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Film review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

“The underdeveloped sum of its parts falls considerably short of what promised to be an electrifying 86 minutes of meta-horror.”

Intelligently sidestepping the mindless copycat fodder of atypical remakes, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon displays some refreshing originality with The Town That Dreaded Sundown in referencing both the 1976 original and the notorious string of real-life killings that terrorised the sleepy town of Texarkana back in 1946.

With the ‘Moonlight Murders’ still casting a lingering shadow in the very literal form of an annual drive-in screening of the 1976 movie, the traumatised community is once again rocked by bloodshed decades later one fateful Halloween night. Having witnessed the brutal slaying of her date in a style that mimics the original spate of murders, surviving teen victim Jami (Addison Timlin) embarks on a mission to unmask her tormentor as the body count escalates.

Tearing headlong into an action-packed slasher sequence, Gomez-Rejon is quick to establish a pleasingly gory opening scene that intermingles images past and present to haunting effect. With the drive-in theatre’s projection of the 1976 movie looming nightmarishly in the foreground of the present-day pursuit scene, The Town That Dreaded Sundown triggers instant parallels with Wes Craven’s Scream, but in place of the pitch-black comedy of this classic franchise, there is a harrowing onslaught of post-traumatic pain, small-town tedium and religious sexual shame that finds a richly symbolic connecting point in the dour, dead-end streets of Texarkana. As a town awash with jaded, ’70s-style visuals, this living death of a community forever haunted by the past, makes for eerily atmospheric viewing, and is undoubtedly where this film succeeds most.

Where The Town That Dreaded Sundown fails however, is that rather than delving into the troubled psychology of its squeaky-clean stereotype of a heroine, we’re offered little more than the token ‘traumatic’ car crash flashbacks and antidepressant references.

There’s also the matter of the criminal underuse of American Horror Story stalwart Denis O’Hare too, whose brief but memorably creepy turn as the deranged movie director’s son serves only as a sketchily developed subplot. By the time The Town That Dreaded Sundown reverts to stereotypical slasher fare for its hastily cobbled together finale, there’s no denying that much of the movie’s early promise and atmosphere has drastically lost momentum.

Crafting a coherent whole out of this genre-crossing cocktail of classic slasher, true-crime and thriller trappings ought to have been a matter of ease for a team of filmmakers whose collective credits include Insidious, American Horror Story and, ahem, Glee. But despite The Town That Dreaded Sundown’s directorial pedigree and interesting premise, the underdeveloped sum of its parts falls considerably short of what promised to be an electrifying 86 minutes of meta-horror.

FAYE COULMAN

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
Starring: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson.
Certificate: 15
Release date (UK): 17 April 2015

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