Prom Night (2008)

Prom Night 2008Synopsis: Her Nightmare Has Just Begun.

Three years ago, Donna (Brittany Snow, John Tucker Must Die) watched in horror as an obsessed predator (Johnathon Schaech, That Thing You Do!) murdered her family. Tonight is her senior prom and although she’s anxious about the past, she’s excited to celebrate her future with her friends. What Donna doesn’t know is that the deranged psychopath has escaped from the asylum. He’s returned to hunt her down, intent on killing anyone who gets in his way. As the night races towards its heart-pounding conclusion, the question becomes not who will be prom queen, but who will survive the killer’s rampage.

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Prom Night (2008) 5.25

eyelights: its promising setting. its effective score. it’s completely unrelated to the franchise.
eyesores: its trite delivery. its vacuousness. it’s completely unrelated to the franchise.

“I did this for us.”

2008’s ‘Prom Night’ is marketed as a remake (or re-imagining, as they prefer to say) of 1980’s cult classic ‘Prom Night‘. It’s basically your standard issue psycho stalker/slasher picture – except that it was released in cinemas in a PG-13 cut, for whatever reason. On home video, it was released in a so-called “unrated” cut. In truth, the differences are marginal.

Unlike its predecessor, this movie revolves around a student who is haunted by the slaughter of her whole family by an obsessed teacher three years ago. Tonight is the prom, and she and her friends are getting all prepped up for the big night, which is taking place in a  massive hotel. But little does she know that her stalker has escaped his prison and is on his way back to her.

Unlike its predecessors, this movie is not a canucksploitation film: it’s not even a Canadian production, nor was it filmed in Canada. Unlike its predecessors, this movie has no connection with franchise producer Peter R. Simpson. Unlike its predecessors, this movie doesn’t feature the music of Paul Zaza; in his stead is the equally-skilled Paul Haslinger, a good choice.

I mean, the picture doesn’t even feature the lines “It’s not who you go with, it’s who takes you home”! At the very least, instead of the publicity tagline “A night to die for”, they could have marketed it with “It’s not who you go with, it’s who follows you home”. Alas, this ‘Prom Night’ is so vastly different from the original that even the characters’ names aren’t the same.

So, what in the world does it have in common with the original, exactly? Well, there’s the title, for starters. And… um… it takes place on a prom night. And… um… okay, okay… I give up! There’s absolutely nothing at all in common with the original film. NOTHING. You can’t even call it a remake OR a re-imagining, because that suggests re-using the original ideas.

Ironically, it does re-use ideas: other pictures’ ideas (i.e. almost all of the conventions of the slasher genre). It has a crazy stalker killing teenagers and anyone who gets in his way. The killer and the primary victim have a history together. The setting is a relatively small space, allowing the killer to prowl about with ease, and creating a sense of claustrophobia.

Amusingly enough, this ‘Prom Night’ was produced by a company called “Original Film”, so the first thing you see is “An Original Film”. Which it isn’t. Not one bit. What a lost opportunity! If you’re going to surprise the audience with an entirely different story, tossing their expectations out the window, then you might as well go for broke and get creative.

Well, I suppose that creativity is too much to ask for from a genre that is all convention. Most people who watch slashers want to see people get killed: everything else is secondary (Oh, and they want to see boobies. In this respect, they’re going be terribly disappointed). So the only way to be creative is in the way you set up the kills, really. And the plot twists.

But this ‘Prom Night’ is creative on neither count. I mean, director Nelson McCormick tried his best to postpone each kill in order to build tension, but every time the killer is near one of the victims, you knew someone was going to die. Not the killer. McCormick never built the tension and then let the victims go off unawares, sowing doubt in our minds. Nope. Killer = death.

The filmmakers made two huge errors (that is inherent to the genre, really): we know that Donna, our protagonist, isn’t going to die right from the start, so building tension around her is pointless; we know she isn’t in any danger until the end. Similarly, we know that the killer isn’t at risk of getting caught, so why bother giving him so-called “close calls”? It’s stupid.

This is why ‘Scream’ was so brilliant when it came out (well over a decade prior, I might add): the filmmakers understood the genre conventions and tossed them all on their ear. They killed off the person we thought was the protagonist right from the start, they showed the vulnerability of the killer at every turn, and they gave us plenty of red herrings – some real, some not.

And that’s why it was it was successful and this ‘Prom Night’ isn’t.

