8/1/13

The Town That Dreaded Sundown


A car can travel a few miles on an empty tank of gas.  But how far can a film go on credibility alone?  A fair warning...this will be one of those vacillating, wishy-washy reviews that straddles the wrought iron fence (oh, ouch) of inference.  Man, mediocrity is maddening.  Calling 1976's The Town That Dreaded Sundown mediocre almost feels blasphemous, but its stature as a horror heavyweight doesn't excuse ceaseless padding or a vagrant script.  I really wanted to treasure this flick.  I'll give it this much; it's probably director Charles B. Pierce's finest achievement in this grubby genre of ours.  Putting aside the ipseity of asshole-shaped opinions, I don't mind saying that I didn't care for The Evictors or The Legend of Boggy Creek.  Do I need to mention Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues?

That question is as rhetorical as Old Man Crenshaw's sex life.  Moving on!  I think.  First, the positive comments.  You can't write about Sundown without underscoring its immense influence on stalk-and-slash vehicles.  It wasn't the pre-eminent chiller of its kind, but it did forecast a certain symptom of exploitation.  You can thank Black Christmas - and through etymology, Psycho - for classy, subdued fright fare such as Halloween, Just Before Dawn, Curtains, etc.  Leave it to Sundown to beget less subtle offspring.  I'm looking at you, The Prowler and Friday the 13th (mainly the latter).  The scene where the "Phantom Killer" stabs Dawn Wells (a.k.a. motherfucking Mary Anne from Gilligan's Island) with a knife affixed to a trombone is plucked right out of 1984.

Critics try their damndest to label this movie as a crime noir/pseudo-documentary.  No.  It's a slasher.  And at the end of the day, it's a pretty good slasher.  The kills are harrowing, the villain's potato sack visage is eerie and the cinematography is downright beautiful.  That concludes the positive portion of today's review.  See, Sundown wants to be fiction and non-fiction simultaneously.  The cold, matter-of-fact narration sucks the suspense out of a film that wants to be suspenseful, that must be suspenseful.  We don't get to know any of the characters.  The cops stick to doing investigative cop stuff, and everyone else is either murdered or severely injured.  You would never know that the cast members are portraying actual three-dimensional people.

Sundown is based on a true story.  The prologue claims that only names have been changed (out of respect for the dearly departed, of course), but that's simply not true.  Many details are attenuated, hyperbolized and completely falsified.  I doubt very seriously that you'll be able to find DEATH BY TROMBONE in the public record.  The kicker?  We are immediately informed (like, two minutes in) that the hooded miscreant was never apprehended.  It's still a mystery.  The film ends with the goddamn narrator essentially declaring, "Y'know, they never found that guy."  Who needs a climax?  In spite of these patent flaws, I suggest you watch The Town That Dreaded Sundown.  It's mighty important, after all.

PS-The Shout Factory Blu-ray is badass.  Own it.

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