Alfonzo Gomez-Rejon’s 2014 remake of Charles B. Pierce’s cult classic The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a surprisingly entertaining revisit around a new set of murders sixty-five years after the original Texarkana Moonlight Murders.
It’s a great idea for a Hollywood remake. Pierce’s original made him one of the Godfathers of the Slasher genre, gave overwhelming publicity to the so-called Phantom Killer, and made Texarkana’s name synonymous with an abrupt but shocking murder spree. Gomez’ film addresses the lingering effects of Pierce’s film by contextualising the Phantom’s actions to a modern-day Texarkana.
The so-called meta-remake/sequel isn’t as mind-bending or intuitive as it should be though. Plenty of horror films have saw fit to go “Meta” for their sequels and though the decision is an initially intriguing one, it burns out eventually in the second half. The problem is that re-imagining the classic, caustic, and degrading death scenes of the original by simply upping the gore wears a little thin. Gomez fairs better when he’s composing evocative imagery, free from the documentary aesthetic of Pierce’s original.
The opening scenes reconstruct one of the annual Texarkana screenings of The Town That Dreaded Sundown, complete with a drive-in audience chatting about the original, and a picketing parishioner claiming “real people died, you know”. It’s cool, but it gets better when a bush-whacked and recently attacked Addison Timlin crawls out of the woods to appear screaming under the projector screen showing the original. There’s moments like this throughout the film, where Gomez splices in classic footage with his re-imagined version, sometimes figuratively, others physically. Denis O’Hare makes a fantastic appearance as Pierce’s fictional son, exploring the original’s director as an obsessive who left his son trapped in the legacy of his most infamous film. It’s an interesting idea and further explores the myth building angle whilst casting an accusatory eye at the way in which parents induct their kids into ideologies. The mystery of the new killer proves, like the myth, far more interesting, and the ending unravels with a flat reveal.
Visually there’s little to whinge at here, except the dreaded CGI blood, which continues to dent otherwise well-meaning films one spurt at a time. The updated deaths are often shocking and sometimes perfectly OTT. Michael Goi’s crooked camera angles and superb composition look lifted from a comic book, and are one of the film’s prize features, pushing it just a bit further into its own unique sense of style, an often over-looked part of remaking classic films. Produced by American Horror Story helmer Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum (the man responsible for all your favourite studio horror films in the past 10 years: Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, The Lords of Salem, The Purge, Oculus, 13 Sins) Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s remake was always going to look great and offer something fun. It’s also a significantly better piece of writing from Roberto Aguirre Sacasa, who penned the dismal Carrie re-hash back in 2013.
Rejon’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a thrilling trip down memory lane with some superb images and deaths, but issues in the second half leave it an average attempt at expanding on the original.
Dir: Alfonzo Gomez-Rejon
Stars: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Joshua Leonard, Gary Cole, Ed Lauter, Denis O’Hare