CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
This is less a remake of the 1976 True Crime slasher movie, more a 38-years-on sequel - but a radically different, self-referential sequel. Taking in-film genre awareness several levels beyond geeky injokery and even Wes Craven's reality/movie crossovers (this is closer to what Wes Craven's New Scream might be like if he ever made it, and Scream is definitely the key reference point), restaging and repeating many of the first film's events as stylish and bloody horror setpieces, it's bold, visually ravishing and great fun.
Just as Charles B Pierce's film ended with a queue of cinemagoers waiting to see the very film they're appearing in, so Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's climaxes its opening attack with its survivor crawling under an open-air cinema screen that's playing Pierce's film. It's a Halloween tradition in Texarkana that Pierce's film is screened every year (to the disgust of the local Bible-thumping pastor) in commemoration of the real events of 1946 it depicted - but this year the Phantom Killer is back and re-enacting the crimes himself. Obviously it can't be the same man after nearly seventy years, but to that first victim, prospective college student Jami (Addison Timlin, from Odd Thomas), the only way to identify the killer is to reopen the cases to find some overlooked clue....
Beyond the references (which audaciously include a brief reenactment of Charles Pierce's crew shooting the film we're watching the sequel to), The Town That Dreaded Sundown looks terrific, with odd angles and gorgeous lighting and photographic effects that sometimes make you think you're watching something Oliver Stone shot twenty years ago. It's also considerably more violent than the original, yet miraculously escapes with a 15 certificate despite the occasionally graphic violence and nudity. Granted the Texas accents lost me a little from time to time, and it's a pity that the older character actors (Gary Cole, Ed Lauter) weren't given more to do - the film makes a great play of bringing in a top man (Anthony Anderson) to lead the manhunt and then mostly forgets about him - though it's nice to see Veronica Cartwright and Edward Herrmann (in one of his last roles) again.
All of which leads you to wonder: why is this film getting such a limited release? Where were the trailers and posters? I ended up with a 50-mile round trip to my nearest screening, where it plays just once a day and last night was watched by no less than eight people. Which I didn't mind, but it's a shame there didn't seem to be much push for it and by Thursday I'd be surprised if it's showing anywhere at all (it is already on Netflix USA). Maybe the original is just not a particularly well-known title over here - it hasn't been to the BBFC in nearly thirty years for its VHS release, and none of the online streaming sites seem to stock it (except for YouTube, of course). It's a shame because The Town That Dreaded Sundown is actually a very good, very interesting film, and it's annoying that something surprising and involving and well shot has almost no chance of attracting an audience when it really is worth tracking down. I even like it more than It Follows: it's my favourite horror release of the year so far. And it's lovely to see the Orion Pictures logo on the big screen once more.