Each month in Horror Queers, Joe and Trace tackle a horror film with LGBTQ+ themes, a high camp quotient or both. For lifelong queer horror fans like us, there’s as much value in serious discussions about representation as there is in reading a ridiculously silly/fun horror film with a YAS KWEEN mentality. Just know that at no point will we be getting Babashook.
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***SPOILERS for The Town That Dreaded Sundown to follow.***
Synopsis: 65 years after a masked serial killer terrorized the small town of Texarkana, the so-called ‘moonlight murders’ begin again. Is it a copycat or something even more sinister? Jami (Addison Timlin), a lonely high school girl, with dark secrets of her own, may be the key to catching him.
Queer Aspect: Band mates Johnny (Jaren Mitchell) and Roy (Kurt Krause) attempt an awkward hook-up in an abandoned junk yard before they are killed by the Phantom.
Annnnd we’re back and talking about 2014’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Trace, amusingly enough considering the genre, this is one of the few sequels/remakes – aside from Seed of Chucky and Sorority Row – that we have covered for this column!
So it turns out that I have seen this film before! I will confess, however, that it took the entirety of the opening sequence at the drive-in movie and the red-tinged, split diopter murder sequence in the woods, for me to remember that fact.
I LITERALLY had no memory of it when you pitched this and I looked it up, so it was a very odd experience to start the film and realize that I *did* know what to expect. I thought my only experience with this title was Dewey’s line in Scream when he describes the plot of the original.
Let’s get this out on the table right off the top. I have not seen the original film, though from what I gleaned doing some very minor research for this, that’s actually not important. What Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (coming off the stink that was the Carrie remake in 2013) does here is threefold: pay homage to the original, recreate a number of its most well-known sequences/deaths AND update an old property for a new generation. It’s no small feat – and he’s arguably not entirely successful – but as you’re so fond of saying on the pod, Trace: we’ll get to that.
Shall we tackle the queer element right off the top? The Town That Dreaded Sundown is constructed around a series of murders that happens in the small town of Texarkana (a name I never got tired of hearing, but HATE trying to type). In true slasher fashion, these murders are, for the most part, centered around sexual encounters, although the climax of the film seemingly only occurs in order to secure Jami.
The first “murder” (in quotations for obvious spoilery reasons) happens when Jami and her boyfriend Corey (Spencer Treat Clark) are necking in the woods. This is followed by the Army guy on leave with his girlfriend and, later, Chief Deputy Tillman (Gary Cole) and a woman he picks up at a bar. And in between the Army dude and Tilman, there is Johnny and Roy, the totally random band dudes who (attempt to) hook up following the celebratory news that the Phantom has supposedly been caught.
The teens drive out to what appears to be a sign graveyard (I was reminded a bit of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas) and Johnny encourages Roy to give him a blowjob. Before they even get their pants off, however, the Phantom emerges from the shadows, axes Johnny in the face before shooting him and then – in homage to the original film – the killer “plays” Roy to death using a knife attached to a trombone as a weapon.
Aside from the fact that the details of the hook-up are extremely unclear to me (the pair barely seem to know each other and neither seems very experienced, so I loved that they skip over handy-js and go directly to blowjob, aka the “gay hello”), I’ll confess that this particular set piece frustrated me greatly as a queer viewer.
Overall, The Town That Dreaded Sundown gets a lot of mileage out of killing folks committing the cardinal sin of getting down to fucking. Jami doesn’t get far with Corey, but that’s presumably because she’s a) the Final Girl and he’s b) the Killer. The other sex scenes, however, adhere to the expected level of gratuitousness: we get a good look at Kendra (Morganna Bridgers) and Army guy Danny (Wes Chatam) porking in their hotel room and the blowjob that Tillman receives from his hook-up verges on gratuitous.
