It’s that most, wonderful time of the year… No, it’s not Christmas, it’s HEXMAS!!! All of October the Horror Honeys will be celebrating Hexmas with Slashers, Slashers, and more Slashers!
Don’t ya just love movies that are based on a true story, but never let you in on which bits are fact? I know I do *sarcasm*. Actually, most of the time “based on a true story” never really bothers me much. If I’m curious about knowing about the actual events, I’ll look it up. More often than not, I don’t care too much and I take everything I see – after that proclamation – with a huge block of salt.
Watching The Town That Dreaded Sundown(1976) was no different of an experience for me; except that, I didn’t expect the random slapstick humor that seemed abundant in this pseudo mockumentary loosely, very loosely, based on the Phantom Killer of Texarkana from the 1940s.
In short: a hooded killer runs amok in Texarkana brutalizing a young couple on Lover’s Lane, sending the town into a frenzy. Exactly 21 days later another young couple is viciously slain. With a worry that there is a pattern forming, cops are tasked with securing the town and hunting down the masked murderer. But, as quick as the flour-sacked man is to rampage, he’s also as quick to run – just barely making his escape from the bumbling beat cops, never to torment the town again.
Dun dun duuuun…
Quickly switching between the cold, hard facts and the hardly, funny humor is a bit trying while watching The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), but it seems to work. The audience forms no true connection with anyone in the film, but is still shocked as people get picked off one by one. The humor here was clearly used to bring you back from the brink (at that time, much easier to get close to, I imagine) right before thrusting you towards another kill.
Without being over the top or exploitative The Town That Dreaded Sundown does manage to horrify. Spliced together with dates and quick imagery of the actual events, we are quickly reminded that while this is a movie and most all of it is imaginary – some horrible things did actually happen. Maybe not the cross-dressing, or the trombone impaling; but horrible things none-the-less.
I’ll admit, I found myself dozing in and out throughout the side narrative of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Mostly because I didn’t need it. Perhaps I’m jaded by watching it so many years removed. The kills were brutal, but I didn’t need the oddly placed cop plot to keep me from being too mortified. That being said, it’s a good bit of retro, slasher horror that should be enjoyed BEFORE watching the sequel… er, remake.
Which I didn’t do.
I watched The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) first. Big mistake. HUGE mistake. Not just because the remake – I’m sorry, they are calling it a “meta-sequel” – wasn’t great, but also because it almost makes watching the original completely null. And I’m a big fan of watching original films to have a better understanding of why a remake was conceived or having a better appreciation of what the remake did better.
The meta-sequel did nothing better. In fact, while watching The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) I recognized shots from other movies that were plucked right out and dropped in here as though they were completely original ideas (Yeah, I saw Scream 2 also, it was great, am I right?). This irritated me. That irritation aside, I had some other issues with this meta-sequel.
First: It wasn’t a sequel at all – short of the secondary narrative which was slightly more interesting and less humorous than the cop plot of the first film – it was the exact. same. fucking. movie. Lines of dialogue were reused and kills weren’t just virtually replicated, they were spliced together with shots of the exact scenes from the original. That’s not meta, that’s just copycatting.
Second: Where the original film succeeded in its mockumentary tone, this meta-sequel failed miserably. There was the occasional voice-over by the first female survivor, but it was never with any context. Why was she doing a voice-over? Was this her story? Why didn’t it start that way? Why wasn’t there voice-over when we needed context? Was she writing this? What the fuck is her purpose? I found the entire thing to be lacking in any sense of direction – other than mimicking (still NOT meta) the original film.
What this “meta-sequel” (I hate myself every time I have to type that, by the way) did do well, was showcase the best elements of the original film – the murders. What it didn’t do well… was everything else. Even the ending was predictable and hardly as unsettling as the original.
I wouldn’t be opposed to an actual updated and remade The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Are you listening, anyone other than Ryan Murphy?
Zombie Honey Ratings:
The original – 2.5 trombone slides out of 5
The meta-sequel – half a dry heave every time I typed “meta-sequel”
Originally written for and posted at The Horror Honeys.