Director – Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Cast – Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Travis Tope, Joshua Leonard, Andy Abele, Gary Cole, Edward Herrmann, Ed Lauter, Denis O’Hare
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I only learned of this effort a few months ago and it really took me by surprise. The 1976 film is one of the genre’s most iconic of slasher films, yet still unknown enough to be considered a “gem” in my eyes. Much like last year’s The Evil Dead, this effort was marketed as a remake / re-imaging but is actually a sequel that continues the storyline. TV director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (American Horror Story, Glee) makes his feature film debut with this effort, and he does a damn good job of delivering a solid modern-day slasher flick. With constant remakes / re-imagings / sequels of classic films you never know which ones will succeed and which ones will fail, and I am glad to say that The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a winner.
65 years have passed since a famed masked killer terrorized Texarkana in a series of crimes known as the “Moonlight Murders”, and much to the dismay of law enforcement and those citizens who remember…the murders have begun again. Is the original Phantom Killer back or is someone finishing his work? When a young high school girl survives his first attack she becomes the only solution to solving a story that has lasted the majority of a century, but not if the killer can finish what he started.
The story begins in awesome fashion, with a drive-in showing of the 1976 film leading to the first death and sighting of the killer about 6 minutes into the experience. I really enjoyed the use of the original film in this opening sequence and applaud writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa for employing this enjoyable tactic. This sequence introduces us to Jami, who survives the killer’s first attack and becomes the focus of the town’s fear and curiousity over the return of the Moonlight Murders. The kills continue, even without Jami’s involvement, giving us a different aspect than the usual slasher flick where the lead seems to always find oneself where trouble happens. If anything, though, the continuous murders remind Jami that the killer is still out there, and still hunting for her. The pacing of the kills was great, giving us constant action that leaves few stones unturned in its brutality and the killer’s copycat kills of the original Phantom. Aside from the kills and killer there is little that separates this from the typical slasher film, as it still comes with useless characters and borderline basic dialogue. This is not a bad thing though, as slasher fans have learned to appreciate such antics as part of the genre’s acquired template.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon did a damn good job bringing this story to life, and he did so by sucking us in early with the awesome opening sequence. We see live gore and BRUTAL kills that reminded me of the tenacity seen in Tyler Mane and Rob Zombie’s portrayal of Michael Myers. What I mean by this is there are some scenes where the victim is stabbed at least a dozen times and Gomez-Rejon gives you front row seats to every blood-splattering puncture. His execution of the killer was great, from his creepy look (very much like the ’76 film) to his mannerisms during the kills, I found him a true joy to watch. Gomez-Rejon does well with his atmosphere, cinematography, and achieved mostly positive performances from the actors involved, but the true selling point of the film is the horror, namely the killer, and with that he was spot on.
Overall, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a success. This modern day spinoff is a rarity in that it moves the franchise in a positive way, and delivers horror reminiscent of the bar set by the famed original. Give this a watch if you enjoy slasher flicks / the original film.