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.

Thanks for reading!

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