Being somewhat of a horror-flick purist (and old fogey; there, I said it before someone else did), I’m typically pretty suspicious of remakes, re-imaginings, or reboots — whatever it’s polite to call films that either attempt to recapture the glory of films past or update them for modern audiences; although I do run across one every now and again that impresses me, more often than not I find that these movies are money-grabbing attempts by un-original and/or lazy Hollywood minds that either can’t come up with an original idea, or are simply scared of them. That said, I am an open-minded guy, and can understand how newer audiences who may not have had an opportunity to see the originals that are inevitably compared to these do-overs can find something that they like; I’m also aware that films that may be astoundingly awesome in my memories from seeing them twenty years ago may not hold up so well under more modern eyes (sometimes, even my own). Thus, despite my at times admittedly overly-nostalgic inclinations, I always like to give remakes a chance.
Thus, when the opportunity came my way to check out what I figured was yet another remake of one of my favorites, Charles B. Pierce’s pseudo-documentary The Town That Dreaded Sundown, I did my best to set my trepidations aside and see what modern director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was going to bring to the table.
In Texarkana, a city that divides itself between Texas and Arkansas, the annual showing of the classic film The Town That Dreaded Sundown is underway. The legacy of the film certainly isn’t lost on the the town, with it’s docu-drama presentation of a rash of actual murders that occurred in there back in 1946; younger people find either fascination or boredom in the old story, while the older folk, some even old enough to remember the very real terror, see the showing of the film as somewhat of a blight on the town’s heritage.
In the midst of all of this, high-schooler Jami and her boyfriend Corey leave the makeshift drive-in to have a little alone-time…but unbeknownst to the teens, there’s a hooded stalker haunting the lover’s lanes once more, sixty-five years after the disappearance of the “Phantom Killer”, and their lives will be changed forever. Forced from their car at gunpoint, Jami is forced to look away as Corey is brutally murdered; although she expects to be next, the killer lets her go, demanding she tell the town of Texarkana to “remember”. Coping with her shock, Jami begins researching the six-decade old crimes herself as the local law enforcement circles their wagons, determined not to let some copycat terrorize the nights again…but despite all, more and more people begin to die in the little town, and Jami comes to realize that those closest to her will suffer most if she can’t fulfill the madman’s request for recognition…is it a copycat? A descendant, perhaps? Or…is something dark and inherently evil still punishing the town of Texarkana?
So there you have it–not really a remake; more of a kind of homage/sequel. Rather than an almost clinical, classroom film as the original often appeared, this film, at it’s heart, is a good ol’ slasher; that’s not to say that it’s poorly done, nor without some plot intricacies that set it above the standard hack ‘n’ slash. When you dust away the very artistic flairs that Gomez-Rejon brings in both his setups and clever editorial choices, it’s still a “masked boogeyman” kind of flick. Still, I found myself caught up in the story, and even (that sure sign that I’m into a movie) talking to the characters on the screen.
The convincing acting went a long way towards enforcing this investment, with relative newcomer Addison Timlin doing an excellent job of bearing the weight of the narrative with the support of such familiar talents as Gary Cole, Veronica Cartwright, and the late greats Ed Lauter and Edward Herrman; hell, even Joshua Leonard is in the mix. The script throws a lot of red herrings your way, but if you’re paying any kind of attention (and especially if you’re a horror fan), you’ll likely have at least part of the big reveal figured out by the time the third reel starts rolling. Still, this doesn’t detract from the fun of getting there, and that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it? Finally, the effects are economic in their use, but not in their impact; those of you familiar with the original will find some things you recognize, but there’s some seriously in-your-face brutality for the newer generation as well.
This film carries the “meta” aspect that a lot of us will find most familiar from the later films in the Scream series (it takes place in a world that the original film exists in), but it has the beauty of being based upon a film that was itself based upon an actual event; the locations are real, the crimes (albeit somewhat sensationalized) were real…even the fact that Texarkana shows the original film in the park where one of the murders occurred is real…this grounding in reality gives the film a tone of richness and foreboding. Abandoning the “documentary” style of it’s predecessor in favor of a more omnipresent narrative for the audience, this new version nonetheless captures a lot of the panache of the original, even seamlessly integrating actual clips from it at times. The elements of the script conspire to create a film that at times imitates the original, pays respect to it at others, and serves itself up as a pretty decent sequel to what a lot of us consider a classic, all at the same time.
Being that same “old fogey” I hinted at at the top o’ this review, I won’t go as far as some and say that this film is an improvement on the original; that old ’76 version holds a special place in my memory, and despite my best efforts, I’d likely be incapable of admitting that even if I believed it were true. As with any film, this one has it’s flaws; however, I will say that I find this remake/sequel/homage a fitting and enjoyable companion piece to Pierce’s film, and I’ll certainly be adding it to my collection.
Two-fifths of a nickel gone.
*If you missed it (and if you wanna), you can check out my review of the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown right here.
JUST CLICK HERE
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