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July 13, 2015

The Town That Dreaded Sundown

by Franz Patrick


Town That Dreaded Sundown, The (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

The real-life grizzly murders began in Texarkana on February 1946 and although there were speculations, it was believed that the real killer was never caught. Jami (Addison Timlin) and Corey (Spencer Treat Clark) decide to leave the annual drive-in showing of “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” and find a secluded spot where they can be alone. During a kiss, Jami notices someone watching them from a couple of feet away—a man wearing a sack over his head, very reminiscent of The Phantom, the killer inspired by the picture they did not see through the end. One of them will not make it through the night.

“The Town That Dreaded Sundown,” directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, is gory, beautifully shot and sometimes thrilling, but it is let down by a mediocre screenplay. It is a meta-horror film but it seems reluctant to brace that self-awareness. So, when it becomes obvious to us that the killer is following the patterns of the murders that took place in the 1976 picture, it becomes increasingly frustrating that the heroine and her friend, Nick (Travis Hope), do not focus on the events that happen in the movie. It is only practical that they do so—that is, if they really wanted to survive.

There is a small town feel to this story that the filmmakers manage to capture. So when the young characters talk about their lives, I was very interested in what they had to say. For example, Jami admits to a counselor that she is the kind of girl who doesn’t get asked out on dates. Simply looking at her, this is difficult to believe because she’s beautiful. However, getting to know her a bit further, she is a bit shy, soft-spoken at times, probably a person who would rather read books on a Friday night than attend parties. Nick, too, has a story. They are, in a way, bound by a childhood that is not exactly a walk in the park. We enjoy these two being together.

The killings offer variability. Some happen instantaneously while others are drawn-out to the point where it becomes uncomfortable. Both are gruesome in their own way. It is always bloody and messy. Having seen over two hundred hours of “Criminal Minds,” I was curious about the methods employed and the nature of how the murders were executed.

I took notice of the kinds of victims and the places they are killed. I thought the monster must be a familiar face. I wondered why the killings began again after over thirty years. So there must be some sort of recent stressor. If you like this sort of thing, this movie is for you. But despite the clues in my brain—clues that I thought fit perfectly with my hypothesis—I still failed to guess the identity of the killer correctly.

I was disappointed. Not because I did not get it right but because the final answer does not make much sense. The writing by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa could have use a bit more intelligence, psychology, subtlety, pragmatism—rather than someone having to explain why he did what he did. One is reminded of ‘90s slasher flicks—the good, the bad, and very bad that they best be forgotten.

“The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is interesting to an extent, mainly its look and feel as well as the setup of the story, and that is why I give it a mild recommendation. But it does not command a satisfying payoff. The ‘90s meta-horror flicks are memorable not only because they embrace the sub-genre but they are also willing to embody the extremes both on the level of violence as well as new twists from what we come to expect.

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