6WH: Week 5 – The Week That Dreaded Sundown

Coming down the homestretch, it’s hard to believe we’re already 5 weeks into the Six Weeks of Halloween marathon. This was actually a light week for us here at Kaedrin, but in keeping with the emerging theme of originals and remakes, I watched both the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown (a famous precursor to the slasher that has nevertheless been out of print for a while) and the recently released remake.

  • The Netherbeast of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc. (short)
  • Alice, Sweet Alice (trailer)
  • Werewolf Women of the S.S. (fake trailer – extended edition)
  • The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) – The film chronicles a series of mysterious murders that terrorized the people of Texarkana, Texas, in 1946. It’s based on a real-life case referred to as the “Texarkana Moonlight Murders”, and supposedly director Charles B. Pierce (generally famous for his work in Blacksploitation films) wanted to make this in a documentary-style that comes off more like a standard police procedural than that implies. Unfortunately, he also sorta wanted to make a slasher movie that incorporates the occasional slapstick antics of a Barney Fife-like deputy. The result is like a less artistic, more lurid version of David Fincher’s Zodiac. The scenes with the killer are actually pretty entertaining and even a little tense. This is pre-slasher, so not all the conventions are there, but the killer has a great outfit (including a sack-like mask that was clearly the inspiration for Jason’s look in Friday the 13th Part 2), partakes in some stalking and heavy breathing, and you can see him breathing from behind the mask (which was a nice touch). His methods of dispatching his prey are decent for a pre-slasher, though he does resort to a gun at one point (a total no-no for slashers) and the trombone thing is pretty ridiculous (and I love it for that, but it does sorta call into question the veracity of Pierce’s documentary ambitions). The procedural or documentary-like aspects of the movie are far less successful. They’re punctuated by a particularly inept voice-over that mostly just explains the things you see on screen, and this is also where some of the silly slapstick type stuff comes out. I thought things might turn around when a famous Texas Ranger is brought in to help out, but he turns out to just be some dude in a suit who has a not particularly bitchin’ mustache. It’s easy to see why this is a cult classic, and its influence is certainly apparent, but this is actually one of those movies I’m happy to see is being remade. It’s so uneven and disjointed that a modern remake which could smooth out some of those issues wile maintaining the good bits could be quite successful… All in all, it’s a goofy little movie, definitely worth a watch for fans of obscure cult horror that prefigured slashers, even if it’s got a fair amount of issues. **
  • Black Christmas (2006 trailer)
  • Jack Chop (short)
  • Happy Halloween (short)
  • The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) – Less of a remake and more of a sequel or perhaps re-imagining, this film starts off 67 years later. The film starts off much as the original did, with a voice-over explaining the original 1946 murders and in a self-referential twist, they actually mention that there was a film made in 1976 called The Town That Dreaded Sundown that covered the events. The film makes extensive use of that fact, opening the film proper at a drive-in showing of the original film in Texarkana (in the movie, this is an annual tradition in the small town), and frequently referencing the film all throughout. Since anyone involved in the original killings would be 80-90 years old at this point, the notion here is that new killings are being perpetrated by a copycat of sorts.

    The Town That Dreaded Sundown

    He tells our Final Girl heroine that he’s doing it all for someone named “Mary”, which sets off a sorta dualing mystery. Our heroes are trying to solve the 1946 murders as a way to reveal the current killer’s motivations, a clever conceit. For his part, the killer here is a little more brutal than his 1976 movie counterpart even as he hits many of the same notes (including the trombone, pun intended), but generally effective. The police investigation side of things is a big step up. Gone is the slapstick, and the casting is quite an improvement – folks like Gary Cole and a quintessential “That Guy”, Ed Lauter, bring some chops to the proceedings. Anthony Anderson as the Texas Ranger who is brought in to see this thing to conclusion is also a big step up from the original, though his role is a bit smaller than the original. Indeed, one of the film’s flaws is that we don’t get all that much of the police, whose investigation seems mostly redundant. Instead, we get a lot of the Final Girl Jami’s investigation of old newspapers and, in a nice touch, interviewing Charles Pierce’s son to see if Pierce had any info that hadn’t been released (the son is an actual person, but he’s played in the movie by another awesome character actor, Denis O’Hare). This separates the remake from something like Zodiac, while staying true to the original. Visually, the film certainly has more style than the original, and while this is mostly welcome, it can get a bit grating in the second act (not every scene needs to be spiced up with canted or 90-degree angles, thanks). That would be a minor complaint though, and the film is otherwise rich in visuals. The script has some clunky dialogue and the final reveal is a bit on the underwhelming side, but then, it’s still a massive improvement on the original, which was really seeking to leave things perhaps a bit too ambiguous. As it is, the remake manages some ambiguity while still hewing closer to storytelling than documentary (or whatever the hell the original is supposed to be). Brian Collins notes that “we’re now as far removed from Scream as Scream was from Halloween” and wonders if we’re in for another Slasher film revival. I love the sentiment and would certainly partake, but judging from the release this is getting, I don’t think we’ll see it ushering in a new era of mainstream slashers. But I hope I’m wrong! It’s far from a perfect movie, but it is really quite solid, and I’d love to see more like it. ***

Sorry for only covering two films, I was away this weekend and had little time to go further, but I thought this worked out well enough. Stay tuned, we still got a few posts left in us!

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