We horror fans really needed a good new slasher film. It’s been a while and I hoped The Town That Dreaded Sundown — a remake of cult classic ‘76 horror film of the same name — would be it. But my hopes were dashed like a boat against the rocks in a stormy sea, splintering into tiny bits and sinking to the briny depths. This film is awful. The town may dread sundown, but you will dread every moment of this misbegotten, amateurish and scare-free slasher pic.
Which is a bitter shame, because this is a remake that actually has an offbeat, original way of bringing its predecessor’s story to the 21st century. Rather than simply regurgitate the story, Town 2.0 actually goes meta, making the first film a significant part of its own story, starting at a screening of the film and then going on to use it as impetus for this film’s killer’s reign of terror. It’s a rather brilliant conceit on the part of the filmmaker’s, allowing recreations of popular moments from the first film to grow organically out of the plot instead of being dumped in as some sort of pandering fan service. It’s a wholly unique take on how to do a remake, it’s refreshing… and it’s unfortunately wasted on a dismal, painfully stylized body count pic.
In 1947 Texarkana, a mysterious killer in a burlap mask went on a rampage, killing couples before disappearing, never caught by the police. In 1976, Arkansas filmmaker Charles B. Pierce (The Legend of Boggy Creek) directed The Town That Dreaded Sundown, a horror-docudrama depicting the events, which became a cult hit on the drive in circuit. Every year since then, the town screens the film in remembrance of it’s past, but now someone has decided to play copycat, butchering young lovers in the same manner as the film, beseeching surviving first victim Jamie (Addison Timlin) to “make them remember.”
Sundown proceeds down a predictable path devoid of tension, fright or anything approaching an effective scare. It’s an over-directed slog through familiar territory, gussied up with a pretentious style that borders on the ostentatious. The movie is produced by American Horror Story’s Ryan Murphy, and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, a frequent helmer on the series, and, frankly, it shows — the film looks like an especially hyperactive episode of the program, minus the dark wit, imagination and genuine freakiness that it is known for. Gomez-Rejon directs this thing within an inch of it’s life, but all he does is call attention to himself. He’s less interested in building tension as he is in showing off every cool lighting trick he’s learned in film school, and the result is a horror film that exerts much effort for little reward.
Not that there’s much there when you scrape the glittering crust off this film. Do that and all you are left with is bad dialogue, generic and unimpressive kill scenes and a bevy of good character actors like Gary Cole, Edward Herrman, Denis O’Hare and Veronica Cartwright wasted in underwritten supporting roles. It’s been a long while since horror fans have had a slasher film worth giving a damn about, and with it’s intriguing take on revamping a classic, Town could’ve been the film to do it. Instead it’s a pretty bauble with nothing inside.
1.5 stars out of 5