The prospect of mostly unloved 1976 slasher The Town That Dreaded Sundown getting updated isn’t particularly exciting in itself, but given that this comes from American Horror Story’s most striking visual stylist Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, and that it’s set in a world where the original film exists, we’re prepared to put scepticism aside.
It’s 65 years after the brutal murders in Texarcana, and the 1976 movie is still shown at the drive-in every year. This year, however, will be different. Jami (Addison Timlin) drives to lovers’ lane with Corey (Spencer Treat Clark), where they are attacked by a killer dressed as the Moonlight Murderer. As the bodies begin to stack up, the town looks to the original film to see how to put a stop to the murders, with Jami wondering why she was spared.
This new The Town That Dreaded Sundown recalls the Scream franchise to such an extent that we could spend all day drawing similarities, so we’ll just point out that it feels like a Scream sequel.
This isn’t a bad thing; it’s self-aware and funny, and packed with veterans who are all having a good time.
Veronica Cartwright is Jami’s concerned grandmother, Denis O’Hare is the booze-soaked son of the original film’s director, Anthony Anderson is a sheriff who insists on being called ‘Lone Wolf’, and the late, great Edward Herrmann is the Reverend who’s a little too eager to blame these killings on sins.
The best of the bunch is the inimitable Gary Cole as Chief Deputy Tillman, conveying wry disbelief and condescension with a barely raised eyebrow.
The film’s biggest weapon, however, is Gomez-Rejon, who turns it up to 11 for his feature debut. If you like the way American Horror Story looks, you’ll love the visuals here, and they look great on a big screen.
However, the biggest problem here is that the script doesn’t have much to offer beyond the central meta conceit. It’s certainly entertaining enough, and Timlin (Odd Thomas) makes for a likeable lead, but it does run out of steam some time before the opening credits.
It’s fun and stylish, if more than a little hollow.