The Town That Dreaded Sundown – Review ***

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American Horror Story director Alfonso Gomez-Rojon and Carrie (2013) screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa have produced a carry-on from the original under the guise of a remake.

65 years after the original Texarkana killings the town still continues the annual The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) drive-in’s on the eve of Halloween. Jami (Addison Timlin) is on a date with Corey (Spencer Treat Clark) at one of these drive-ins. After leaving to drive into the woods for a make-out session, the Phantom returns and slashes Corey. The Phantom overpowers Jami and says, “This is for Mary. Make them remember.” Jami, left to live, does her own investigation to see if the Phantom has returned, or whether this assailant is just a copycat killer.

The film ensures this is a meta-sequel (or “requel?”) from the very opening with the Orion Pictures logo (not been in major circulation since 1999) to the opening montage of the first film and faux-newsreel footage, with an expositional voiceover recounting the town’s folklore history. It wants to have its own merits whilst acknowledging its predecessor. This works at the beginning, but over time it becomes increasingly distracting, notably when characters speak of the film, and its making of, in greater detail. It is as though the film is afraid to stand on its own and relies too heavily on the ’76 film.

The film’s greatest strengths lie in its location, for it effectively conveys the town as one stuck in a time warp. This confinement reaches every facet of the town, from analogue television sets to the 70s clothing and colour palette. The town is shown to be unable to move on from its own past, which the contemporary generation appears to burden – notably the drive-in pastime and mobile phones 10 years out of date. (They even watch TV news for information!). In short, the film exploits the duality of Texarkana’s identity by making it as one that is suffering from the duplicity of time.

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This is more meta-sequel than reboot. It is presented under this guise to effectively make the original more terrifying. The film doesn’t lose any of the creative violence and gore the original had to offer, whilst simultaneously updating these for contemporary sensibilities. The duality of eras, identities and sensibilities effectively makes this an above-board retread.

Matthew Lee is an undergraduate student in the field of Film Studies at King's College London and a freelance film critic with keen interests in World Cinema, Cult Cinema and Silent Cinema.