I was so impressed by the visual audacity of ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl‘ that I was really eager to see Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s feature-length debut film ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ and I was perhaps even more in awe of the visuals in this film. After an opening with some archival footage the movie kicks of with one of those long show-off steadycam shots that Scorsese, De Palma, P.T. Anderson and the likes love to do.
The film is not a remake but some kind of a follow-up to the little known 1976 film directed by Charles B. Pierce with the same title, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow. The original film is based upon real events that took place in 1946 in Texarkana where the local town was traumatised by a spree of killings by a hooded serial killer, nicknamed The Phantom, who was never caught.
The opening steadycam shot starts during an annual showing of the original film in a drive-in, the camera moves up from behind the screen and over it to move to a young couple watching the film on the hood of their car. As the girl is not comfortable watching the film they decide to leave. The camera moves through the other cars and amongst the crowd and picks up the character of a reverend (one of the last roles of Edward Herrmann) who tries to convince the youngsters attending the screening to go home as it’s tasteless (and God wouldn’t approve either) to watch this film.
The camera picks up the couple in the car and cranes-up as they drive away, end of the steadycam shot.
The couple drives of to the local lovers lane where the actual initial killer started his spree. History is about to repeat itself, this time in a fictional narrative.
The film really has the visual energy and freshness of an eager director who finally has the opportunity to show what he can do on the big screen. The photography is aces, with incredible lighting, fantasic split diopter shots and shows-off all the tricks in the book.
The film playfully uses genre clichés and does something fresh with it. E.g. there’s a character that jumps from a considerable height. In other movies they would immediately jump up and dash off or in the worst case limp for a few seconds. Here the character is visibly in pain to say the least. Also, compare the scenes in the original and the new film where a woman flees into a cornfield to try to escape from The Phantom.
Horror fans will surely appreciate the casting of Veronica Cartwright as a grandmother since she’s starred in several iconic genre films: Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ ( 1963), Philip Kaufman’s version of ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1978) (and perhaps less so the Oliver Hirschbiegel version The Invasion, 2007) and Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (1979).
Also watch out for Ed Lauter in one of his last performances.