Cinema Knife Fight: PROM NIGHT (2008)
By Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares
(Note: this one has been an inside joke for awhile now. This was one of those instances where we had completely different reactions to a movie. Michael liked it a lot, and I thought it was the worst movie of 2008. I constantly bring this one up to show how Michael has no taste. Here’s where it all began…LS)
(SCENE – in black and white: A large white limo with blackened windows pulls up in front of a fancy hotel. Out pop L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA, both sporting long hair and 70s disco-style tuxedos. They escort their beautiful prom dates from the limo. MA smiles and reveals shiny silver braces. LS smiles and picks a human ear from between his teeth. “Freeze Frame” by the J.Geils Band plays in the background.)
LS (voiceover): Ah, the high school prom. What memories!
(Suddenly the film stops and a hole burns through it as it’s eaten by the projector.)
MA: What a horror show, you mean! Yep, we were both in high school when the original PROM NIGHT came out, back in 1980.
LS: But today, in 2008, we’re too old geezers reduced to being chaperones.
(The black and white flashback gives way to color reality, and MA and LS morph into their present day forms, now inside a hotel ballroom converted into a high school prom, with streamers and balloons and a DJ playing music. Strobe lights dance off a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling. Kids are dancing. )
MA: Why don’t you tell everyone about our movie this week.
LS (puts a horn in his ear): What? I can’t hear you over this loud disco music.
MA: Why don’t you tell everyone about PROM NIGHT!
LS: Do I have to? Oh well, I guess that’s why we’re here, huh?
Have you ever sat through a movie and thought about the price of film and how it was being wasted? Well, that’s how I felt sitting through the remake of PROM NIGHT.
To prepare for this film, I checked out the DVD of the original PROM NIGHT from 1980. I’d actually missed it the first time around. This was one of the endless rip-offs that came out after John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN became a hit in 1978, and frankly I avoided these slasher wannabe films as much as I could back then. I mean, it seemed like every holiday and life event got its own slasher in those days.
In the original, there was at least some mystery about who the killer was. It began with four kids playing hide and seek (they call it “Killer”) in an abandoned house and a girl who wants to be a part of the game. Instead of letting her join in, they scare her and “accidentally” force her to fall out of a window. However, someone is watching. Someone who wants revenge six years later, on…Prom Night!. (Cue eerie music)
Then it goes to six years later where Jamie Lee Curtis (still a hot commodity after HALLOWEEN) is the sister of the girl who died, and is going to be crowned prom queen. Before that, though, there’s a lot of disco dancing and a killer in a ski mask starts knocking off the now-teenage kids who were responsible for the little girl’s death in the beginning.
It’s not a great film by any stretch. It’s not even a particularly good film.
MA: Just say it- the original PROM NIGHT sucked.
LS: Yep, like I said, it was just a chance to cash in on the popularity of movies like HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH. There’s even a deranged (and disfigured) sex offender (who we never really see) who was charged with the girl’s murder and who just escaped from a mental hospital – and who may or may not be the killer on prom night. At least there’s a sense of mystery to it, and there’s somewhat of a surprise at the end, when we find out who the killer is.
There is no mystery in the remake at all.
In the new one, a teacher who has an obsession with a student kills her mother in front of her, is locked up, and escapes six years later. There is no mystery as to who did the killing then and who’s doing the killing now. The only question is how many people he’ll kill, and how long it will take the inept cops to catch him. Oh yeah, and it’s prom night. That’s the entire plot.
The characters are conveniently dumb and constantly make choices that put them in harm’s way. Nothing that happens is done for logic’s sake – it’s done to move this stupid story forward.
Brittany Snow, as the girl the killer is after, is likable enough but she didn’t exactly dazzle me with her acting chops. And Johnathon Schaech, as the psycho, is a one-note character. He’s intense and dangerous-looking all the time, and has no ability to seem normal or blend into a crowd. He sticks out like a sore thumb, and is creepy and crazy right from the start. The fact that nobody’s radar seems to notice that this guy is extremely “off” (especially the cops), just didn’t seem believable.
By the way, Michael, does that guy looks like he belongs here?
(LS points to the dance floor where a large man in farmer jeans, who is covered in blood and holding a butcher knife, is jumping around.)
MA: He’s probably just one of the teachers.
LS: Oh. And this movie has way too many false scares, to the point of absurdity (at one point Brittany Snow turns around and bumps into a lamp, and that’s supposed to make us jump!), no real suspense, and a killer who’s pretty much a cardboard cut-out. In fact all of the characters might as well be made of paper. The only one I felt sorry for was Scott Porter, an actor who is so good in the TV show FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, and who is given nothing to work with here. His character stinks too.
MA: While I agree with you about the false scares and the cardboard killer, I disagree with the way you dismiss this movie. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I actually liked this movie. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many bad low budget horror movies lately, I don’t know, but I found several redeeming qualities about PROM NIGHT, the remake.
