The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) – Film Review
I watched this movie for two reasons:
1) Addison Timlin was pretty cool in Odd Thomas.
2) The original The Town That Dreaded Sundown is referenced in a line in Scream.
But then I found out that Ryan Murphy produced this, and my hate fire got stoked.
TL;DR The characters and story of The Town That Dreaded Sundown work: there are red herrings aplenty, and the mystery evolves satisfyingly throughout this spooky, small town tale. It’s a shame the slasher elements are so dreary in comparison. A tight little story spoiled by being a bad horror movie. 3 out of 5 stars.
Horror that has dull kill scenes and isn’t scary? That sounds familiar.
I should also concede that I haven’t seen the original movie.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is present day Texarkana. In the 70s, The Phantom Killer went on a slashing spree (the events depicted in the original movie), and nowadays the Texarkana residents celebrate the anniversary by screening the film based on these events. This is where Jami (Addison Timlin) comes in, as she and her boyfriend, Corey (the boyfriend from The Last Exorcism: Part II), are attacked by someone posing as The Phantom Killer. Corey is killed, and the town descends into panic. Jami does her best to investigate while the Phantom Killer continues his killing spree. She and Nick, a new love interest, find out that the original Phantom’s final victim was covered up, and they suspect his grandson is the new Phantom. Eventually, it turns out that there are two new killers: the original Phantom’s grandson, and Corey, who faked his death. Both end up dead (Corey at his accomplice’s hand; Jami kills the other one), and Jami moves on with life.
Or does she!? Because there’s an ominous shadow following her in the closing shot.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown has a lot going for it. The small, Texas town setting is classically eerie; the mystery is solid; Addison Timlin is a dogged little Final Girl; and, as a Scream devotee, I am compelled to appreciate anything meta. And, especially, meta horror.
No chase scenes.
Why I hate this movie:
The closest we get to a chase scene is at the very end when Jami, the only major character left, is hunted down by the dual killers. Every other kill in the movie is quick and disappointing. I know I keep bitching about chase scenes, but just once, I’d like to see a chase scene as good as Sarah Michelle Gellar’s in I Know What You Did Last Summer. Just once, please.
What The Town That Dreaded Sundown gives us, instead, is a procession of admittedly decent instant kills on characters who either had one scene prior, or no scenes prior. Just a laundry list of slain extras. Ever since torture porn replaced tension with gore, the chase scene has never recovered. And torture porn’s gone, now. So where are my fucking chase scenes?
As this is a Ryan Murphy production, I couldn’t help but see the parallels to American Horror Story’s less flattering attributes. The most abrasive is the slew of Dutch angles that gets tossed around. It’s nowhere near AHS levels, but is distracting.
And of course, AHS is another place where the story or mystery is usually on point, but nothing’s really very scary.
The discovery of Nick’s body is pretty shocking, but he also suffers the indignity of an off-screen death. Rude.
The Motive Rant, the lynchpin of any respectable slasher movie’s third act, is crap. McCreedy’s (the original Phantom) grandson’s motive is already known (“My grandpa’s death was swept under the rug and I’ve been brainwashed into being mad about it”), and is a bit of a yawn, anyway. Corey’s is worse: he’s just a brat who wants to be something more than a Texarkana townie all his life, and to be part of the Phantom Killer legend. Ugh.
Oh, and I think the Phantom Killer/s rack up more kills with guns than anything else. Which is not much fun for a slasher movie. Or any horror movie. Guns are boring, you know.
But it’s not all bad:
At least the grandson has the decency to promptly shoot Corey in the head at the conclusion of his motive rant. Thanks, baby.
And I’ll toss The Town That Dreaded Sundown the same compliment I paid Ouija: it’s colourful. Banish the washout, I say. And apart from the Dutch angles, the scene compositions and editing are pretty stylish.
This movie’s greatest asset is the strength of its mystery, which is owed mainly to the fabulous collection of red herrings we run into. They include:
- Nick, the new love interest, who is shady and quiet and weird.
- Denis O’Hare as the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown’s director’s son. He is also creepy and weird, but proves to be a handy source of exposition. Denis O’Hare has also been in AHS as the baddie a couple of times, which helps.
- The local priest, who pretends to be the Phantom via emails to Jami. It turns out he’s just seizing the opportunity to spread his zealotry.
- A suicidal college kid who poses as the Phantom at a vigil for the victims and is gunned down by police (suicide by cop and all that). His death also temporarily lulls the town into a false sense of security, which is fun.
Despite their static nature, there a couple of cool kill scenes. The best is the trombone kill, which is apparently an homage from the original film. A couple of gay guys get attacked and captured, and the Phantom killer kills one of them using a knife attached to a trombone, and stabbing him multiple times in the back. It’s camptacular.
One of the cops gets shot in the eye while receiving a blowjob.
And the random blonde girl from an earlier kill has her motel room window shattered by the Phantom bashing her boyfriend’s severed head against it. It’s funny and cruel at the same time.
Speaking of that blonde girl, the movie picks up its Being Progressive points by having her preparing to propose to her boyfriend. Ring and all. It’s nice.
Veronica Cartwright plays Jami’s grandmother. So the movie has all its 70s horror cred boxes ticked.
Anthony Anderson also shows up as the Texas Ranger in charge of the official investigation.
The reveal of Nick’s segmented body was legitimately horrifying. The poor lad.
Jami gets shot with a couple of arrows in the finale, and soldiers the fuck on.
Oh, and Jami channels Sidney Prescott when she puts down the grandson. With a bullet to the head.
It’s a terrible waste that within all this filmmaking competence and compelling lore that nobody could scrape together a death scene worth caring about. Maybe the next sequel in forty years’ time will get it right. 3 out of 5 stars.