Monday, November 28, 2016

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

Quite a few of you may or may not know that back in the 70s—1976 to be exact—a horror movie with the same title was released and became a cult classic not too long afterwards.  To be frank, I’ve never seen that film nor do I think I ever will.  So to hear that a remake was in the works back in 2013, I thought that was perfect and looked forward to seeing it.

Now, if you’ve all heard of this film, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, you probably know that it was based on a real life masked serial killer who’d terrorized the town of Texarkana (which straddles the border of Arkansas and Texas—sorry for the geography lesson) back in 1946.  To add an even more frightening detail to this fact, the killer was never captured and the case remains a mystery to this day.  I’ve watched documentaries and read up on this subject, hearing and reading quotes on how the small town went from a place where you didn’t have to worry about locking your door to people barricading themselves in their house after sunset.  It’s a frightening thought to live in a tiny area that felt so safe and yet turned upside-down with the onset of a killer on the loose.  Though the town has moved on from this terror, it had taken them decades to do so.

With all that said, this new film sort of has something to do with that real life portion of the documentary side of the narrative, yet it is not a remake of the original film.  Discovering that fact was a nice surprise because that’s where I’m always suspecting studios to go full force, heading to the rebooting zone and having original movies go to the wayside of Hollywood.  Instead, they’d created a clever way to make this a sequel and one that doesn’t need the required watching of the 1976 film.

Before going any further with my views on the movie, let me go over the synopsis of The Town That Dreaded Sundown here.

Sixty-five years after a masked serial killer terrorized the small town of Texarkana, the so-called ‘Moonlight Murders’ begin again.  Is it a copycat or something even more sinister?  A lonely high school girl, Jami (Addison Timlin), with dark secrets of her own, may be the key to catching him.

Now, after reading that, you may think that this is a sequel to the original movie, but you’d be wrong.  In fact, in this fictional account, the 1976 film exists and is blatantly featured or mentioned throughout this film.  As this film opens, we see the main character of Jami driving to the local park with her boyfriend, Corey (Spencer Treat Clark), to see the annual showing of the original movie at the local town park.  So this is neither a remake nor a sequel…just a stand-alone modern horror movie.

If you’re like me, seeing that description—modern horror movie—usually goes ignored because all I can think about is kids at a high school while talking in strange dialect and using social media to communicate.  But The Town That Dreaded Sundown is only modern by its quality of filming and practical effects.  In all other facets of this movie, the filmmakers developed a perfect mood and atmosphere that it almost feels like a horror film of the 1980s.

The film features a few well-known actors playing some meager parts throughout the story.  Anthony Anderson plays the U.S. Marshall, Lone Wolf Morales, brought back into the cold case of the ‘Moonlight Murders’ due to the recent copycat killings, but he’s borderline comic-relief in this flick and really can’t be taken seriously in this movie—I mean, come on…”Lone Wolf”?  Veronica Cartwright plays Jami’s grandmother and is reduced to a simple background character.  Gary Cole plays the sleazy local Chief Deputy and gets his just desserts within the story.  Peppered throughout the movie, you’ll probably catch a bunch of other faces that are familiar and this all helps the movie in an interesting way.

One main feature of the original movie that made me want to venture out to rent the movie (although I never had) was the look of the killer—which is prominently featured on the movie poster.  The look was simply a man wearing a burlap-looking sack over his head with eyeholes cut out and it immediately reminded me of Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th Part 2 even though that movie was released about five years later.  While I admit never seeing the 1976 film, I had ventured to YouTube not too long after hearing of the new movie’s release and was able to find quite a few clips from the original film.  What I’d seen didn’t impress me and never thought about sitting down to see the whole movie.  However, in this new take, the killer retains the same look and it’s as ominous as I’d imagined. 

Keeping that same look gives the whole story an interesting subplot on the mystery of the killer’s identity—whether he’s a copycat or the same person who’d committed the crimes back in 1946 (though he’d be pretty old if that was the case).  The townspeople characters in this film relay their feeling believably enough as the concern begins to show when the killings start happening once again.  I could imagine how Bay Area folks would react if murders were occurring that pointed to the possibility of the Zodiac Killer resurfacing after all these years.  Heck, even when the BTK killer—Dennis Rader—resumed his work in 2004 after disappearing fourteen years prior sent the whole Wichita area in a panic.  So the tension of Texarkana shows in this film and gives the whole story credibility.