So why the fuck do the two queer characters barely even touch before they’re put down by the killer? Their deaths had me crying “bullshit!” in my living room because it is SUCH a cop-out/double standard. It’s as though queer audiences are meant to be appreciative that there even is a gay pairing in this slasher film, but heaven forbid we expect an actual moment of intimacy between them. The only thing that I was happy about was that we don’t see Roy anally penetrated by the trombone, because I 100% thought that that was where The Town That Dreaded Sundown was headed.
Trace, what are your thoughts on the queer teens in the film? Does it make it worse that Aguirre-Sacasa is an out married gay man with a dog named Ms. Molly? And did you, like me, think for a moment that Corey was actually being butt stabbed, Knife + Heart-style, during his “death” scene?
Joe, this is my third time seeing The Town That Dreaded Sundown and I think I know why you don’t remember seeing it: this film is very, very forgettable. There were things happening on this third viewing that I had absolutely no recollection of seeing before. I should be clear that this is through no fault of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (another Glee and American Horror Story alum), as the film is fairly well-directed. It’s also masterfully shot by Michael Goi who (you guessed it!) also worked on Glee and American Horror Story.
I wish I liked I liked this movie more. I certainly don’t hate it, but it definitely sits in the realm of “it’s fine” for me. This is mostly due to the is a severe lack of energy from our two protagonists. They are, to put it mildly, booooooooooring. Couple that with the atrocious twist ending and it makes for a well-made, if somewhat lifeless, slasher film. This sounds a lot harsher than my 3/5 score would suggest, but because the film is shot and directed so exquisitely, it almost makes up for the rest of the film’s failures.
Lucky for you, Joe, I have seen the original film once before. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about it other than the fact that I wasn’t too impressed with it (so I guess if Gomez-Rejon wanted to make a film that evokes a similar reaction as the original, he succeeded). Released in 1976, it took a real-life series of unsolved murders (the Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946) and made a postmodern horror film that blurred the lines between fiction and reality (spoiler alert: it ends with the “real” killer getting away and attending the premiere of the film 30 years later).
You are right that knowledge of the original film (or the real life murders, for that matter) is not required; the brilliance of the 2013 film is that it manages to be both a sequel and a remake in that it acts as a follow up to the real-life 1946 murders and the 1976 film. I would argue that Aguirre-Sacasa’s screenplay does a disservice to the first film by attempting to pay homage (and by “pay homage”, I mean “directly copy”) its most famous set pieces. By trying to be both a sequel and a remake, the script tries to have its cake and eat it too. Had Aguirre-Sacasa just focused on one thing, perhaps the film would be more successful than it is.
On to the queers! Like you, I call bullshit. On the one hand, it’s great that we get to see two seemingly queer characters about to fuck before getting brutally murdered, but their pre-murder sequence plays more like an amateur porno with a “two friends experiment for the first time” story. It’s progressive, but it’s not progressive enough. The film expects us to think that they are new to this, but they’re totally making fuck-eyes at each other before they head to the junkyard. These two have sucked each other’s dicks, movie, so don’t try to convince me otherwise. Do I feel robbed that we don’t get a graphic queer sex scene before Roy and Corey are butchered? Absolutely, especially when (as you mentioned) so much of the creative team is comprised of gay men. Even more unsettling, though, is that Roy’s death is eerily reminiscent of a gay-bashing before he is shot in the head. There sure are lots of deaths-by-guns in this slasher movie, aren’t there?
One area that I can commend the film is on its violence and murder set-pieces. Even with the plethora of gun-related deaths, the film is brutal and the violence hits hard. To answer your question: yes, I did think Corey was going to get knifed in the butt so I was happy to eventually see that he was “just” getting stabbed in the back (in a very gruesome image, no?). There’s so much more gore to be seen in this film, though. From Tillman’s bullet in the face (again, another nod to one of the original film’s murder sequences) to Danny’s decapitated head, The Town That Dreaded Sundown doesn’t pull any punches. I was even shocked to see Jami get a few arrows in her body during the film’s climax. If it’s violence and gore that you want, then this movie delivers.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the film’s dreadfully boring Final Girl Jami and her beau Nick (Travis Tope), who is somehow even duller than she is. We’ve discussed a few times on the podcast how the heroes tend to be the least interesting characters in horror movies, and The Town That Dreaded Sundown seems determined to follow through with that trope. Like Julie James – everyone’s favorite punching bag of a final girl – Jami is a sadsack for the majority of the film’s runtime. Unlike Julie, however, she at least takes charge in trying to put an end to the killings. The same cannot be said for Nick, and I’m ashamed to admit that I had the biggest smile on my face when Jamie tripped over his dismembered corpse on the train tracks.