As for ‘Prom Night’ plot twists? There really aren’t any, unless you consider the killer finding ways to escape his prison and police scrutiny at every turn to be twists. To me, those were contrivances: there’s no way that he could have done that – especially not in the way that the film (did I say “film”? I meant “movie”) purports. If it were that easy, he would have escaped earlier.

At the very least, I expected the killer’s escape to be a red herring. We knew that Donna had stopped taking her medication, and I thought that this would play into the plot: maybe she would be imagining things, or maybe she would be a little psycho herself. Or maybe someone else in her midst would be a little nutty and lose their shit altogether on prom night. Anything, but this!

Well, one look at McCormick and writer J.S. Cardone’s pedigree explains why this was superficial tripe.

The worst thing is that there were small attempts at giving it depth: the teenagers have a couple of short conversations about their future plans, and how the prom is supposed to be a celebration but it’s also a farewell of sorts – which is kind of sad. They also put into question the inherent value of the prom, with a couple of the guys challenging their girlfriends on it.

But it’s too short to really sustain the whole picture, especially since the movie shows the prom as a night of utterly disgusting extravagance. It’s gotten so out of hand that the kids are all renting limousines or sports cars, they’re somehow rented a five-star hotel. It’s so ridiculous that they have people watching on the sidelines as they walk into the prom – as though they were celebrities.

Gross.

I don’t know when our society crossed that line between celebration, which is totally contextually appropriate, and mind-boggling wastefulness, but it alarms me to think of people can look at this and not question it. Who’s paying for this? Not the kids, that’s for sure. And if they are, isn’t it distressing that their hard-earned money is squandered this way when they have so little of it?

I’d hate to be a parent in this day and age, what with the seemingly blanket sense of entitlement that we’re seeing in our society these days, the impression that money grows on trees and that no price is too high to pay. Debt is rising at alarming rates as we’re spending money we don’t have and, meanwhile, people around the world are living in poverty the likes we can’t fathom.

A prom. A wedding. A birthday. What’s the difference? It’s all self-worth entirely rooted on how much is being spent. Yuck.

Anyway, aside from despair and disgust, the film left me with a few key questions (warning: spoilers) (but who cares):

  •  How did this guy escape in the first place? Oh, sure, we’re shown a flash of what happened, but surely there’s more to it than just going through the vents? And why was there blood in the hotel vent (alerting the clueless police) if he’s not covered in blood?
  • How did the killer know that Donna would be at the prom that night and where the prom was being held? And how is it that he coincidentally happened to be checking in when Donna’s floor was discussed? (How convenient…)
  • How come there was no one but the killer and Donna and her friends on the third floor? Were there no other guests?
  • How could the killer stab everyone violently and not get any blood on his hands and clothes. From start to finish, his clothes are neat and his shirt is firmly pressed. Ooh, but the collar is unbuttoned. And he’s got massive stubble. Watch out: killer!
  • How could the killer hide the bodies so effortlessly and/or leave no trace of his murders? Oh, sure there was barely any blood, despite the violence, but there was always someone around when he needed to hide his evil deeds. How did he do it?
  • How did the killer get around? Unlike Jason, he can’t teleport (oh, Jason can’t either?), so how did he make his way back and forth between the floors without being seen or attracting attention? I mean, he’s totally out of place and looks pretty creepy…
  • How can this guy be so incredibly strong that he can bash down a braced hotel room door if he’d been in captivity for three years? He’s not built for it, so “weightlifting” isn’t the answer.
  • How can a trained cop, at 10 feet, miss all the killer’s vital organs when shooting at him? Was he told to keep him alive for the sequel? Too bad, because it never happened, so they might as well have just killed him outright – and made the cop look competent in the process.
  • How does a movie showing a psycho stalker murdering a bunch of people ever get into cinemas with a PG rating? Even if there isn’t any blood, the violence is there anyway. Is showing such violence to children acceptable entertainment now?

Look, I make it sound like it’s the worst film on earth. It isn’t. But it’s nothing special at all. If this were the first slasher picture, if it were an innovator, then it might pass. But it’s warmed up leftovers, and it doesn’t even have the courtesy of throwing fans of the original a few nods to tickle us knowingly. There’s really nothing to recommend it.

For all its cheesiness, the original at least had a few things going for it. And, despite its low-budget nature, at least its sequel didn’t take itself so seriously. Unfortunately, this ‘Prom Night’ purports to serve a modern rendition of the same theme, to better serve more sophisticated audiences, but it can’t even be bothered to do it intelligently.

So why bother? Nah… this ‘Prom Night’ is not to die for.

Date of viewing: April 30, 2014

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