The Town that Dreaded Sundown
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
A masked maniac terrorizes the same small community where a murderer known as the Phantom Killer struck decades earlier.
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★★★★ review by Ian West on Letterboxd
Blurring the lines between sequel and remake and taking place in a world where Charles B. Pierce’s 1976 Phantom Killer drive-in cult jam exists, 2014’s The Town that Dreaded Sundown really surprised me as both a continuation of the true crime events Pierce’s film is based on couple with a Craven-esque twist, and as a moody, small town, modern woodland slasher dripping with a stylized southern-fried death jam atmosphere I go bananas over.
The Phantom Killer looks TERRIFIC here and this is very much a more tonally consistent picture than its predecessor, portraying a once ravaged town still looking over its shoulders like a sack headed maniac might just still be there. The kills are pretty intense, with a mean spirited streak—especially the trombone kill, never shying away from numerous body stabs. The cast is loaded with genre veterans, all performing admirably (lol at Gary Cole always eating something in numerous scenes and eventually getting his face eaten by a bullet), and a special shoutout to the scene stealing Dennis O’Hare as Charles Pierce Jr.
This has really grown on me since it’s release, and overall I really love this meta-sequel (its more of a sequel in my eyes—with homages most definitely) and it’s sleepy town vibes. The final act starts unraveling scriptwisw but that’s a minor nitpick for me, I loved the journey there so I was satisfied (plus I love Scooby Doo so Scooby Doo endings are never an issue for me). I’d definitely have this as a sleeper pick for one of my favorite slashers of the decade. I really wish I’d seen the limited theatrical run of this because there’s just something about the highly stylized shot composition, excellent lighting with vibrant colors pulsating in just about every scene, and very busy camerawork that totally sucks me in... also, the ORION intro gave me the feels.
*I decided to revisit this after my recent great experience with the similarly pleasing to my eye modern slasher aesthetic of The Strangers: Prey at Night... and I’ll definitely bring double billing them this fall.
★★★½ review by Robin Solsjö Höglund on Letterboxd
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is not a straight remake of the 1976 film with the same name, which was based on true events. It's more of a meta sequel of sorts, and takes place in a world where that 70's movie is screened in Arkansas every year, but someone decides to take up the murders again in a copycat style. And it's not half bad at all!
In the fall and winter of 2013, yet another killer dresses up in a hood and mimics the events of the Phantom killer of Texarkana in the 1940's. We follow Jami who survives the initial attack as she and the town try to make sense of why this is happening again.
I must say that with the style ("conscious" editing, skewed artistic angles and a soft "vaseline" sheen on everything) and the premise (a dark haired young woman is attacked by a taunting killer in a small town who murders everyone around her), this reminded me more than anything of Scream 4 as opposed to the original movie. Hell, the original movie pops up in this left and right, everyone is always watching it, and that adds an interesting meta twist to the proceedings.
There was a great deal I enjoyed about this. It homages the original film in some ways, but still has enough of a style and feel to warrant a watch if you've seen that one. It has some gratuitous violence and some sex scenes, and a killer that is absolutely merciless, plus it actually managed to surprise me once or twice. It's a lot more fast paced than the original. But while it's more consciously "stylish", and looks more like a romantic movie from the 60's (again, that sheen on the camera lens, like it's been drenched in vaseline, why?), it was a pleasant and easygoing movie to watch from start to finish. The characters aren't bad at all and as promised, you do get a feeling of dread throughout the entire town as nobody feels safe when the killer comes lurking.
I think it could have been slightly toned down though, the camera is always jerking around with skewed angles and unusual shots, and while I cannot deny that it gives the film a certain style, I also felt like most of the time it was just unwarranted. Almost the entire movie looks like a dream sequence had by some teenager in her room, not so much a horror movie. There are standout moments which are horror related that I won't spoil, but that leap out of the screen when they happen. That was a positive.
I think I like this and the original movie almost equally, and this definitely takes many steps towards making sure it has its very own style and story, even if people familiar with the original will recognize a great deal of things as well. It is far more violent and graphic, and the style will either be to your liking or not, but at least it's not a completely meaningless rehash of the same thing, and slasher fans should certainly give it a watch, I think it's very solid as a whole.
★★★½ review by Sofa Sinema on Letterboxd
I'm so glad that bright glowing colors have returned to horror cinema and we're not stuck in that monochromatic green or brown filtered dreariness of a decade ago when the Saw films stylistically influenced so many movies. The shaky hand-held approach that was similarly popular is also gone here, and we get some glorious visual style back in the slasher film. Addison Timlin was better in Odd Thomas, but she has a bit of a Jill Schoelen scream teen vibe that I'm digging.
★★★★½ review by grapejuiceplus on Letterboxd
The best unofficial Halloween sequel. Gory, gross, tense, and terrific. Sad to see so many people hate this, but I loved it, so who cares?
"Don't act so surprised that the Phantom's back, of course he is! You can't leave a candle burning in a window for someone and then be SURPRISED when he finally shows up!"
★★★★ review by Daniel Rodriguez on Letterboxd
I'm really surprised that this isn't one of the most talked horror movies of 2014. It has a stunning visual, it offers an excellent alternative to the remake idea and it's bloody and gory as hell! For me it was a brilliant cinematic start for Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and one of the best horror films of 2014, highly recommended!
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