like the plot, far too sloppy and far too quick to be able to create any kind of suspense. The convoluted ending only just manages to escape plagiarism accusations. What starts out as an innovative piece of filmmaking becomes substandard slasher territory.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is released nationwide on 17th April 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Town That Dreaded Sundown here: