Adaptations & Remakes: The Town that Dreaded Sundown

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Adaptations & Remakes is an ongoing feature where I take a movie or a book and compare it to its remake and/or adaptation. Each post follows the same basic format:

  • General plot overview/source material
  • Original movie/first adaptation
  • How I would adapt and/or remake it.
  • How they adapted/remade it

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Original Movie: The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) by Charles B. Pierce

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The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a serial killer, semi-documentary horror/crime mystery movie from 1976 that tells the story of several murders in 1946 Texarkana. I can’t in good conscience give this movie an official rating and a thorough review because, while I watched most of the movie, I did fall asleep a few times. Therefore, I’ll just give a breakdown of what I saw.

I slept through a total of maybe 20 minutes broken up through the movie’s 1hr, 25min runtime. Of the hour and 5 minutes I saw, I know that my time would have been better spent sleeping. This isn’t the worst movie ever, though. It’s far from it, in fact. The Town that Dreaded Sundown is just dull, poorly constructed and poorly produced. It presents the story as a documentary of sorts, leaning on a narrator whose voice is pretty distracting every time it pops up.

The movie is “loosely based” on the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, a case where a hooded man, referred to as The Phantom, murdered several people and was never captured. The narrator assures the audience that the events are real and “only the names have been changed.” That’s inaccurate. In fact, the actual Moonlight Murders really deserve a proper film.

Instead, there’s a cheesy, low-grade “pretend documentary” that features a man killing a woman by tying a knife to a trombone and “playing” it so it stabs the victim he has tied to the tree repeatedly. No, that scene was not a dream.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown was released in 1976. It was a couple years after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre so I can only assume the narration and insistence on it being “true” was a reaction to the success of TCM. This, plus the shoddy directing and poor script work, really made this a near unwatchable turd of a movie for me.

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How I’d Remake It

I wouldn’t remake this movie, to be honest. I would approach it as an opportunity to tell the story of the Moonlight Murders and pay proper tribute to the people who died. Where the original movie had a distinct (assumed) influence from “Texas Chain Saw Massacre“, I’d pattern my movie after what David Fincher did with “Zodiac.”

However, I wouldn’t set out to solve the crime. Or, like Fincher’s movie, offer conjecture. I would simply set out to create a movie that accurately and respectfully depicted what happened in 1946 Texarkana.

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How Alfonso Gomez-Rejon Remade it: The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014)

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Well, that’s not what I expected.

2014’s version of The Town that Dreaded Sundown is not a remake of the 1976 movie. It’s a meta-sequel that’s set in 2013 Texarkana where a copycat of The Phantom starts killing people. The town in the movie celebrates their morbid past with yearly Halloween screenings of the 1976 movie at their local drive-in. Soon after the 2013 screening, a couple heading to the town’s “lovers lane” are attacked by a man in the Phantom’s hood.

The-Town-That-Dreaded-Sundown-620x400The girl, Jami (Addison Timlin) escapes the Phantom’s attack and sets out to find out who the new killer is and what his motives are. Gary Cole, Joshua Leonard (of The Blair Witch Project fame) and Anthony Anderson all appear as law enforcement in the movie whose attempts to bring the killer to justice aren’t the most effective. Travis Tope (Boardwalk Empire, Men Women & Children) plays Nick, a guy who helps Jami in her research into the town’s chilling past.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown is, without question, a monumental step up from its 1976 counterpart. The suspense in the various death scenes is palpable and Jami’s research into what’s going on is intriguing. The choice to make this a meta-sequel that exists outside of the original movie gave this version an interesting spin that really held my attention.

I really enjoyed the dynamic between Jami and Nick in this movie. Nick is an introverted, mysterious character who inserts himself into her amateur investigation into the killings. Jami is an emotionally damaged girl who has a tragic backstory that creeps into her present as she deals with the death of her boyfriend (Spencer Treat Clark) early in the movie. Addison Timlin injects a certain strength into her performance that makes the movie’s heroine easy to root for despite an overabundance of tragedy in her backstory.

The police element felt a bit underused in the movie. Gary Cole is really good as the sheriff’s chief deputy but I feel like there was a battle of screen time between him and Anthony Anderson’s marshal character. Anderson’s character takes over the investigation but, after that, the police aspect of the movie kind of takes a backseat. There’s big fanfare about the Marshals’ taking over the investigation but they’re really only used to disagree with Jami’s theories and to show the audience how the killer is mimicking the original movie.

The-Town-That-Dreaded-Sundown-1When the truth about what’s going on comes out, the movie hits a bump. It feels too reminiscent of dozens of slasher movies’ third acts and comes across as a little forced. There was a moment during one of the scenes where I literally called out what was going to happen with absolute perfect timing. Given that it was in a particularly tense moment, some of the wind disappeared from my sails.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown is still a surprisingly impressive serial killer horror/thriller. Even though the movie has some issues, it still held my attention. The chemistry between Travis Tope and Addison Timlin, as well as the “small town, haunted past” plot, kept me invested in what was going on. There are also sequences showcasing Jami’s grief in the form of hallucinations and nightmares that are incorporated into the movie very well.

If you’re looking for a surprisingly well-done horror movie, check out The Town that Dreaded Sundown and avoid the original 1976 movie like the plague.

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OBSESSIVE GRADE: BARGAIN BUY

These are titles worth adding to your physical collection at a discounted price.

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One response to “Adaptations & Remakes: The Town that Dreaded Sundown

  1. Pingback: The Obsessive Viewer Podcast – Ep 79 – Shocktober Potpourri 2014 with Mike’s Brother Kevin | The Obsessive Viewer

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