The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Town_that_dreaded_sundownIn Slumber Party Massacre II we had an electrical guitar with a drill attached to it. Now, we can add a horn section to our murder band in The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), which features a trombone knife. Holy In-N-Out Burgers, we didn’t see that one coming.

In a post-war post-Roosevelt South, a town that straddles the Texas / Arkansas border, Texarkana, is plagued by a lascivious lunatic lacerating lads and ladies on Lovers’ Lane. The masked killer is quickly dubbed “The Phantom,” cops order a media clampdown and the town becomes the centre of a national news firestorm.

In true police procedural style, which we can trace like chalk outlines all the way to today in a show like Criminal Minds, one Captain Morales is brought in from The Big City to take over the investigation from townie rubes the likes of which would usually proclaim “dem Duke boys are in a lot of trouble!” in Hazzard county, a couple of states over. What we’re left with is a film that’s as undeniably creepy as it is campy, complete with portentous Dragnet voice-overs (“Western Union stopped evening deliveries!” “townsfolk stopped sitting by their windows!”), banjo music and police chases where the cops end up to their waists in muck.

Town_that_Dreaded_Sundown_PosterAnd, we’re treated to the helpful intonations from local prison psychiatrist Dr. Kress (whose awkward restaurant entrance is preceded by “oh, there he is now!”).

These include [the Phantom]: “he’s definitely a sadist…”he’s abnormal!” and to Captain Morales:

“I guess you realize the odds are at least 2 to 1 against you that he’ll never be caught” (?)

Have no fear, Morales, played by Ben Johnson, not to be confused with the disgraced Canadian Olympic sprinter — an honest mistake — is on the case (“that murdering pervert could be passing us on the street ten times a day!”).

The Phantom is the antecessor to the likes of Messrs.’ Voorhees, Myers, etc. But unlike some of his later 80s brethren, his kills are all unique and his MO different every time. We’ve got cords, bare hands, pick-axes, pistols with silencers, pipes and yes, a trombone knife.

Let’s just say the film was very very loosely based on the actual phantom killer murders from 1946. A Texarkana journalist and University of Oklahoma professor Dr. Robert Kerr, said of the “dreadful little horror,” “poetic license has rarely been stretched so thin.”

That’s why we got a brass band murder weapon when in actuality, the victim played the saxophone, which went missing for months following the killing.

Still, the film is deeply atmospheric, rich and a minor classic from the era. And like all minor classics, The Town That Dreaded Sundown was remade.

*** 1/2 (out of 5…**** for its undeniable influence)

The Last Showing

LAST_SHOWINGThe holy trinity of movie slashers is Freddy, Jason and Leatherface. Each has its own merits, but there is one distinction that Freddy holds over the others and that is he was always played by the same actor: Robert Englund (sorry Jackie Earle Haley, the godawful Nightmare remake does not exist in our world.) Englund is a classically-trained actor who has done both Chekhov and Shakespeare, but he will forever be synonymous with the slasher from Springwood.

Since leaving Elm.St. behind, Englund has traded on his horror persona by appearing in a number of enjoyable indie-horror flicks including Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, and his latest, The Last Showing. When one of us had the pleasure of meeting Englund at this summer’s Fan Expo in Toronto, he expressed how proud he was of the film. And with good reason. The Last Showing is a taut, well-acted little film, and Englund is fantastic in it.

England cuts an unimposing figure as Stuart, a bespectacled, mustachioed, slightly-pudgy film-projectionist with a fondness for cardigans. Stuart has worked as a projectionist for over 25 years and actually gives a sh*t about things such as “plot”, “suspense” and “aspect ratio”. But Stuart is an aging man in a young man’s world. His smug boss, who feels that Stuart is a “relic from a bygone era” wants him out of the projection room STAT and behind the concession counter where he’s to pimp overpriced combos to the punters and shovel popcorn while dressed as a yellow Good Humor Man.

englund_the_last_showingLike Aretha, Stuart just wants a little respect. But he’s not given any. He may seem like a nice guy on the surface but he’s seething on the inside. His milquetoast façade belies the pent-up rage bubbling just under the surface, ready to spill out. And spill out it shall.

Sounds like the makings of a slasher, doesn’t it? It wouldn’t be surprising if Stuart went on a slice and dice spree Freddy style, but The Last Showing is much more clever than that. Stuart shall have his revenge but it will be on his terms.

Cut to an attractive young couple, Martin and Allie. Allie has tickets to a midnight showing of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (Meta!). Martin is reticent but they go anyway. At this point, the film requires a bit of a leap of logic as, save for the employees, they are the only other individuals in the entire cinema. Of course, this could be excused because it’s a showing of the execrable THHE2.

Without knowing it, Martin and Allie are to become unwilling participants in a horror film written and directed by Stuart. Allie is drugged, bound and gagged and Martin and Stuart are locked in a cat-and mouse game where Stuart always has the upper hand: “My Film, my rules.” When Martin pleads “Why me?”, Stuart coldly responds “Why not?”

The-Last-Showing-Banner-600x240Stuart plays his hand perfectly, his machinations and plotting always perfect. Before long, Allie is his ally and Martin becomes “the villain.”

Englund again needs to be singled out for praise. His Stuart is understated yet menacing, proving that the actor can be just as terrifying without the glove, sweater and pepperoni-pizza makeup. He even affects an entirely convincing British accent, appropriate as the film is set in Manchester. Many an actor has attempted to sound as if they hail from the land of beer, football and bad weather and failed miserably (looking at you, Kevin Costner and Keanu Reeves!)

The Last Showing is decent enough.

*** (out of 5)