Starring Addison Timlin, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s update on cult classic The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a stylish if by-the-numbers slasher with some nice twists…
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a meta-sequel/remake based on the notorious 1976 Charles B. Peirce film, which too was inspired by the Texarkana Moonlight Murders that happened during 1946. The plot is set within 2013 Texarkana, 65 years after a masked serial killer known as “the Phantom Killer” terrorised the town and since then, they regularly show the 1976 movie as an example of the crimes that took place. On one particular night, another “Phantom Killer” emerges and starts to re-enact the murders, leading to the suspicion that someone else is carrying on the original killer’s legacy. When a lonely high-school girl named Jami (Addison Timlin) witnesses her boyfriend getting slain by the new killer, she takes it upon herself to solve the case and put the tragedy behind her once and for all.
The original film was known to be a bit of a cause célèbre due to the fact it was using and manipulating a real-life tragedy for artistic benefit, but ever since then, it has been regarded as something of a cult classic. However, when people talk positively about it now it can only be rose-tinted nostalgia as the 1976 version is turgid, rubbish and all over the shop in every sense. Clips of the original 1976 film play an important role and there’s even this bizarre moment when Jami is questioning the son of the original film’s director and they even say that Charles B. Pierce had knowledge of who the real killer was. They do this in an attempt to make the original something of a milestone, but it just looks embarrassing as a result and only establishes how terrible it was then and still is now.
Despite all that though, this is an improvement over the original in that it’s not terrible or mind-numbingly dull as it does attempt at making a perfectly solid nuts-and-bolts slasher film. Horror Movie 101 this film is as it basically recycles all the conventional riffs and motifs that have been done a gazillion times over the many decades since the birth of the subgenre. A couple drives to Lover’s Lane and there’s an unfortunate incident, when people have sex they die, there’s a masked killer running rampant, the police are mainly just incompetent, and Addison Timlin is essentially the final girl that must put a stop to all this.
It’s all just elementary here, and it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s like as if director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, and screenwriter, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, went to an IKEA store and ordered a pre-package, nuts-and-bolts, tab A into slot B slasher movie, but admittedly, it is assembled with a certain degree of style and flair, even if the last half goes a little bit Scooby Doo-ish. It is beautifully shot by Michael Goi, who absolutely nails the lighting and the vibrant colour scheme is used quite cleverly in certain sections.
Whilst all the supporting performances aren’t that particularly memorable or credible, it’s credit to Addison Timlin for holding everything together. Having first made a solid first impression in both Odd Thomas and TV’s Californication, Timlin gives an emotionally inviting and immediately likeable performance as Jami, allowing us to become invested in her, as she becomes the strong final girl this movie needs and deserves. Frankly, Addison Timlin is probably the sole reason to watch the film as she’s frankly the best thing about it, and here’s wondering what she’ll bring the leading part in 2016 movie adaptation of best-selling teen romance novel Fallen.
For the past few decades, we have seen a lot of knockabout nuts-and-bolts slasher rehashes but The Town That Dreaded Sundown is one of the least problematic ones, because at least it provides perfectly solid slasher mayhem. So, at least it does its job perfectly well, which is more than could be said of the original and why people are trying to claim it as a cult classic is beyond me. Apart from that, this is an improvement.