Tuesday, July 7, 2015


SUNDOWN (2014)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Starring Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Travis Tope

Slashing its way onto Canadian home media today, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) deserves all the praise I can give it for not only being a well-executed and impressively stylish slasher whodunit, but also a novel and refreshing way to launch a sequel / reboot.

In the town of Texarkana, which straddles both Texas and Arkansas, a masked serial killer dubbed "The Phantom" went on a killing spree in the spring of 1946. Yes, this really did happen. It had the entire town terrified out of its mind, and to make matters worse, the killer was never captured or officially identified. The killings eventually stopped on their own, and the murders became their own kind of local legend. The flames of paranoia were further stoked in 1976 when filmmaker Charles B. Pierce released The Town that Dreaded Sundown, a very loose dramatization of the so-called Texarkana "moonlight murders." The Town that Dreaded Sundown went on to perpetuate its own mythos, muddying historical fact with fiction and pop-culture folklore. Despite its obscurity and dubious claims to historical record, the original The Town that Dreaded Sundown still holds an cult status among horror fans, but few fans were hungering for a sequel. Enter director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa with a slick and stylish re-launch of the legend that gives the old Texarkana Phantom an unexpectedly smart shot in the arm...

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) opens in fictional modern-day Texarkana on a balmy Halloween night where Charles B. Pierce's The Town that Dreaded Sundown is being treated to an annual screening at the local drive-in despite the protestations of the town's vocal religious moral authority. Two high school kids on a date -- the beautiful but socially withdrawn Jamie (Addison Timlin) and the all-American quarterback Corey -- decide that the big screen blood and guts aren't their cup of tea, so they head out to lover's lane....an old haunt, so to speak, of the infamous Phantom of yesteryear. When things get hot and heavy, however, the past comes to life. They are brutally and viciously beset upon by an imposing figure in a sackcloth mask who tortures and violates them. The Phantom is back! 

The Phantom spares Jamie's life so she can "make the town remember." Jamie, who is no stranger to trauma and has a tragic past tangentially tied to the legacy of the Phantom, makes it her mission to unmask the killer. She's joined by an ex-classmate (Travis Tope) and together they race to uncover the identity of the new Phantom before he can commit another copycat murder. But in a town with a long civil history of art imitating life imitating art, everyone is a suspect.

Deftly balancing brutal horror violence with an engaging murder mystery, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) is an exciting and refreshing meta-sequel that works perfectly fine as a standalone film but is all the more richer and stylistically layered if you're familiar with Pierce's original. With a great supporting cast of character actors --  Veronica Cartwright, Gary Cole, Denis O'Hare, and Edward Herrmann in his final feature film role before his death last December -- The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) will have you guessing every step of the way; that is, if you can bear to look out from behind your hands when the Phantom strikes during some truly terrifying and gruesome kill sequences that are right up there with the best slasher films of the 80s and 90s. The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) is a film that needs to be seen, in the most literal sense. Do not look away or you will miss the gorgeous frame composition and the slick editing that juxtaposes clips from the original Town with the present-day action. Yes, sometimes style can make up for substance. Sometimes.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) may crib a bit too much from fellow meta-slasher Scream, and it certainly lags in the middle, but in a film market that's over-saturated with cheap, thoughtless remakes and make-money-quick nostalgia ripoffs it's wonderful to see a film that get's it right. No one was begging for a return to the The Town that Dreaded Sundown, but Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa found untapped potential in the story and decided to build on Charles B. Pierce's original film. Instead of simply rehashing the tale, they manage to breathe exciting new life into the legend of the Phantom.

Whether it's your first visit or you're looking to make a repeat trip, don't wait to experience The Town that Dreaded Sundown, now available in Canada on DVD and Bluray from Video Entertainment Inc. 

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