Monday, October 27, 2014

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

One of the many problems with remakes is that they often struggle to find a convincing premise when resetting an old tale. How do you approach it? A straight up retelling? A new spin? And if the latter how do you make it tie in with the original version without completely tainting  or unnecessarily obscuring the source entirely?

This is one of the many reasons I don't like remakes I think. Apart from the fact that, let's be fair, 99% of decent horror movies  just plain don't need to be "reimagined", when they are and particularly when these old films are updated for a modern setting, one of their key attractive points - the charm and nostalgia for a supposed "golden era"of the Horror movie back in the day from whence many of these films came - is lost.

The modern tendency to over brutalise, to CGIfy and the's not why we watched these older films and loved them. The grit of, say, the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is totally pissed on by the sheer glossiness of the remake(s). You forget that any film coming out in the 21st century has to compete with your "Insidious" or "Paranormal Activity" or "Saw" or..well..insert big horror franchise here. S, to redo these old movies, often cruder in plot and manufacture, is like taking a beautiful vintage car, adding ugly new parts, and then entering it in the Grand Prix. It starts well, but sputters out and collapses in on itself in the attempt to keep up,and all you're left with is a wreck of a previously perfectly fine old thing.

"The Town Before Sundown" luckily just about pulls off the trick of being an above average remake, and it's largely down to the setting they place the story in - in many ways it's like a sequel. Basically, it's 30 years after the events of the original film, one which was "based on true events" that happened in Texarkana, and an obsession with the original film leads to the return of "the Phantom" from seemingly nowhere, embarking on a series of copycat murders that echo those carried out in the 1976 version. So far, so meta, and thankfully so good - it's a simple idea but it's a believable one. The fact that in 2013 the citizens all seem to dress like it's the 70s is perhaps less believeable, but it can be overlooked given that the set up actually works. 

This new version allows the idea of this being a revisiting of past events to build the story around the character of Jamie, a girl spared by the now returned Phantom as a "message" to the town. She recruits the assistance of a young archivist in the local library and their ability to pore over news paper reports about both the original 1946 killings, and the making of the 1976 film helps them formulate their own investigation into whats happening. The local cops are lead in their investigation by a Texas Ranger who nicknames himself Lone Wolf, and at some point the character of Charles B Pierce's (the director of the original film) son who has stayed in the town gets involved to provide some important information about what happened to the original Phantom. There's plenty of clever use of footage from the old movie throughout. Again, that set up makes referencing the original essential to the plot. Cleverly done.

It's not the first time something like this has been used as the foundation of a horror movie, and it's not without flaws (not least of which is the somewhat predictable and ridiculous Scooby Doo ending that's straight out of "Scream") - but it gives a pretty solid excise to recreate a couple of the iconic scenes in a modern manner that I think sucessfully bridges the old film with the brutality of the new. Take the infamous trombone scene - it's a deal more graphic in terms of seeing the damage inflicted on the victim, but this time around it's a gay couple. It also perfectly maintains the ferocity in the killings that was so apparent in the 1976 version. Think of the sheer aggression as the Phantom burst through that farmhouse door in the original, and how frightening it is..well that's still the case here. the violence is as abrupt and impactful. The frankness and severity with how it is depicted is unnerving.

Again, it goes a bit pear shaped with the cringey ending, but that's almost an aside - what impresses here is that this feels more like a natural sequel than a remake. It modernises the story in a plausible manner, and rather than turn it into yet another shitty modern torture porn "reimagining", it uses the rural and small town settings you're already familiar with very well.