The Town That Dreaded Sundown

By Kelan Young

Mailed on November 26, 2014

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Dear Hannah Beachler
Production Design

Dear Hannah,

The real-life events that occurred in the town of Texarkana in the late 1940s – an unidentified killer terrorizing the local populace – inspired filmmaker Charles B. Pierce to release The Town That Dreaded Sundown in 1976 (a pretty darn solid film in its own right, if memory serves).

The remake, which you worked on, takes place in a universe where Pierce’s film is screened annually on Halloween, much to the chagrin of those old enough to remember the murders. Texarkana feels as if it never progressed past the 70s, with everybody possessing a wicked cool vintage car, popped collars, and era-appropriate feathered hair. But it’s primarily your excellent production design makes the town feel inexorably trapped in the past.

But maybe calling it a remake is a bit of a misnomer. On the one hand, some of the more iconic moments from the original are recreated – including the (in)famous trombone murder – and the present day investigation has intriguing parallels with the 1976 film. But this new version feels more like a sequel than anything else.

The constant references to Pierce’s original movie, even going so far as to have the director’s son appear as a total weirdo and potential suspect, could have lead to some truly unbearable meta-wankery. How fortunate then, that the writer and director are (for the most part) as capable as you are at balancing the ironic and sincere.

After a truly harrowing opening kill sequence, the premise for this reveals itself to be kinda brilliant: the heroine determines that the key to unmaking the modern day killer lies in getting to the truth of what happened half a century ago. Along with some impeccably orchestrated set-pieces – most notably a chase scene taking place in what appears to be a graveyard for used billboards (no idea how you thought this up, but it’s amazing) – we get a genuinely compelling mystery to tie it all together. It’s very welcome. I mean, there are some hiccups along the way, like the hilariously unbelievable romance between the Final Girl and a guy working at the town’s archive, but these are petty complaints in light of everything that works.

But then we get to a final act, which is so lackluster that it very nearly derails everything that came before it. I mean, I don’t think it’s fair to compare every self-referential movie to Scream, but when the killer’s mask comes off and they explain their actions, the script seems to have borrowed liberally from the preeminent 90s meta-slashfest.

Boy oh boy, is it ever lousy. Not just because it’s a reveal that any astute viewer can see coming from a country mile away. To be fair, there is a kind of cool secondary twist on the heels of this (non-)revelation, but it makes so little sense that the movie itself has to acknowledges how illogical it is.

I was really hoping this would be a homerun, as your production work definitely suggested that this wasn’t simply going to be a remake/sequel/reimagining that would be content to go through the motions. And for the most part it isn’t. But that ending is such a goodwill-killer, which is a damn shame.

Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of your vision in future horror movies, as you bring a freshness sorely lacking in most of today’s genre output.



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