By all means, this is not an Oscar-worthy film, but only a clever little horror film that uses the cult status of the 1976 movie to earn a place in the chronicles of notoriety it had garnered.  It’s definitely a companion piece that surpasses the older movie and proves to be an earnest production that should be up there with the likes of Friday the 13th or Halloween.

So…what’s my final “bit” on The Town That Dreaded Sundown?

I’d really liked how the film opened, primarily the creepy part where we see Jami and Corey stalked by the killer while they park at the local make-out spot, giving just the right hook and presenting the audience something to keep them interested.  However, the story drags just a little as the story follows Jami and how the incident had changed her disposition and outlook, but the scenes where the killer is featured ups the ante to make up for the down time.  Overall, the pacing and structure of the film feels a bit like the horror movies I’d enjoyed as a teen in the 1980s and it kept my attention the whole time.  The ending of the film was a bit of a letdown as when the mystery is revealed it will probably incite a groan or two to come out of you when it happens.  I won’t spoil it for you, but my thought about the choice to end the film this way probably should’ve been reconsidered.  The film could’ve ended in a mystery with the case unresolved, making it a possibility to spawn a sequel from this—although the possibility is still there—and create a nice franchise for the future.  But I thoroughly enjoyed this one-off and I think you will as well.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Dumb and Dumber To

Back in 1990, a phenomenon began and started at just the right time.  The television comedy skit show, “In Living Color,” took over the air waves when “Saturday Night Live” was losing a bit of steam.  Among the talent that spawned from “In Living Color” were comedians such as Keenen Ivory Wayans (the host and creator of the show), Damon Wayans, David Alan Grier, Jamie Foxx, and Jim Carrey.  At the time, the show was more cutting edge, had a funnier cast, hilarious and boundary-pushing skits, and was an all-around hit.  I loved the show and thought Damon Wayans was the funniest comedian on the show.  The character, Homey the Clown, was so popular and had everybody reciting his famous catchphrase—Homey Don’t Play That.  Looking back, the weird thing I remember about my feelings of the show was that I really didn’t enjoy what Jim Carrey brought to the table.  I know he was well-liked and had quite a few characters he made memorable as well—like Fire Marshall Bill—but I really hadn’t liked his comedy.

Cut to 1994 and the release of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.  People were very excited to see this flick, but I had no intention of going until a group of buddies overrode the decision for movie night one evening and I found myself sitting in the theater to see the flick.  That was the day I had become a Jim Carrey fan, laughing my ass off throughout that whole movie and going to see it a few more times (one time for free because the projector stopped working near the end of the film during my first watch) before it showed up on home video.  Now, I didn’t go and search for movies he’d done before because I actually caught an episode of “The Duck Factory” one night and saw what a dud Carrey could be in the wrong environment.  Sometimes terrible (Once Bitten), sometimes pretty funny (his bit part in Peggy Sue Got Married), but if I’d happen to catch a past movie on cable or television, I’d stop to see it.

Even though his Ace Ventura film was a hit with his fans and gained him a bit more notoriety for his quirky type of comedy, we’d gotten to see a bit more of it in The Mask until he hit it home with Dumb & Dumber—and this was all in 1994!

From that point on, he’d garnered the perfect part for him as The Riddler in Batman Forever, filmed a sequel to Ace Ventura, played a creepy—yet funny—title part in The Cable Guy, the hilarious and touching Liar Liar, until he delved into a bit of drama with The Truman Show. 

Jim Carrey had the ultimate actor/comedian life and didn’t look like it was stopping anytime soon.  When the sequel, or rather prequel, to Dumb& amp; Dumber was in the works and they had asked him to return, he was a big star and couldn’t resort to going back to that level of his past (and it’s a good thing because that flick was terrible).  No, it seemed as if Carrey wanted to pursue a different path in his acting, seeming like he was bit by the dramatic bug and wanted to stay away from comedies.  Sure, he took the part in Me, Myself & Irene, but he maintained his course through such slugs as The Majestic and The Number 23 (I had a hard time staying awake through that one).  Even in his real life, he’d started acting strange and apparently found a new lot in life, which he can’t be faulted for…we all do that at times in our life.  Many times, the news media show, “TMZ,” would catch him near his art studio in Southern California and he would agreeably part some of his weird wisdom, not sounding like the Jim Carrey we all knew and loved.

