The Town That Dreaded Sundown (3 stars)

The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Ingenious slasher sequel / remake from Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

The vogue for horror remakes reached its oversaturated nadir during the 00s with precious few of the films saying anything notably new. However, The Town That Dreaded Sundown offers something more complex and intriguing than a straightforward trudge through the events of the original.

The 1976 film was based on the real case of the 'Phantom Killer' who murdered five people in Texarkana in 1946. It's a strange mix of fact and fiction shot as a documentary reconstruction of this grisly true crime (despite slapstick interludes from director Charles B Pierce, playing hapless police officer 'Sparkplug'). It still feels remarkably modern, being both an early example of a slasher and foreshadowing the current glut of found-footage films. The new Town That Dreaded Sundown is more of a sequel than a remake, a film that while playing everything completely straight happily dips into Scream's metafictional bag of tricks.

It's 2013 and we're back in Texarkana in a world where both the real events and the 1976 film exist. In a grisly tribute to the town's blood-soaked history every Halloween there's a drive-in screening of Pierce's original movie. After sneaking away early a young couple are attacked by someone dressed as the Phantom. Jami (Addison Timlin, making for a credible and sympathetic 'final girl') survives and begins her own investigation, discovering that the original case, the film's history and the copycat killer are all entwined.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's directorial debut is dynamically executed and scary enough to work as a stand-alone effort, but it's even better if you've seen the original. There are numerous nods and references, nearly every murder is a reconstruction of events in the first film (including the bizarre trombone murder). The original is so integral to the plot that the cops (led by Anthony Anderson as Lone Wolf Morales) even pick through it looking for clues. Gomez-Rejon and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa skilfully weave the two plots together, however by the midpoint, despite the tricksy, self-referential set up, it settles into the format of a fairly standard slasher.

Selected release from Fri 17 Apr.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 1h 30min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
  • Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Earl E. Smith
  • Cast: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson
  • UK release: 17 April 2015

Mostly ingenious sequel to the 1976 film based on the story of a killer who murdered five people in Texarkana in 1946. Set in a world where both the real events and the 1976 film exists, it weaves in smart references to the original; Timlin is credible and sympathetic but eventually it turns into a fairly standard slasher.