The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014): Return of the Phantom

Poster for The Town That Dreaded Sundown
This 2014 film, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who worked on American Horror Story and Glee before making this debut feature film, with its “return of the phantom from Texarkana” is really more than just a remake of the 1976 film The Town That Dreaded Sundown, it is actually an addendum, if you will. With the film referencing the original and interweaving clips of the 1976 film as well as casting a young actress, Addison Timlin (Derailed, That Awkward Moment) who, in the movie at any rate, is almost a dead ringer for the previous star Dawn Wells, the story is an extension of the first film.

Before going into the premise of the plot, it needs to be mentioned that two of the stellar cast of character actors have shuffled off this mortal coil after appearing in this slasher/mystery. Edward Herrmann (perhaps best known for his “father-figure” vampire in The Lost Boys) and Ed Lauter whose long list of work included the Burt Reynolds cult favorite The Longest Yard as Captain Knauer.

Both the late actors are an example of the high level of experience associated with all the actors involved with this film. The odd choice of Anthony Anderson (Scre4m, Transformers) to portray the Ben Johnson character from the original film was interesting and allowed the actor a chance to play outside his usual range.

In this “remake” the town of Texarkana shows the 1976 film every year around Halloween. *In reality the town really does feature this film as part of their run up to the trick or treat holiday.* While watching the show at what appears to be a make-shift drive-in, two youngsters decide to leave as the girl, Timlin as Jami, is not really enjoying the movie.

The couple drive to a secluded “lover’s lane” and the boy is murdered. Jami is told to make sure “they remember Mary,” and may or may not have been sexually molested. The murders follow the same pattern as the original film’s deaths and also deviates from the real murders just as the first one did.

Texarkana in the mid 1940s did indeed have a serial killer, “who was never caught,” but the “Moonlight Murders” are changed a lot in both films from what really happened. Perhaps the most original part of the film was the decision to make one couple gay, or at least in the beginnings of a gay relationship or one night stand. This move alone seems to be a wink and a nod to Wes Craven and his “rules.”

Denis O’Hare plays the son of the first film’s director, Charles Bryant Pierce (who also directed another cult favorite The Legend of Boggy Creek) died in 2010 and the Arkansas director specialized in making “local” films using the residents of where ever he was shooting. O’Hare, who has the ability to be suitably creepy and damned disturbing regardless of what he is in (American Horror Story for example) knocks it out of the park with his “revelation” later in the film.

This addendum to The Town That Dreaded Sundown, as mentioned above, has a splendid cast, Gary Cole (Pineapple Express, Office Space) and Veronica Cartwright (Alien, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh) round out the familiar faces who bring this tale to life. Perhaps the only drawback to the film was the decision to have Timlin’s character provide a narrative to the film.

Granted the purpose was, it is presumed, to give the new version a sort of documentary as well but it does not work. The “reveal” at the end of the film has been done before, think Wes Craven here, and this lack of originality results in my giving the film a 3 out of 5 stars.

Enjoyable horror hokum based extremely loosely on the real murders years ago and on the original 1976 film. The Town That Dreaded Sundown is on US Netflix at the moment and really is worth the time spent to watch it.

26 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith