The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Edward Herrmann, Gary Cole, Ed Lauder, Travis Tope

Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and (based on the 1976 film) Earl E. Smith

Running Time: 86 mins

Cert: 15

Release date: 17th April 2015

In 1976 a very low-budget exploitation horror emerged as a cult favourite, entitled The Town That Dreaded Sundown. It dealt with the true events in Texarkana back in 1946, when a masked serial killer stalked and murdered the locals, leaving the police clueless to the identity of the madman. Now director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, a regular director on the TV series American Horror Story, has taken that same story and brought it into the 21st Century, in a strange sequel-remake-reboot that, while not terrifying, is a decent attempt at trying something new for the genre.

Texarkana and the small town that was once shocked to the core by a serial killer, relive the events with regular screenings of the film about the murders. One night, Jami, a young girl desperate to leave the town and study in California, is attacked by a man looking like the original killer. Having survived, she becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth while the town has to live through another serial killer repeating the same grisly murders as before.

What makes this slice of slasher horror more interesting than most is that it plays around with the format. You think you are watching a remake of the 70’s shocker, including some of the more ingenious key scenes (the famous knife on the trombone scene, for example) and yet it keeps referring back to the film, either with posters, scenes or just mentions. Which leaves you asking, is this a sequel? Or a clever remake?

As you would expect, the gore level has been upped since the original film, with some pretty gruesome moments (a woman jumping from a window only to have her bone break and slice through her leg does leave you feeling a little queasy).  Gomez-Rejon also manages to get the tone right. One of the problems with the original was that it didn’t know what it wanted to be, a straight horror or a pulp detective thriller with misstepped comedy. Here it’s just an out-and-out slasher horror with its tongue slightly in its cheek.

It’s also owe a great deal to Wes Craven’s Scream series, where the film manages to tiptoe neatly from broad horror to satire of that self-same genre. Where the film is less than successful is in the horror department. It lacks any real scares. Yes, it is grisly and violent but nothing that hasn’t been seen before.

The film is filled with familiar faces from past horror greats. Veronica Cartwright (from Alien) pops up as the lead’s grandmother while the late Edward Herrmann from The Lost Boys, gets to hams things up as an over zealous preacher. In the lead, Addison Timlin as Jami, makes for an appealing heroine and does manages to hold the thing together.

The ending becomes a little too much like a Scream rip-off than an original twist, which is a pity because up to then, this film was both inventive and strangely enjoyable in a gory but fun way. A definite improvement on the 76 film, it just needed a better ending and more scares for its money.

3/5

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