The Phantom killer once again strikes old-school fear into Texarkana in this meta remake/sequel of the 1976 film of the same name. The 1976 version of The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a film that I’ve tried to watch more than a few times (more than a few drunk) and I just couldn’t get into it. I normally dig on cult flicks, but I just wasn’t feeling the original due to a lack of it being an unfocused mess of a film that isn’t scary or entertaining in any way at all. As with most films based on a true story (yes this is actually a true story) the creators play fast and loose with quite a bit of the facts concerning the story of the Phantom Killer, who claimed eight lives between the months of February and May of 1976. Despite the film not being very good (or perhaps because of) it does has a cult following, and evidently part of it’s fan base is one Ryan Murphy — yes, the Ryan Murphy who created American Horror Story series, and the more terrifying Glee.
Murphy came up with the idea to re-work the original film in a very interesting way. The 2014 version takes place in modern day Texarkana, with both the original film and the true story keep the legend of the Phantom alive and well. At a screening of the original film, our heroine Jami (Addison Timilin of Californication) and her wimpy boyfriend are assaulted by a new incarnation of the Phantom. Jami is spared and is told to carry The Phantom’s story to the public to keep the legend alive. And so she does, and thus begins her story of trying to piece together the towns history and ties to the Phantom in an effort to find the identity of the original killer and the new one to put a stop to their madness.
What I liked about this movie is how old-school it is. It’s got a lot of veteran character actors in it playing the police force, including Gary Cole, Anthony Anderson, and the late Ed Lauter. The film is drenched in 70’s-esque aesthetic where it’s not afraid to show normal looking people in a very hot and sweaty town looking uncomfortable. I grew up in the humidity of the south and appreciate films that are unafraid to show the swelter of the Summer solstice and the affect it can have on people.
The film drips with old-school swagger. They really wanted to try to bring back that feeling of being in a movie theater with no carpeted sticky floors (from sodas and popcorn not being picked up properly — not a porno theater) that most of us who like this stuff saw it in back in the day. They really went all out in this endeavor, even going so far as resurrecting Orion Pictures from the dead, just so the film can open with that legendary logo we all saw hundreds of times back in the day on many of our favorite genre films.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon worked with Ryan Murphy on a lot of his shows, and also directed quite a bit of the first season of American Horror Story (which is the best), so he’s a solid director. He knows what’s up when it comes to horror and what it’s fans want to see. However, since this is a Ryan Murphy production, there has to be a short-coming near the end. In the case of this film, it apes a very influential 90’s horror flick that was a very slick and stylish parody of the horror films of the 1970’s and 1980’s, because time is a flat circle. It did catch me by surprise though, so I give them props for it’s execution (haha).
This little gem is currently streaming on Netflix.
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