THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN
"In the spring of 1946, in the small town of Texarkana, on the Texas-Arkansas border, a series of horrific murders were committed by a masked assailant known only as ‘The Phantom Killer.’”
“In 1976, a film inspired by the infamous ‘Moonlight Murders’ was released. Every year, on Halloween, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is screened somewhere in Texarkana, in tribute to the Phantom’s legacy of death and blood.
“Today, Texarkana is a place haunted by its past, defined by a mystery that was never solved, and a tragedy that could never be forgotten.”
So this is an interesting one.
“Based on the 1976 film entitled ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown,’ written by Earl E. Smith,” Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s identically titled piece is ostensibly a remake, but actually something arguably more ambitious.
It’s a film that’s set in the real world, or at least, a world much like our own, where the late Charles B. Pierce* did indeed direct a film entitled The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which was released in 1976, and was itself based on a series of unsolved murders in 1946.
Now, while the screenplay--by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who’s written for film (the Carrie remake), television (a bunch of Glee and some Big Love), stage (the Dallas Theater Center production of It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman and Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) and comics (he’s currently chief creative officer of Archie Comics Publications)--doesn’t necessarily break new ground as far as this type of movie goes, it’s really Gomez-Rejon’s directorial flair that seals the deal on this.
Bringing the same kind of visual bravura he brings to his American Horror Story episodes (aided and abetted by Michael Goi, who shot all the post-Pilot episodes of Salem as well as a whole slew of AHS, and Joe Leonard, who’s edited over a season’s worth of Glee), Gomez-Rejon’s work here is quite possibly the biggest reason to see this one.
But if you need more, there’s a whole bunch of familiar genre faces here, from Veronica Cartwright to Gary Cole to Denis O’Hare (playing Charles B. Pierce, Jr., the son of the man who directed the original 1976 Town!) to Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project’s very own “Josh”).
Produced by Jason Blum and Ryan Murphy (and thus, the presence of all the Glee and AHS alumni becomes readily apparent), this new The Town That Dreaded Sundown is an interesting (and at times, vicious) piece that comes with a hearty ¡Qué horror! stamp of approval.
When I sat down to watch this one, it had been quite a while since I’d last seen the 1976 version, but Aguirre-Sacasa’s script does an excellent job of paralleling the on-screen events with the plot of the original, as well as the real-life crimes (including an apparently tangential case that was not previously touched on).
So, whether you’ve seen the original or not, Gomez-Rejon’s quasi-remake should still work its bloody, brutal magic on you…
* Pierce also brought us The Legend of Boggy Creek, which scared the crap out of me when Channel 9 (if I remember right) used to show it way back when I was a wee horrorhead…
Parting Shot: The art on the original Town OS above? By the late Ralph McQuarrie.
Yes, that Ralph McQuarrie. You can even find samples of poster comps under the film’s working title, Phantom, at Ralph McQuarrie’s official Facebook page.
(The Town That Dreaded Sundown OS’ courtesy of impawards.com.)