(US - 2014)
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Cast: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Gary Cole, Anthony Anderson, Edward Herrmann, Joshua Leonard, Denis O'Hare, Travis Tope, Ed Lauter, Andy Abele, Spencer Treat Clark, Wes Chatham, Lance E. Nichols. (R, 86 mins)
Charles B. Pierce's revered 1976 cult classic THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN provides the foundation for this reboot/meta-sequel of sorts that makes the creative decision of incorporating the existence of the original film into its story. A thriller dramatizing a series of murders in the small Texas/Arkansas border town of Texarkana in 1946 by a sack-hooded killer dubbed "The Phantom," SUNDOWN '76 has enjoyed a devoted following over the years despite its uneven structure and dismal comic relief, unwisely provided by Pierce himself as numb-skulled deputy Sparkplug. As a director, Pierce (THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK) is Pierce the actor's biggest fan, repeatedly killing the momentum with Sparkplug's wacky antics, blithely oblivious to how much damage his slapstick self-indulgence does to an otherwise well-made, chillingly effective film. A drive-in hit in its day, SUNDOWN '76 is still embraced by horror fans who are obviously more forgiving of Sparkplug than I am--I don't exaggerate when I say Pierce's endless clowning ruins his own movie. There's no doubting SUNDOWN '76's influence: its killer's "Sackhead" look was blatantly copied for the pre-hockey mask Jason in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981).
split-diopters, long tracking shots, and impressively swooping and well-choreographed crane shots. These days, it's expected that a reboot of this sort will be filled with self-conscious snark and shock value in place of actual horror (especially coming from so many AMERICAN HORROR STORY personnel), but SUNDOWN '14 is legitimately scary, with Sackhead's attacks--several of the '76 film's more iconic kills are restaged here--startling, brutal, and utterly relentless. But beyond it just being an unexpectedly solid fright film, SUNDOWN '14 is ambitious and very clever, with special attention given to showy filmmaking technique, giallo-inspired color schemes, and inspired mise-en-scene, from the jarring ways Gomez-Rejon has Sackhead enter the frame when you least expect it to the sardonic placement of a dead-end road sign.
ANGUISH (1987), the 2014 revamp of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN is a smart, unnerving, and ferociously uncompromising film that's far better than it has any right or reason to be. It's pretty much an anomaly in today's horror scene. If this was a found-footage remake, you know it would've opened on 3000 screens instead of getting dumped on VOD.