Joe, do you sense a lot of Ryan Murphy’s DNA in The Town That Dreaded Sundown? I have to confess that I don’t. If I didn’t pay attention to the credits, I never would have guessed that this film is from the same people that gave us Glee, American Horror Story and Scream Queens. And we haven’t even gotten to the film’s ludicrous twist ending yet. What are your thoughts on its Scream-like killer(s) reveal? I was fine with just the one! It wasn’t surprising, but at least it made sense!
Hmmm…I’ll tackle the Ryan Murphy DNA (ew) bit first. I’ll echo your confession because I, too, don’t really see it. Murphy is a self-professed horror cinephile, but there’s very little in his output – be it his involvement here as a producer, and even in his work on Scream Queens and AHS – that makes me believe he’s interested in contributing to the genre outside of making hamfisted homages to arguably better work.* So, huh, maybe that’s where his handiwork is visible here? That and Denis O’Hare.
*For the record, I’ve been accused of being a Murphy “hater” because I don’t care for most AHS seasons and I find Scream Queens such a huge missed opportunity that it’s nearly unwatchable to me. His near-ADHD when it comes to seeing storylines through to completion drives me absolutely insane and though I know we’ll discuss him at least once in the future, I always feel trepidation about his work. Do I love what he does for queer representation? Absolutely. Do I love his output? More often than not, no.
But back to the task at hand! The dual killer reveal is an interesting point of contention because unlike a lot of other slashers that we’ve discussed over the years, audience reaction seems explicitly focused on this particular element. When you mentioned the film on social media, you were absolutely flooded with angry vitriol about the ending, as though it is seemingly the only thing that people remember from their viewing experience.
To steal from your vocabulary, it doesn’t actually bother me that much. It is very obviously derived from Scream; it feels like the film’s final example of what you describe above as “have your cake and eat it, too”. Why have only ONE killer (the logical one being Joshua Leonard’s Deputy Foster as the put-upon grandson of forgotten Phantom victim McCreedy) when we can have TWO?! Corey’s explanation that he felt trapped by the town, just like Jami, smacks of “Billy Loomis 101” and fails to satisfy because Corey is barely a character in the film outside of Jami’s dreams, which aren’t about her so much as her guilt for feeling sexually attracted to Nick and making plans to leave Texarkana behind.
When you consider him on his own, however, Corey is a huge snooze and his “pity me” rationale for killing people rings hollow. I don’t personally care that there are two villains, but I definitely find them underwhelming.
And really that’s my larger overall problem with The Town That Dreaded Sundown: it makes the capital mistake of thinking that graphic violence and visual panache is enough to keep its audience entertained. Sometimes this is true, particularly early on when the screen is filled with splashes of vibrant colours and split diopter shots, but that novelty wears off when it is clear that The Town That Dreaded Sundown isn’t going to offer anything else. It certainly doesn’t really have any memorable characters – almost all of the murders are total randos who we have no connection to, which leaves Corey (immediately dispatched) and Nick (the human embodiment of ennui).
And then there’s Jami, the definition of perfunctory Final Girl. You’re right, Trace, in that she is active in seeking out answers and moving the plot along, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my notes are littered with “FG” or “the main girl” or “the lead” because I COULD NOT REMEMBER HER NAME! She is soooo boring!
That – not the two killers – is my big criticism of this film. It’s so beautifully shot and the gore is great, but the production shot their load there, leaving the audience afloat in bright colours and beautiful compositions without a single engaging character or story beat to sustain us for 86 mins. I’m not unhappy that we revisited The Town That Dreaded Sundown, but I’m sure as fuck not going to watch it a third time.
