Night #11: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

Directed By: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

When is a remake not a remake? It’s not a trick question really, and while this movie falls ostensibly into that category, it also acknowledges that there was a movie released back in 1976. In fact, every year it’s screened for the enjoyment of the town of Texarkana, where the original killings took place. But is being meta enough to separate this from any other run of the mill slasher?

On the night of the annual screening, a young couple is attacked by a man dressed as ‘The Phantom’, the original killer. He lets the girl go, and tells her that she has to make people remember Mary. From there, the town understandably devolves into panic as the killings continue, in some vague approximation of the original murders.

However, while the original focuses on the police investigation (In some quasi-documentary style), this follows the lone survivor from that original attack. I’m not really sure why, since she has no ties to the original killer. All to often in these things it turns out the killer was originally their uncle or some such, but instead she just lives her life while other people get murdered. Until they find a way to bring her back at the end, as these things are want to do.

I wanted to like this more than I did. It’s not bad, not in any way, but it’s lacking whatever it needs to make it memorable. I never thought that the original was great. It has some chilling moments but it clashes up against some really out of place comedy. This one though has no character of its own. There’s the intriguing idea that comes along with the whole meta aspect, but after about an hour it feels as if it’s abandoned. Once they meet the son of the original movie’s director then it heads off into its own direction, one that’s largely uninteresting.

It is well made though, even while it leans too heavily on some dutch angles (After Battlefield Earth abused them so thoroughly it’s going to be another few years before they get their comeback). It’s stylish, finding some common ground between that Friday The 13th and It Follows. It has a nice dream logic to it in some scenes, which makes me wonder how Gomez-Rejon would’ve handled a Nightmare On Elm Street remake. Case in point is that the movie is set in 2013 but everyone has bulky TVs and the only mobile phone we see looks like an old Nokia flip screen. It’s a nice touch but it really sort of amounts to nothing. I mentioned It Follows because it does a similar trick, but from what I remember it doesn’t ever really tell you exactly when it’s set, whereas here we’re told numerous times that it’s 2013.There’s just some modern day elements, and some anachronistic ones. After a while it just feels like people trying to cover up for any deficiencies in the script.

Weirdly enough it shares some of the same ideas that were in Scream 4, in which both movies are recreations of their original killings and at least in the latter’s case, were specifically about remake culture. Here though there’s no actual reason for it and it’s barely commented on. Part of me wants to think that a lot of this is intentional, that once the original killings have been ‘completed’ then the remake elements fall away, and it could very well be, but that doesn’t necessarily make it interesting either. It’s one of those things that sound cleverer on paper than they actually are, and in execution they just come across as unfocused. Really, the killer could’ve just as easily killed people in all new ways and it wouldn’t have had any effect on the end result. However, in the case of this and Scream 4, If you’re going to pull that trick off, it’s best not to remind people what they’re missing out on.

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