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Film review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown

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★★★★☆

If there are two things that filmgoers are getting sick of it’s remakes and sequels. The latest attempt to bring life to the Fantastic 4 felt about as smooth and comfortable as using treacle as lube. And the fact the Minions get their own film makes me want to buy a shotgun and start doing toe exercises.

The Town That Dreaded SundownYet The Town That Dreaded Sundown manages to be three things. A remake, a sequel and awesome.

The premise of this film is a little strange. It exists not as a direct sequel to the first film. Rather it exists in a universe where both the murders the first film is based on AND the first film exist. So… I guess the real universe.

We know this because the movie opens with people watching the first film at a drive-in.

Ooooooh, "meta". And when I say “people” watching the first film I mean a background cast of assorted who-gives-a-fucks and two good -ooking protagonist types. Seriously, these two (a man and a woman) look like they fell straight out of a 1960s clothing catalogue. I kept expecting them to try and sell me cans of Spam or a pack of smokes. 

Of course, these two also have stereotypically perfect All-American backstories. He plays football but only to get a scholarship to a good college. She raises puppies.

After the woman gets scared by the film they drive off on their own into the middle of some secluded woods. You know, because that works so well in horror movies.

Naturally, a murderer called The Phantom (the villain of the first movie) comes along to chop up the bloke and let the girl run away and spread his myth.

After that, the paces picks up with the murder of a soldier and his girlfriend. Well, murder hardly does it justice. Try Mur-HE BLOODY CHOPS OFF THE GUYS HEAD AND USES IT AS A BATTERING RAM TO BREAK THROUGH THE GIRLFRIEND’S WINDOW-der.

That’s certainly, the film isn’t lacking; gore. This film has more over the top gore than. In fact the film does a great job of extremes throughout. You might have thought I was mocking the stereotypical horror opening and characters this film has. And that’s because I was. But I understand that it’s supposed to be that way.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown isn’t just a remake or a sequel. It’s a love letter to the horror genre. It’s a tribute to the slasher, new gothic films of the 70s (when the first one was made) that takes everything to the nth degree. Wikipedia calls it a meta-horror sequel. And who am I to disagree with the almighty Wikipedia?

This film works largely because it hits all the beats of a horror movie but either takes the style to an extreme or subverts the tropes themselves. It has every stereotypical horror character (the useless cops, the creepy friend who could be a bad guy, the cocky new sheriff). It has every stereotypical American horror set (a deserted woods, a junkyard, an isolated farmhouse). But with these clichés, the film also has unexpected elements. One of the couples to get the chop is updated to an interracial gay pair. The female lead is made into a fully developed character. In fact the, the film spends a long time showing her trying to deal with the murder she witnessed at the beginning.

Not everything works. There’s no good reason the town library is in an abandoned prison, beyond oooooh spooooooky. Actually, the movie is set in Texas. Maybe the locals we don’t want any of that book-learnin’ escaping.

Similarly, the reveal of The Phantom doesn’t really make sense. Without spoiling the ending the baddie basically seems to have turned evil because everyone liked them. You know, because we all know that serial killers are tipped over the edge by everyone thinking they’re awesome. Until he flipped you couldn’t tear Charles Manson away from a kegger.

But for a movie where the style is the true star, this director does a pretty good job of making The Town That Dreaded Sundown fun, good-looking ode to a genre he clearly loves.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is out on Blu-Ray, DVD and on-demand on 17th August.




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