Original Vs. Remake: The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

More people actually seemed to disagree with the outcome of our last Original Vs. Remake which had the excellent remake Let Me In barely defeating the equally excellent Let The Right One In. I understand how many would feel the original deserved the big W. I do feel both films are outstanding and the remake really only won because of single, less significant category.

Today, we are presenting a rather interesting battle between two films that definitely fall under the original/remake category, yet offer somewhat more. Both flicks are kind of a film-within-a-film, but under different circumstances. I’ve been waiting a little while for this one and am excited to see how all the drama and terror unfolds. So what do you say we take a trip down to Texarkana and park our cars in Lover’s Lane? The time has come to take on The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

What’s cool about the ’76 original is that it takes the basic slasher movie story and adds a cool, creative element that makes it all seem real! A masked man is killing people in and around Texarkana, Texas and a talented Texas ranger is on the case. The film is shown as part horror as the events unfold, but then reports are given on details of the murders in documentary-style instances. Adds a very creepy vibe.
Staying true to the creative horror story-telling brought forth by the original, the remake takes a majorly meta approach. The basic story of a masked killer in Texarkana remains the same, however, the original film actually exists in the remake and serves as the springboard for all the action. It’s a very cool way of going about the remake process that nicely honors the trailblazing path set forth by the original.
Special Effects
The gore on hand in the original is all practical, messy stuff. There isn’t anything too outlandish or overly graphic as much of the violence is implied rather than shown. Even the famous “trombone scene” relies much more on sound effects as opposed to showing the gore. Not that you need a whole lot of blood to make this killer work, which is apparent with a couple of gunshot wounds.
The remake definitely did not take the gore factor lightly when reintroducing audiences to the Phantom Killer. We got a wonderful array of practical blood effects as victims are disposed of in increasingly nasty ways. There’s one kill towards the end involving a gunshot wound, that I can’t tell is practical or part CGI, but damn does it work well!
For a low budget horror, the acting in the original is just superb. Sure, it takes place in the late 1940’s which was a way simpler time, but the era works wonderfully in bringing about a really believable feeling. As always, the actors involved are a big reason you think the film is more than just a fictional account. Andrew Prine and Ben Johnson are the anchors that steer the film straight and true.
The remake has some nice character actors up its sleeve which really ups the performance factor. Anthony Anderson and Gary Cole (both known for their comedic chops) infuse some cool notoriety into the proceedings. Addison Timlin is fantastic as the lead “scream queen” researching the murders in an attempt to make sense of it all. And Veronica Cartwright is also wonderful as her grandmother who provides some insight to the past.
Hot Chicks
Surprisingly, the original didn’t go all out in the mid-70’s hottie department in order to punch up its “deaths at lover’s lane” theme. Most of the ladies are simply 1940’s prim-and-proper cute with Dawn Wells, from Gilligan’s Island, being the only real stand out.
Fortunately, the remake follows suit with the expected “horror hottie equation” and gives us a nice set of lovely ladies. Addison Timlin is one complete cutie who is beyond easy on the eyes. And Morganna May wonderfully holds the “obligatory nude/sex scene” torch with pride by delivering a performance as beautiful as she is.
Because the realism level is so high, the original really grabs a hold of you once the Phantom begins his rampage. A creepy vibe definitely flows throughout the flick. Then we get some unexpected moments of humor, especially with a character nicknamed Sparkplug, that sort of lulls you back to calmness right before you get hit with another jolting Phantom attack!
The filmmakers did a very cool job making the new Phantom Killer one hardcore, mean son of a bitch. His attacks come fast and hard. The violence level is unapologetic. Nothing is drawn out and you are never quite sure what is going to happen next. Yeah, this one does a nice job of keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Charles B. Pierce did a fantastic job presenting a slasher film in a whole new and creative light. The interspersing of documentary style reporting with the film’s actual footage creates a shocking realism that ups the suspense. This guy knows how to deliver a frightening masked killer. The fast close-ups of the Phantom’s sack head when he’s about to strike is so damn freaky.
Clearly, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has an affinity for the original Town. His meta remake does a fantastic job of both honoring and adding to the 1976 version. What I liked best were the tiny clips from the original that are flashed across the screen when something similar is happening with the remake. It’s both cool and creepy; another interesting creative move for a horror film (just like the original did in its own way).
Oh man, a tie?! Seriously! I was not expecting that. Both films have so many positive, interesting traits, I suppose declaring a single winner was too tough. The remake (I know it could also be considered a sequel, but the remake vibe is just way stronger) does some really inventive stuff in retelling the story of the Phantom Killer and deserves to be praised. However, the original was such a fresh, creative take on the slasher genre, it’s tough to vote against it. What do you say? Which version of Sundown really toots your horn? Fire them bullets below! And if you have any flicks you’d like to see in this column, give me a shout at [email protected].

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