Movie Review – The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)
In the spring of 1946 the Texas town of Texarkana experienced an odd string of unsolved serial murders, known collectively as the Moonlight Murders, by a masked assailant. In 1976 a docudrama based loosely on the murders was released. The Town That Dreaded Sundown was something of a proto-slasher, and the hooded killer it depicted would go on to influence later horror films, especially Jason’s sack-mask in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981).
After watching the documentary Killer Legends (2014), which dealt in part with the Moonlight Murders, I felt it was time to look at the remake/sequel to the 1976 film. Carrying the same name, 2014’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, takes place in a world where both the Moonlight Murders and the 1976 movie exist, and a copycat is now stalking Texarkana, killing people in the same manner as the original film. An intriguing basis for a film, no doubt.
What results is an attempt at self-aware meta-horror in the style of Scream (1996). Unfortunately, the film stays too closely to the formula perfected by Wes Craven and the movie becomes predictable and lackluster. The film-makers seem more interested in sweeping camera movements than improvements to plot. The kills are derivative of typical slasher fare, being sure to insert gratuitous sexuality before most of the kills. I’m not one to complain about sex on film, but these scenes are pointless.
I know full well that many, if not most, slashers fans will disagree with me. I enjoy the subgenre, but more its earliest entries from the late 70s and early 80s, when it still took itself seriously, before it became a formulaic shadow of its former self. This film has been referred to as a return to form for slashers, but it’s not the form I prefer. I have fun watching the mindless popcorn variety, and it’s no secret that these are the overwhelming majority that were made, but I have no desire to see it reborn. I’d prefer to see the slasher movie forward instead of retread well-worn paths, and this movie doesn’t do that for me. Let the old formula go the way of Aqua Net and legwarmers. Even the meta angle, after the Scream movies, is tired.
This is all not to say that The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a bad film, because it’s not. It’s a good slasher, but the bar is so low that such a compliment isn’t high praise, and that’s partly the problem. It doesn’t try to move the subgenre forward, but merely tries to conform in the best way possible to what we already have come to expect. Given the movie’s meta-sequel status it could have been something deeper and cleverer, but it settles for the middle of road and doesn’t have much to say. If you’ve seen the Scream films, you’ve seen all that this film has to offer.