Blu-ray Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

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Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has rebooted the 1976 cult classic The Town That Dreaded Sundown as a quasi-sequel that manages to celebrate the original while running through similar paces. Now on Blu-ray as a Best Buy exclusive via Image Entertainment (available everywhere beginning September 8), the film also marks the first time the Orion Pictures logo has graced the screen since 1999. It’s not a great horror movie in and of itself, largely because it leans so heavily on Scream for its meta, self-referential deconstruction (and specific plot points). It’s also a bit too slick and polished for its own good, lacking the primal grunginess of Charles B. Pierce’s unnerving original. But it’s a decently scary slice of slasher nastiness and worth a viewing.

Never fear, those unfamiliar with the first Sundown won’t have any difficulty picking things up. Throughout Texarcana, the first film is legend. Yes, within the world of Gomez-Rejon’s 2014 film, the ’76 version exists and—is revered for its allegedly factual account of a series of unsolved murders committed by a masked stalker known as “The Phantom.” That nearly-40-year-old movie is ritualistically screened at the drive-in on an annual basis and everyone in the town seems to know it line-for-line. Unfortunately for the townies, the villain of the original film—The Phantom—has emerged for real. A new “Phantom” is wreaking havoc on the residents of Texarcana. After a very close call, which does result in the death of her boyfriend (not a spoiler, this happens right away), our plucky heroine Jami (Addison Timlin) is fighting to avoid falling victim to the relentless, maniacal stalker while attempting to discover his identity.

The death scenes are suitably grisly and should please anyone seeking a bloody, (relatively) scary time. Timlin is surprisingly (and appealingly) low key as the star, while supporting turns by Gary Cole, Anthony Anderson, and Veronica Cartwright (as Jami’s grandmother) add some “name” value to the low-budget production. Even at a brisk 86 minutes, the narrative begins to drag, but even though it never reaches the primal spookiness of the original, this Sundown manages to unnerve. The Phantom is scary because, well, he’s actually a plausible slasher villain. He’s based on a real, never-identified killer. This kind of crime spree can (and does) happen. But again, the wholesale rip-off of Wes Craven’s Scream that constitutes the third act takes a big toll on this film as a whole.

Image’s Blu-ray presentation is first rate, with a transfer that shows off the glossy, sometimes glowingly soft-focus cinematography by Michael Goi. It was a rather odd choice for a gruesome horror flick, but it does look quite nice. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 effectively highlights all the jump scares by goosing us with various sound effects throughout the spectrum. Ludwig Göransson (a rising star in the film scoring world, having done fine work on Fruitvale Station) contributed the atmospheric score.

Strangely, there are no extras found on The Town That Dreaded Sundown. While it ultimately suffers from a lack of originality (and not because it’s a sequel/remake/reboot of a cult classic, but because of its weak, derivative ending), it’s still an entertainingly chilling horror film.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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