A clever concept and stylish execution (in both senses) aren’t quite enough to make this achingly meta remake/reboot/sequel stand out from the slasher pack. Released in 1976, the original ‘Town That Dreaded Sundown’ was a fun, low-rent exploitation flick anticipating the ‘Halloween’-inspired stalk-and-slash movies that would follow a few years later. Set in Arkansas in the wake of World War II, it tracked the exploits of The Phantom, a masked killer who got his kicks picking off nubile teenagers.
The new movie begins, craftily, at a drive-in screening of the original, the ‘true events’ of which have become local legend. Bored by the brutality on screen, Jami (Addison Timlin) and her date (Spencer Treat Clark) find a quiet lane for a spot of night-time nookie. But who’s the shadowy figure lurking in the bushes, cradling a butcher’s knife?
First-time feature director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon does a fine job with the visuals: the colour palette is bold and striking, the camerawork slick and inventive. But he seems more interested in being arty than engaging his audience. There’s lots of chasing about and screeching, but little genuine excitement.
The script has similar problems: the title may promise widespread panic in a town tearing itself apart, but the focus remains squarely on a handful of forgettable characters attempting to unmask the killer. The revelation, when it comes, is weak and predictable – a flat finale to a film which, while entertaining, never delivers on its conceptual promise.