The remake of this little horror picture from the 1970’s comes in with a unique angle. Echoing storytelling the likes of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and The Human Centipede 2 (never thought I’d be referencing THAT movie), The Town That Dreaded Sundown takes place in a modern setting where the 70’s production exists as an actual movie. Every Halloween, the little town in which the film takes place celebrates its fame with an annual screening of the picture. Angry christians shout at the those who come about the evils of worshiping such a picture. As the horny teens drive out into the night for frolics, the killer of the movie known only as the Phantom comes to life and a slew of murders sweep the town.
For its meta approach, this sequel/remake thankfully doesn’t dabble too deeply in its self-examination. There’s some questioning of those involved with the film and some footage used as research to capture the maniacally violent killer. But the movie has enough faith in its own whodunit plot to become its own thing for as much as it replicates the villain and the murders. It’s hard to deny the fine craft of a killer murdering someone with a trombone slide. I still wish there was some alteration to the sequence where the killer is actually able to get a good sound out of the instrument while he’s stabbing someone to death.
Does that sound too morbid to be entertained by such violence? It very well could be considering the trombone death is the least grizzly. But that’s perhaps what makes this movie so intriguing in its depiction. The violence on screen is not played up for camp or gooey gore shots. It’s dark and gruesome with a killer that murders with both efficiency and cruelty. The Phantom forces a couple out of their car and screams for the girl to look away as he brutally stabs her boyfriend in the back. Who would commit such vile acts? The answers lie in the old film that is emulated which prompts the cops and the frightened girlfriend Jami to reexamine the picture.
The mystery itself, however, is more engaging than its characters. Jaimie becomes our plucky young investigator having survived one of the brutal attacks and wondering why she lived. She’s a suitable vehicle for solving the case, but nothing more than that. The majority of the other characters mostly play it straight as potential suspects that are knocked off one by one as the list grows smaller. Some are even presented quickly and simply to get them out of the way as quick kills for the killer. I can’t say I blame the screenwriters since most of these kills are pretty unique to skip ahead towards. A man leaves his lady in his motel room to get ice, only to return through the window as a severed head. An unlucky police officer finds himself gunned down during his most vulnerable moment. And a weeping woman treads through a grassy field where she meets the same fate as a scarecrow.
The big reveal of the real killer is not all that surprising, but certainly tries to add some twists into the mix. The movie is the directorial debut of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and he certainly makes some solid choices into how to stage such a movie. The kills feel savage, the mystery intriguing and the cinematography is not half bad. The biggest problem – aside from the simple characters – is that it feels as though there could have been more to this plot. The whole religious angle and examination of horror movie copycats is engaging, but never gets really culminates. What could have a sleeper horror hit turns into a slightly better-than-expected release.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown takes aim at a small little horror film and turns out something that at least displays some creativity. It’s a horror mystery that won’t exactly shine brightly in the current crop of hot indie horror, but it does manage to entertain much more than I thought it would. It’s perfectly suited as a solid rental for those in the mood for a horror whodunit worth following once.