It’s sad that I never go to the movie theater anymore. Seeing films in the theater used to be such a big part of my life. There are fewer theaters now and I live farther from them than I used to but I can’t entirely blame that. The problem must lie in the fact that my urge to see something as soon as possible has completely evaporated along with my concept of time. It doesn’t help that the last few movies that I dragged myself out to see underwhelmed, that the picture quality on my TV screen is possibly superior to that at the local theater, that I’ve grown to have zero patience with people and their cell phones and that at this point for the price of one movie ticket I could buy about ten used DVDs.
I bring this glum state of affairs up because I just watched THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN on Netflix Streaming and ironically, it is the type of movie that I would have actually left my house to go see if given the chance and, more remarkably, I’m convinced that I would have left the theater happy for a change. Oh well. Nobody should really court me as an audience attendee anyway because I come alone, I’ll never spend money on popcorn and am likely to smuggle in beverages.
It would be difficult for me not to like TTTDS because it operates more like a classic slasher than even some classic slashers. You can point out many a cliché or trope if you so desire but to me pointing out a cliché in a slasher movie is like pointing out mustard on a hot dog. Mustard is why I’m eating this thing. What makes this one a cut above what you might expect is the filmmaker’s relish (ha, sorry) for atmosphere and the establishment of setting. The horror here belongs to an entire town rather than a cursed few and you get the feeling that the town’s dark past is as much a source of pride and excitement as it is a source of fear. The film’s title is taken seriously and when night falls you really do get the sense that there is something dangerous lurking in the darkness. A playing board is created where the past itself is the enemy and nowhere feels safe.
The folks we encounter are the type you’d expect but there’s a bounty of exceptional character actors on hand (VERONICA CARTWRIGHT, GARY COLE and the late EDWARD HERRMANN particularly) to make sure they stick. The cast in general comes across as real and grounded rather than the glossy model types that inhabit the usual modern revisit to seventies horror fare.
It has to be said that there is a semi-major fumble near the end of the film involving the identity of the threat. It’s not so much terrible as it is inappropriate and a betrayal of the mystery created. Luckily the foul up is late in the game and not toxic enough to unravel what’s come before. That trip-up aside, TTDS has some beautifully done stalking set pieces, loads of convincing nighttime atmosphere, an intimidating killer and a fascinating interest in memorabilia both morbid and cinematic. Plus it goes politely out of its way to honor, crystalize and not step on the toes of the original and simply offers itself as a humble companion piece that just might surpass the film it spawned from if you look at it in the right light. Check it out. It might not be a hit out the ballpark for everyone but for me it really hit the spot.