But, hey, Carrey remained successful…it’s not like he became down-and-out or went broke…he just became a different guy in the real world.  So after a few more fledgling films that were panned by critics, 2014 comes along and brings us the sequel 20 years in the making—Dumb and Dumber To.

I really didn’t know what to think besides…that they just waited…too…long.  But then I had started to gain a little faith and felt that Jim Carrey could slip back into his Lloyd Christmas character like an old pair of slippers, giving us a laugh riot per minute.

Or did he?


Twenty years since their first adventure, Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) go on a road trip to find Harry’s newly discovered daughter, Penny (Rachel Melvin), who was given up for adoption.

So the opening of the film, which was released to the public online as an extra length trailer, shows that Lloyd, after losing out on the girl of his dreams, Mary Swanson, has been at a nursing facility for twenty years with his best friend Harry visiting him constantly.  On one such visit, after two decades without saying a word, Lloyd finally yells out “gotcha!” to let Harry know he’d been pranking him all these years.  It was a very funny start and I really had high hopes for this film, thinking the Farrelly Brothers had captured lightning in a bottle for a second time.  However, reflecting back on this film, maybe it’s a bit unfair to expect it to be a second notable film, that it should contain as many memorable lines that you’d recite to your friends endlessly.  So, I started to look at it as a standalone comedy film and feel I can be a bit more lenient on my views.

First off, the callbacks are great.  We get to meet Freida Felcher (Kathleen Turner) who was mentioned in funny exposition in the first film.  Billy the blind boy (Brady Bluhm) is back—and they actually found the kid from the original movie to come back and reprise his role.  The guys return to their original apartment (or a pretty good recreation of it), albeit Harry had taken in a new roommate, Ice Pick (Bill Murray, completely unrecognizable in hazmat suit while he’s cooking up meth), after Lloyd was committed years ago.  Sea Bass (Cam Neely) is back and we get to see the Shaggin’ Wagon again…though, only for a short amount of time.  So you’ll get some good chuckles from those references and cameos.

The story, though, is a bit weak and doesn’t play out that funny at times.  But there are some fresh and funny moments peppered throughout the film.  The whole mistaken phone call between Harry and Lloyd—while they’re sitting right next to each other—made me laugh quite a bit.  Sometimes the storyline gets a bit awkward, a lot like how I’d felt when I watched Carrey’s film, Yes Man, like when there are some implied love interest between a man in his late 50s with a girl in her 20s…it was a bit more funny here—seeing that it was a bit one-sided—than in Yes Man, but still made me cringe a bit.

So, I’d mentioned that it would be easy for Carrey to slip into his old role of Lloyd, that he should be able to do it in his sleep.  For the most part, he does, but he seems to interject a bit of meanness to the character here.  I know he played the part of Lloyd in the previous film as a complete dumbass, but he still had a heart of gold (unless you did him wrong, then it’s the laxative for you).  Here, in Dumb and Dumber To, he’s a bit racist (when he interacts with Harry’s adoptive parents) and a little violent in the vain of Moe Howard from The Three Stooges.

Still, judging by its own merits and not comparing it to the original movie, Dumb and Dumber To is a very funny movie and definitely has its moments.  If I had to pick anything that slows this movie down is the inclusion of Rob Riggle in the dual role of Travis and his twin brother, Captain Mippincott.  Though Riggle is a very funny comedian, he didn’t seem to gel in this film and it felt like the movie had changed gears when he appeared on screen.  Also, the insertion of Harry’s long lost daughter, Penny, was a bit off as well.

So…my final “bit” on Dumb and Dumber To?

In total, a very funny movie, definitely a fitting conclusion to the Harry and Lloyd adventures (I really don’t see them doing another movie any time soon).  While Daniels and Carrey noticeably aged quite a bit (Daniels was 39 while Carrey was 32 in the first one, now 59 and 52 respectively), they still jumped into their dumb personas hilariously.  The references come at you pretty quick, so you may want to rewind a joke or two to catch them at times—Oh man! The scene where Lloyd interacts with the angry dog is great!—but you’ll have a good time with the return of the two dumb best friends, Harry and Lloyd.
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