Tuesday, 21 October 2014

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TADFF14

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) Dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Scr. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Starring: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Edward Herrmann, Ed Lauter, Denis O'Hare

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Nobody, has ever accused Charles B. Pierce of actually making a good movie out of the Texarkana true-crime tale of the "Phantom Killer." Released in 1976 to solid box-office and an eventual cult following, the impact of Pierce's documentary-like approach to the otherwise creaky and somewhat clumsy The Town That Dreaded Sundown was, in spite of its shortcomings as cinema, felt the world over. Its influence has, in fact, lasted to this very day. Not that the subject matter was at all uninteresting, but it was Pierce's approach to telling the tale of a mysterious lovers' lane killer which superseded the mystery - one that never really had an ending as the killer had never been apprehended.

There had, of course, been earlier "fake" documentaries, most notably Jim McBride's 1967 groundbreaker David Holzman's Diary, but none of them were absorbed into the public consciousness as widely as Pierce's through-the-roof money-makers. A prolific regional independent filmmaker, he first brought his unique style of faux-documentary to bear in The Legend of Boggy Creek, the smash 1972 hit which focused on the Fouke County, Arkansas lore of Bigfoot.

Some consider Pierce the real father of true-crime reality TV, a dubious achievement at best. Better yet, he's also credited with inspiring the "found footage" horror film craze that began with The Blair Witch Project in the late 90s and has unabatedly kept generating new product each and every year since.

This vaguely post-modern reboot has a screenplay by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa that is not initially without interest or ambition. We're introduced to the contemporary town of Texarkana and the yearly ritual of screening Pierce's film at a local drive-in.

The famed killer appears to be resurrected and begins to commit heinous murders in the tradition of those detailed in Pierce's film. There are all sort of interesting elements involving the God-fearing citizenry of Texarkana and their decidedly un-Christian need to extract bloody revenge upon the killer. This all takes back seat eventually to a dull mystery and slasher movie-styled murders until we're not surprisingly introduced to the real killer.

Television director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon handles the proceedings with all the skill of a competent camera jockey, but does little more to enhance the proceedings. It's fun seeing old pros like Veronica Cartwright, Edward Herrmann and Ed Lauter strut their stuff, but their screen time is limited compared to the bland, young leads. There's also one interesting subplot involving a character based on the son of Charles Pierce, very well played by Dennis O'Hare, but sadly, this thread eventually goes nowhere.

In fact, the whole film is a whole lot of nowhere.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One-and-a-half-stars

The Town That Dreaded Sundown enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014.