The Town That Dreaded Sundown (and five other horror movies that deserve a remake)
When is a sequel not a sequel? Or, if you prefer, when is a remake not a remake? No, these are not the opening setup lines for bad jokes, there is in fact a third option. Its name? That would be the 'meta-sequel', of course, and if you're a fan of low budget 70s horror movies then there's one headed right in your direction.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which arrives in stores on Monday (August 17th), is based on Charles B. Pierce's 1976 film of the same name, which in turn is loosely based on a series of real life murders committed by an unknown masked assailant in the sleepy town of Texakarna, Arkansas in the late 1940s, all of which remain unsolved as the killer was never caught.
So what's all this meta-sequel business? Well, although the new film directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon does loosely follow the storyline of the original, the events of the new version take place in the present day, 66 years after the original murders. Confused? Right, let's start from the beginning...
The film begins in Texarkana on Halloween with two teenagers, Jami and Corey (Addison Timlin and Spencer Treat Clark), watching the annual screening of the original 1976 film about the murders in their town at the local drive-in. Jami isn't a fan of the film, so Corey takes her to a local make-out spot near a forest, but before the pair have a chance to get intimate a masked man – dressed exactly like the killer in the film – emerges from the darkness, smashing the window and dragging Corey out of the car before killing him.
Jami tries to run but she is caught and fears she too will be killed, but the killer instead gives her a message: “I'm going to do it again and again until you make them remember.”
More murders begin happening, all following the same modus operandi as the original killer – known, by the way, simply as The Phantom. Enter Texas Ranger 'Lone Wolf' Morales (Anthony Anderson), who is sent in to investigate, but is this just a copycat killer? Or is there something more sinister and supernatural afoot?
You have to hand it to them – Gomez-Rejon's film does make for an interesting alternative to the straightforward remake and the film is as much a homage to the slasher flicks of the 1970s as it is to any one film in particular, but even on a modest budget the film manages to conjure a terrifyingly tense atmosphere and the cast, while not packed with big names, puts in an impressive ensemble performance. If you enjoyed movies like Jeepers Creepers or The Mothman Prophecies then this is well worth seeking out.
You can find the trailer for the new version of The Town That Dreaded Sundown below, underneath we've picked five other low-budget horrors from the 70s and 80s that we think deserve another turn on the big screen. (You can also find the original versions on our online store by following the pink links...)
Our first selection is a poignant one as it stars the recently departed wrestler-turned-actor 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper, who sadly died two weeks ago at the age of just 52. While he'll always be remembered most fondly for his antics in the ring, John Carpenter's 1988 horror film sees the ex-grappler putting in one of his best acting performances as a nameless drifter (referred to as 'John Nada' in the credits) who notices some strange activity going on around the church next to his local soup kitchen.
He decides to investigate and discovers that the church is filled with scientific equipment, finding a box filled with sunglasses. He decides to take a pair for himself, but discovers that wearing them allows him to see the world as it really is – and it isn't a pretty sight. To his horror, he finds that the human race has been infiltrated and brainwashed by an alien race living among us, who constantly broadcast signals through television, radio and advertising to keep us 'asleep'. Part horror, part conspiracy theory yarn, They Live wasn't one of John Carpenter's biggest hits, but it has become a cult classic and includes Piper delivering one of the best lines of any 80s film: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum.”
The first version of this film was released as a silent movie in the 1930s but a 'talkie' version appeared in 1971 and has an impressive cast that includes the legendary Vincent Price as the titular physician. A scientist, organist and biblical scholar, Dr. Anton Phibes (pronounced to rhyme with 'vibes') is a formidable force in the medical profession, but when his wife dies as the result of a botched operation Phibes sets out to take revenge on the nine doctors he holds responsible for her death.
Dr. Phibes uses some unorthodox methods of killing his victims, basing each killing on one of the nine biblical plagues. The result is a bizarre series of deaths caused by bees,bats and killer frog masks, among many other weird and diabolical methods. Still regarded as something of a classic, Rober Fuest's film has enough about its storyline to warrant a remake and we'd love to see how a modern version could turn out with today's advancements in special effects.
Based on the H.P Lovecraft story of the same name, 1985 film Re-Animator was directed by Stuart Gordon and stars Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, a talented but deeply disturbed medical student who devises a way to inject dead animals with a serum that brings them back to life by re-animating dead tissue cells.
Concerned by his over-zealous attitude to experimental techniques, West is thrown out of medical school by his tutor, Dr, Hans Gruber, but West isn't deterred and breaks into the lab to begin the next stage of his re-animating project: testing the serum on humans. And who does he pick as his first test subject? That's right, lucky old Dr. Gruber...
Along with the likes of John Carpenter and George A. Romero, Italian director Dario Argento is considered one of the masters of the horror genre and his films from the 1970s are beautifully shot and uniquely disturbing, playing with the psychology of their audiences instead of relying on cheap jump thrills.
Of all his many great films released during the 70s and 80s, Suspiria is probably his best, possibly even his masterpiece. To explain to much about the film's complex plot would be to ruin the experience, but it is intense, cerebral and nightmarish stuff and if you're a fan of that era of Italian films then you'll find that this is one of the best of the lot. A rumoured remake helmed by Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green appeared to hit the skids as the director struggled to find backers for a new version, but whether or not he is the right director to take on the project, we think it's about time somebody did.
Our final pick is a much-underrated film from Peter Medak, the man behind films like The Krays and the 1998 sci-fi horror Species. Not to be confused with Angelina Jolie's 2008 film, The Changeling stars George C. Scott as grief-stricken composer John Russell, who rents a historical mansion house when he can't face returning home after his wife and children are killed in a car accident. No sooner has he moved in that strange things begin to happen and he believes that the house may be haunted.
He discovers that the troubled spirit lurking in his new house may belong to the deceased child of a US Senator (Melvyn Douglas), whose death was covered up by replacing the newborn child with a 'changeling' or substitute, who has been living as the senator's son ever since. When he tries to inform the senator, however, his advances are less than welcome.
Scott puts in a terrific performance and Medak's film adds a political dimension to the standard 'haunted house' narrative and it really must rank as one of the most overlooked films of its era. With a proper budget and a half-decent cast, a remake of this could really earn the recognition it deserves.