Okay so we’re going to have some fun this weekend. It’s not only going to be a double feature/double-your-fun weekend, but it’s also going to be a groovy study of an original thriller classic and its very meta sequel/remake hybrid. This busy pre-Halloween weekend the two movies that comprise The Town That Dreaded Sundown saga are a worthy view, but for two VERY different reasons.
First, let’s look at the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown. This is a very interesting movie. For coming out in 1976, the fact that this movie was a type of hybrid itself was a very unique concept. It’s loosely based on the Texarkana Moonlight Murders that took place in 1946. It starts out as a pure documentary film, complete with an ominous voiceover explaining the town and the situation at hand. But then it changes. Suddenly, you’re thrown INTO the movie, and the killings, and now you’re experiencing it as a narrative. This back and forth between documentary and narrative is an interesting and unique take on this type of movie, especially for 1976. But there are a few other aspects of this film that stand out to me. First, the killing is very brutal and relentless. With the exception of the infamous trombone death scene (you really have to see it to believe it), most of the killings are very absolute and minimal, even using a gun on occasion, which is not usually the norm in slasher films. Plus, there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the killer. His motives are completely unknown and random, which makes it even that much more unnerving. The fact that it’s based on a true story, and that the killer was never found, gives the film a certain open-ended feel, and lends itself nicely to a potential follow up, but more on that in a second. Now, I’m not saying this is a perfect film. There’s some strange 1976 zaniness and almost slapstickiness that finds its way in (complete with “wacky” music), and it can drag on occasion. But trust me when I say, to truly enjoy the remake/sequel, it’s worth it to watch this one first.
Now, on to the new film. The Town That Dreaded Sundown that came out this year (2014) is another hybrid. While the first one was a documentary/narrative hybrid, this one is more of a VERY meta remake/sequel hybrid. It’s another very interesting take on the subject. Here, in a life imitates art (which already imitated life) concept, this movie starts with the fact that the town of Texarkana shows the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown film from 1976 every year on the anniversary of the Phantom murders, usually at a drive-in theater. And yes, this really does happen. But this year, the Phantom seems to have reappeared and started his killing again. Using the original film, which in turn used the original case of the murders (confused yet?), we delve into a nonfiction/fiction/head-spinning film that is a really fun basis for a flat out slasher film this time around. Now, when I say slasher, I really mean SLASHER. It’s a clever whodunit, through and through. And where the first film was a bit more subdued with its violence and killings, this movie knows it’s 2014 and ups the ante in every way. The killings are VERY brutal and highly stylized in their violence. There are close ups of broken bones, repeated brutal stabbings, and yes, even a FAR more brutal version of the infamous trombone death. But it isn’t just the killings that are more stylized, this entire film is filled with flourish. The director truly put his stamp on this movie in every shot. Shot with lots of motion, using cranes and everything at his disposal, this is a kitchen sink type of film. It’s a jarring difference from the first one, but I really enjoyed it. You are NEVER bored with watching it. Trust me. It’s a brisk 90 minutes. Plus, it’s filled with numerous recognizable actors like Gary Cole and Anthony Anderson. It’s very meta, even using the director of the first film as a plot point. But if you lend yourself to the interesting angle of this movie, I definitely feel THIS is how you do a remake/sequel right. Original and just a ton of fun. Kudos to the filmmakers. It’s really an inventive job well done.
To maximize your weekend, I really do suggest watching both of these movies. Each one has its own reasons to watch, but together they make for a truly interesting, somewhat experimental, film journey.