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

Something Big: Something We All Want?

Something Big: Something We All Want

I ordered the DVD for Dean Martin’s Something Big film after realising that I did not have a copy already and that I had not seen it for ages. I love the film, or more accurately, I love the theme of the film. It goes without saying that this would be a personal favourite. I am, and always will be, a Dean Martin fanboy. But this lackadaisical western cross of comedy/action has always appealed to me. Something big? You bet, isn’t that something that we all want?

In the film Dean plays Joe Baker, a man who went west to find fame and fortune. He left Pennsylvania and his fiancée behind and planned to make something of himself in a self allocated time period of two years. In the film, his two years have stretched to four and his fiancée, Dover McBride has told Joe his time is up.

Baker now has to hurry up and do his something big before he has to leave and marry the woman he loves.

I suppose the film struck a chord with me because in some ways it inadvertently paralleled my own life.  And I think that it could resonate with a lot of people.

If you take away the sexist tone of the film – the movie places all women in the category of sexual objects of desire/lust – and look at the plot line, you realise it is about dreaming. It is also about chasing that dream. Dean’s character is a dreamer and his fiancée is not. There is a scene once she arrives in the west where she confronts her fiancé and tells him about when The Wild West Show came through her  village in Scotland.

Her point was that the whole show was make-believe and that Baker was not the big star, or The Wild West Show, he was just a man who wasn’t about all that “bigger than life” malarkey. But this is a movie and Martin’s character does do his something big, albeit, after murdering an entire Mexican bandit gang with a gatling gun; something that critics moaned about when the film opened in 1971. But the point is that Baker did something we all want. Not wholesale murder and plunder, but something big.

People dream. At least normal people do. We all have dreams and aspirations. It is in our genetic makeup. For a lot of people their dreams die when they grow up, or their dreams change. Instead of becoming rich and famous or a variation of same, they become married with children. Their dreams then mature and become more about looking out for their family and children. They when they are older, they dream of retiring with enough money to last their autumn years.

I have always been a sort of Peter Pan kind of guy. My dreams were always the same. I wanted to be a respected writer and actor. That was it. Of course there were variations on the dream, but it never strayed too far from the original desire. Even after being married twice and having two children, events that did spawn a new set of dreams, I never lost that wish to be a man of words or imagination.

Neither of my wives liked my dreams. My first wife did support it. At first. But when living in Southern California, the reality of my pursuit became too much for my first wife and she threw down the gauntlet. I had to choose between her and my dream. Foolishly, I chose her.

Mistake.

Something Big; Something We All Want
There will always be someone ready to knock your dreams down.

We divorced four years later after bringing my son into the world. I wasn’t very good at “real life” and this sped our disintegrating marriage to its bitter conclusion. After a few years of solitary misery, I then married again.

To be fair, my second wife did not realise the depth of my desire to be a scribe and artist. When I actively worked to be both, I received an intervention session or two from her. “People like us don’t do those types of jobs,” was how the intervention began. Her point was really that people like her did not do those type of jobs.  Knowing now that she was a passive aggressive, I doubt that she ever really believed that. It was just a way of keeping me reliant upon her for my happiness.

Years later when her efforts to destroy any chance I had at working in my chosen profession reached fruition and I lost my agent,  I was suicidal. The day I got my last communiqué from my agent/manager, a part of me died. So did my marriage. I stuck with it for a long time after because of our daughter, but the relationship had been irrevocably severed.

My dreams, as a result, died too. I turned my back on the two things that had always pleased me and fulfilled me in ways that nothing else could. Sure, I could take pride in both of my children and at how well they were turning out, but  my something big, had disappeared. Just as the “real me” had vanished.

We all want to do something big. What that thing is, varies from person to person. It is an individual wish and dream. I’ve gotten more second chances than any one man should. Last year I was given the ultimate second chance. Now I’m trying to fit my old, slightly refined, dreams into my remaining years.

I am working as a professional writer and I worked as an actor in  my first professional film in years. When I am not agonising over my financial situation, I am marvelling at the direction my life has taken. I’m also waiting excitedly for my “showreel” so I can start auditioning for more film roles.

At the end of the film Something Big, Dean Martin’s character rides off into the sunset with the girl and you know that if the two do get married, his dreams are over. He will fit back into the mendacity of everyday life and his wife will make sure of it. She doesn’t want The Wild West Show, which means that she’ll make sure her husband does not either.

