I went to see The Town That Dreaded Sundown with no further information than it being a remake of some horror film from the seventies that I haven’t seen. I don’t know what I was expecting, but from what I knew it didn’t seem to fit the mould of something from ‘the creators of Insidious and Paranormal Activity‘.
I love a good horror, in fact, I love a bad horror, but even now, sitting the morning after the night of the film, I’m still not sure where I actually stand on The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
The film opens with a sort of documentary style monologue describing a bunch of murders that took place in the town of Texarkana in the forties committed by an unmasked assailant called ‘The Phantom’. From the off, I loved the town of Texarkana, I loved the idea of two towns and two mayors and two sheriffs both trying to figure out exactly what’s causing these murderers. The next scene sliced flawlessly into watching teenagers at a movie drive in watching the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown. On Halloween of all nights too, it’s like those kids were asking for trouble.
In no time we are then introduced to our final girl, Jami. Jami is a mousy looking girl, but definitely still attractive, played by Addison Timlin. She’s out on a date with an excruciatingly boring boy by the name of Corey. Jami, who of course isn’t fond of ‘scary movies’ asks Corey if they could leave the drive in.
Corey, grasping at an opportunity to get his hole, gladly accepts Jami’s offer and they head off to a place entitled Lover’s Lane. It’s pretty self explanatory what happens from here, she’s asked to look away while he is murdered, she escapes, but only at the mercy of ‘The Phantom’. ‘The Phantom’ gives Jami a cryptic message, asking her to ‘make them remember Mary’. Who’s Mary? It’s not even a little bit important.
By this point in the film I’d already ruined it for myself, convinced that ‘The Phantom’ was none other than the town Reverend, played by the recently deceased Edward Hermann.
Theres a great town hall scene, in which we are introduced to the two sides of Texarkana, the brilliant locals and hear a few more things about the legend. This is definitely one of my favourite scenes in the entire film, I enjoyed the way it was shot, the way the dialogue flowed but most of all I enjoyed being introduced to the assorted locals.
Jami tries to get on with her life but can’t, she then takes to rifling through the town archives in an attempt to find out who the killer is. This is where she meets Nick (or Steve or Paul or any other name it doesn’t even matter) a local boy who was in Jami’s class but she never noticed him but he always noticed her. Obviously…
The murder of a woman and her marine boyfriend comes next, a horrible scene that involved the barely clothed woman jumping out of a high window and snapping her leg, something that was actually a huge childhood fear of mine and made me shiver. Then came a murder of two boys (a gay couple, how PC) in a scrap yard. I loved their bright blue mazda mx5 and the fact they were in a scrap yard, allowing ‘The Phantom’ to be much more inventive with his murders. One of the boys are shot and the other is killed with a knife attached to a trombone. In my opinion you can’t beat a bit of inventive killing, especially when the killer had such utensils at his disposal.
By this point it was still completely set up for the Reverend to be the killer, he seems to be present in every scene just before or just after the murders, he acts shifty. Jami gets an email from ‘The Phantom’ (I barely heard said email due to how much I was laughing at this point, how great is it that our serial killers are finally joining the 21st century?) which reads exactly as the Reverend speaks. Even a big poster of him watches over the boys in the scrap yard just before their untimely deaths.
Jami’s relationship then progresses with Nick, they join forces to unmask the killer. Theres a false alarm when someone decides to dress up as the killer and is shot. They then go to see the son of the director of the original film who conveniently lives on the outskirts of the town, on a boat. He throws them a curveball, ‘The Phantom’ is apparently the grandson of someone who’s was killed in the forties but their death never publicised. Not the aforementioned Mary, her husband, something McCreadie. He was sliced up and left on the railroad tracks.
Jami arrives home where she lives with her Grandmother and discovers her Gran has found all of her acceptance letters for colleges. The Gran announces that they’re leaving for California that night, before sun up. Oh Gran, have you never even heard the title of the movie?
Jami then seizes this opportunity to sleep with Nick and they fall asleep in each other’s arms. She then has a dream in the night that she’s lying with the murdered Corey, who gets up and walks into the eerie woods located where her bedroom wall used to be. This shot was beautiful, it was so reminiscent of both the first Nightmare on Elm Street and Pet Sematary in both the lighting and the following of the recently deceased into the dream.
Disappointingly, nothing further comes of the dream and Jami wakes up and Nick leaves. Earlier on there was a scene with both Jami and Nick walking down a row of houses with the automatic porch lights of each house flicking on and off, this scene was made to look tacky later on in the film as Nick walks home from his romp with Jami, the nothing is seen in the light from the houses except Nick himself, slowly making his way towards the camera with the lights clicking on and off until ‘The Phantom’ is revealed. Boring and predictable.
Jami gives her information on The McCreadies to the moustachioed police officer watching over her house just before her and her Gran leave the town. Gran basically utters ‘I’ll be right back’ by stating as they drive through the dark town that she’s never even been out of Texas. Oh Gran, you’re death could’ve been prevented by just watching a few films. They don’t even make it out of town before they have to stop for gas and provisions and whilst in the store Jami heres gunshots, she rushes outside to find Gran has been shot.
Then comes our final scene, one last showdown between Jami and ‘The Phantom’, taking place in an abandoned… something or other. Jami finds a gun in Gran’s bag (Badass Granny) and flees from the scene, over the railroad tracks where Nick’s mutilated body lay with a sign stating ‘Forgotten’ straight into a swamp where, gasp, ‘The Phantom’ is.
Of course there are two phantoms. In a town with two states, two mayors and two sheriffs that was making a painful homage to the original Scream films, it was so painfully obvious that there were two killers.
The first killer is the moustachioed police officer that had been watching over the house, who I didn’t recognise immediately and had to ask. The second killer is the shocker, it’s Corey! You remember Corey, the boy murdered at the start of the film? We never actually seen him murdered did we?
Right up until the unmasking of the second killer I was still sure that it was the Reverend, and I’m so disappointed in myself for falling for such an obviously set up red herring.
So Billy and Stu… I mean Corey and the Cop explain their motives. Corey doesn’t even have one, he was babbling something about wanting to be a part of something big and not wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps. It wasn’t a real motive, and that’s probably why the cop, also known as the McCreadie grandson shot him in the face before Jami’s eyes. It doesn’t even make any sense how these two know eachother, or how on earth they got onto the subject of wanting to recreate the murders from a vintage horror flicks, but the film glosses over that smoothly.
Poised and ready to kill, the cop climbs Jami, then by some odd act of gymnastics she seems to swerve round and shoot him with Gran’s gun. He then drifts off into the swamp and Jami goes on to live a happy life.
I think it took me to write this review to realise how much I actually did, believe it or not, enjoy this film. Not because it’s good or particularly well written, but it had that tongue in cheek quality I love about slasher films. It had all the necessary characters, the final girl, the parental figure, the boyfriend, the useless police force plus the bonus of the townspeople. The killings paid direct homage to the original film and I enjoyed the spicing between the two footages, something that done even slightly different would’ve looked terrible.
For me, the best part was seeing a film with David Gray. Although his love for popcorn is something I will struggle to deal with, I’ll always remember this film as our first date. I’m not sure I’d recommend going to see The Town That Dreaded Sundown, but I’d definitely give it a watch again once its out on DVD, just that that courtroom scene and the trombone murder.
Rating: An extremely generous 3/5