Do you have a different read on the two killer reveal? Considering that this is a late entry in the slasher revival cycle, where does it fall in your overall rankings? And, if you’re hurting for conversation topics, how do you feel about Ryan Murphy? (Should I cue up The Carver season of Nip/Tuck for a future installment?).
I’ll get this out of the way first: I like Ryan Murphy more than you do, but I am fully aware of his flaws as a creator/showrunner/director. His shows almost always have a great first (and sometimes second) season (or half season in Glee’s case) and then suffer from incredibly steep drops in quality after that.
Because of this, I try not to get too excited whenever his name is attached to a project. I know that most television shows aren’t created with multiple season arcs in mind, but it always seems like once the first or second season of a series of his has finished, he moves on to his next project and pays almost no attention to the ones he’s already started. That being said, I greatly respect the types of shows he is getting made (hello, Pose!) and how much queer content he is including in most of his works. Even if those queer aspects aren’t always successful, I appreciate the effort. Also, screw you, Joe: Scream Queens is comedy gold.
As for the reveal of two killers in The Town That Dreaded Sundown, I confess that the reveal fully tainted my initial opinion of the film after my first viewing. The best twists come out of nowhere, but hold up to scrutiny. This one doesn’t. I’ve heard rumblings that Corey’s unmasking was a reshoot and that Foster was originally the only killer, but since the Blu-Ray doesn’t include an alternate ending, I’ll take that little rumor with a grain of salt. Besides, what’s the point in wondering what could have been? We must look at what is. When you know it’s coming, the reveal isn’t as troublesome. As you said, it’s just underwhelming.
Due to the meta nature of the film, comparisons to Scream (already such a queer property, as we have discussed) are inevitable, and The Town That Dreaded Sundown suffers as a result. The mere concept of the film is clever, and seeing how the film mostly succeeds at tying the events of the film back to the “real” events of the 1946 murders and the 1976 film make for a rather fun viewing experience. That aspect alone allows it to stand above some other similar slashers of the 2010s like, say, Texas Chainsaw 3D. Unfortunately, it must also stand next to the likes of meta-horror films from that time period like Scream 4, The Cabin in the Woods, The Final Girls and Detention, all of which are better than The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Meta humor seems to split audiences though so I imagine a ranking of these types of films of the 2010s will vary greatly from person to person.
Still, I won’t deny that this is an expertly crafted film. You can at least tell that most of the creative team has a love of the horror genre and, more specifically, the slasher sub-genre. It’s shocking that even in 2019, slashers are still considered low-brow genre fare, so it’s nice to see so much attention being paid to The Town That Dreaded Sundown, even if its script is found wanting. I’m so glad you brought up those split diopter shots though, because it seems like modern horror films are relying on them way too often. Sure, they look cool at first, but when every movie starts using them it can get a bit obnoxious. Since this film was released in 2013 I won’t hold it against it, but it’s just something I’ve noticed over the past few years.
So what is left to say about The Town That Dreaded Sundown? Not much, unfortunately. It’s a slightly above-average slasher film with a handful of great ideas that is bogged down by uninteresting characters and an ineffectual third act twist. Thanks to some stellar production value (on what had to be a small budget since Blumhouse produced it), impressive gore and a few suspenseful set pieces, the film manages to earn a recommendation.
Just don’t go in with high expectations.
Now, let’s cross out The Town That Dreaded Sundown!
Next time on Horror Queers: On the heels of the release of Fred Durst’s The Fanatic (with John Travolta?!), we’re heading back to the ‘80s with psychotic stalker film The Fan!
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is available to stream for $2.99 on Amazon.
And don’t forget to catch up on our previous Horror Queers articles here or check out our podcast page here.
Source link : http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/BloodyDisgusting/~3/KptBC8PP_20/
Author : Joe Lipsett
Publish date : 2019-08-15 20:28:43