I have been blessed in so many ways after my last few tumultuous years. I’ve met people who have literally changed my life. DiMarkco Chandler co-owner and co-founder of the Las Vegas Guardian Express; Natasha Harmer, who put me in her film; Marilyn Armstrong and her wonderful husband Garry, and so many other WordPress pals, that to express my gratitude to all of them would make up the world’s longest blog post.

Sorry, I did not mean to go into yet another long-winded thank you. My point was and this is the last thing I’ll say on it, I promise, Something Big, could be the story of my life, or yours. Isn’t that something we all want? Something big or some huge defining thing that has our name all over it? Whether your something big is having children or owning your own house. What ever that dream is, don’t forget it or give up on it. Your something big is too important to give up.

By Michael SmithDreaming Big for Something Big

United Kingdom

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The Nicest Fella: The Life of Ben Johnson by Richard D Jensen – Last of the Cowboys

Ben Johnson

Published in 2010, The Nicest Fella is about one of the last of the cowboys. Ben Johnson was not just a “screen” cowboy, he was the real deal. Growing up in Oklahoma  Son, as he was known to family and friends, earned his spurs on the back of a horse before doing so on screen.  Johnson came to Hollywood to deliver horses to the film industry at a time when westerns were all the rage and the demand for horseflesh was high.

Richard Farnsworth
Richard Farnsworth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After discovering that he could make more money in a single day than he could for an entire month working on a ranch, he decided to stick around and began doing stunt work.  He worked a lot with another stuntman who became an  actor in his later years, Richard Farnsworth who was later nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Straight Story. Ben would actually win an Oscar for his work in the film The Last Picture Show, which he referred to as a dirty movie because of the cursing and nudity in it.

Richard D Jensen does an excellent job chronicling the life and times of one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors. He had an enormous amount of help from Helen Lee Johnson Christenson, Ben’s sister, who had collected over 30 years worth of information on her famous brother. Jensen himself met Johnson in 1984 at a film festival and the two got on so well that they ditched the festival and spent the evening at a cafe talking. Jensen says that it was then that he knew he would write about Johnson one day.

The book goes back to Ben Johnson’s own famous father Ben Johnson Sr. A rodeo champion and manager of the largest ranch in Oklahoma, he was well known and well respected. Ben Jr, or Son, new that he would have to do something different from his father if he wanted to make his own tracks in the world. Although he would later return to the rodeo world and attempt everything his father had done as a sort of catharsis.

When Johnson first came to Hollywood, the industry was still in it’s infancy. He was not the only real cowboy in the industry. In fact the famous Tom Mix had not only started life as a cowpuncher, but he had worked on the same ranch as Ben Johnson Sr.

Tom Mix
Tom Mix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ben Johnson was the last of the cowboys though. His code and moral stand stayed saddle bound his whole life, He did not hold with using foul language in front of women or children and he would stop others from doing so. This same “code” meant that he continually attempted to get Hollywood money funnelled into his home state to help those who needed it.

Johnson also took a “break” from Hollywood to go back to the rodeo. He is the only actor who won an Oscar and the  Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association‘s Team Roping World Champion title in 1953.  Ben was later inducted  into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association‘s ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1973.

The title of the book came from paraphrasing Johnson’s acceptance speech for winning the Oscar in 1972. At the end of his very short speech, he announced that what he was going to say would cause  a lot of conversation but, “It couldn’t happen to a nicer feller.”

He was right. What the book shows is that very few, certainly not any in the book, had an ill word to say about the man. The cowboy turned stuntman; turned actor; turned rodeo star  and back to actor, was a man of his word and had time for everyone. His strict moral ethos gave him the strength to stand up to notorious bully John Ford, and it says volumes about Johnson. Even more so that Ford, later in his career, would talk Ben into working in The Last Picture Show. If Ford had not “pushed” Johnson to do it, he would have kept turning the role down.

At 299 pages, the book is not overly long, but after biography finishes, Jensen has one of the most complete filmography’s I have ever seen. This was a monument to a great man and the author has laid his foundation carefully and built a wonderful bio of a brilliant character actor.

Johnson

If you are a fan of westerns, you’ve seen Mr Johnson in countless roles in films that range from John Ford’s epic paintings  to Sam Peckinpah‘s brutal realism. Well known as the “sidekick” of Duke Wayne and the best horseman in Hollywood. It is a wonderful read and definitely a book for anyone who is a fan of this excellent character actor.

I have to give this a five out of five stars just because Richard D Jensen does a brilliant job and he is the only writer who has taken the time to write a Ben Johnson biography.  The book is available from most book sellers, but sadly, is not in an ebook format.

Ben Johnson (actor)
Ben Johnson (actor) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michael Smith

United Kingdom

4 September 2013