Saturday, October 3, 2015

31 Days of Halloween 2015: The Town That Dreaded Sundown

2014, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Glee, American Horror Story) -- download

I just thought, this would probably be better titled 31 Nights of Halloween.

Most recently I commented on It Follows, on movies that are trapped in the 70s, not set in that era but carrying the look & feel of it. The 70s were a key period for horror movies, when genres were created and they jumped out of drive-ins & matinees into prime time viewing and popularity. The Cold War was winding down, so fears shifted to the more local, serial killers and monsters in the woods, religion and familial. So, its not surprising that in the minds of film makers, the 1970s just feels like a place where horror movies happen -- the clothes, the cars, the homes and decor and the attitudes of the people, are how a horror movie appears in the mind of the creator.

The House of the Devil had the feel, its followup The Innkeepers did as well, but it wasn't until It Follows that they just abandoned trying to feel like the 70s, but went for it as a conscious design choice. The Town That Dread Sundown is already a genre bender, being simultaneously a remake and sequel and homage to its predecessor.  But it also choose to have all design elements, clothing, cars and people jump straight out of 1976. But they have the Internet.

The original 1976 movie was about a slasher killer in the 40s, The Phantom Killer, and that movie was set in the 40s. But this movie, set now & then, is about the town of Texarkana, where every Halloween they show the 1976 movie on screens all over both sides of town, the town being divided down the middle, straddling Texas and Arkansas. So, they know about the actual movie, and are the town where the original real killings happened.  Yes, the Phantom Killer is real, as in our real real. The movie begins with a young couple leaving the showing of the movie, heading off to lover's lane, only to be attacked by The Phantom, in his eponymous sack cloth hood, with one blue eye staring out. The young man is killed, but she is spared, so she can spread the word.

At first the genre & time bending is distracting, especially the scene where we are briefly introduced to a soldier returning from overseas, and the airport, his uniform and all the trappings say he is coming back from Vietnam, but we gather it has to be somewhere sandy. Also, I am convinced that the collection of Texas and Arkansas law enforcement officers are meant to appear similar to the original movie, but I cannot confirm, as I have not seen it. But the fact that the original, and I mean real, Texas Ranger who headed the investigation was M. T. "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas and ours is Lone Wolf Morales, I am not stretching. Luckily, things loosen up as we slip into the plot.

This is not a ground breaker, nor do I think it is trying. Its a slasher flick with some twists. I have to admit, this is the first slasher I have seen who uses a silenced pistol. Addison Timlin is great as the survivor wondering why she was spared, wondering about her connection to all of this (her parents were killed when she was a child, driving her home from a pajama party where the movie was being showed) and doing her own investigation. Quickly, the town assumes its persona, and everyone locks their doors and abandons the streets after dark. Not that it helps.

The most fun parts are where the movie crosses over with investigations into the original, real life, killings and with the 1976 movie itself. The character Charles Pierce, is the son of the original's director (not real, character) and is wrapped up in his father's legacy, and is, of course, one of our suspects, as all proper slasher flicks have to  have us doing most of the proper investigating, while law enforcement stumbles. This movie is pure to that, as we see them accomplishing nothing, but turns it on its head as well. They are investigating but we just don't see it.

In the end, despite her role in the movie having been engineered by the killer himself, she actually plays the proper part in the movie we are watching -- she survives and room is left open for a proper sequel.