LS (pulls out a butterfly net): That’s it. You’ve finally lost your mind.
MA: Well, it’s true that I’ve been sick the past few weeks with a high fever, so I guess brain damage is a possibility.
LS (with a wide grin and holding a hacksaw): Let’s find out!
MA (darting away from a swinging saw): I thought the acting was very good. Unlike you, I liked Brittany Snow’s performance. Not only her, but all of the actors playing high school students I thought did a really good job. Their reactions were real, and I appreciated the genuineness of their characters. There’s a scene where one of the characters reacts to the news that his friend is dead, and he says, “What did you say?” It really conveys the feeling that he can’t believe his friend could be dead. It’s a true moment that works.
LS: What did you say?
MA:I also enjoyed Idris Elba as police detective Winn, who was on the case. I thought he delivered an impassioned performance.
LS: Yes, he’s the most impassioned block of wood I’ve ever seen! I must admit though, it’s not Elba’s fault. He’s actually a good actor with better material. He was in HBO’s excellent show THE WIRE. It’s funny how this movie took at least two good actors and sapped them of any talent. It’s almost as if this film was made by pod people.
MA: Well, I think he’s a good actor even without good material, as was the case in this movie. You can’t say the acting was good in the original film. The acting in that one was horrible.
LS: I don’t know. I laughed a lot when I was watching the original. The character of Slick, an overweight nerd in a van who actually gets chicks, was pretty entertaining. There’s nobody even slightly interesting here.
MA: I thought the students were all interesting. Even though I thought the plot boring, I cared enough about the characters so that towards the end, I felt genuine suspense. This film played more like a crime drama than a horror film, but it was still entertaining. Had they really wanted to make a terrifying horror film, they should have had the psycho abduct Brittany Snow’s character immediately. Imagine the terror of being stuck with that lunatic for a time? Now that would have been scary.
LS: (turns around and bumps into a lamp. Scary music plays) Oops! Are you sure we saw the same movie? Maybe I wandered into the wrong theater. I can’t believe you liked this one!
MA: I find it hard to believe as well, but really, the bottom line for me was that the actors and the director took this dumb and predictable story and they made it believable, and as a result, they made it work.
LS: The fact that this is a PG-13 movie didn’t help. It’s sanitized for our protection – and obviously dumbed down, too.
MA: You know, I don’t think a PG-13 rating is necessarily a bad thing for a horror movie. To me, it gives the filmmaker the opportunity to craft a horror film without excessive blood and gore, which I don’t think is needed for a movie to be scary. That being said, the gore in PROM NIGHT was exceedingly wimpy, I thought.
LS: Some kids who were sitting near me in the theater, who looked around 12 years old (no doubt the target audience for these lame PG-13 horror movies) kept saying “that’s stupid” when certain plot points unraveled. Even they could tell how lame this movie was. But don’t go thinking that there’s hope for future generations just yet, because these same kids also clapped at the end of the movie.
MA: I thought this version of PROM NIGHT presented high school students in a realistic way. I would expect present day high school students to really enjoy this film.
LS: I hope you’re wrong and they see this for the garbage it is. HANNAH MONTANA is more realistic than this! You missed THE RUINS last week, but that one had much better acting and more believable characters. After that, PROM NIGHT is pretty laughable. Or it would be, if it wasn’t so boring.
It’s also a totally blown opportunity. If there’s ever a chance to prove yourself as a filmmaker, it’s when you get an awful movie and have the chance to remake it. You’d think that all you can go is up. But director Nelson McCormick totally fumbles the ball here. This movie is worse than the original PROM NIGHT. Quite a feat, actually.
MA: I completely disagree. Director Nelson McCormick doesn’t fumble the ball at all. It was apparent to me that great care was taken in the making of this movie, from the way it looks, to the performances of the actors, to the sincerity and care that went into crafting this story. Director McCormick should be commended for his efforts. He took C material and turned it into a B+ movie. And I think this remake is much, much better than the Jamie Lee Curtis original. That movie was a forced piece of cinema, as you said, made to take advantage of the slasher craze. Very little in that film rang true for me.
LS: I thought the original was so dated and goofy that it had a campy “so bad it’s good” quality in some scenes. But the remake was just plain BAD.
If this movie spawns a whole new wave of bad slasher movies, it can only hurt the horror genre, just as much as the glut of bad slasher movies in the 1980s made horror into a joke. Movies like this can make a critic feel bad about saying anything negative about movies like Rob Zombie’s remake of HALLOWEEN or even ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. Compared to PROM NIGHT, these movies are masterpieces.
MA: I don’t think I’d ever call Zombie’s HALLOWEEN a masterpiece. PROM NIGHT is better. It doesn’t cheat its audience.
(Uncontrollable laughter from LS)
LS: Hey, I felt cheated! And despite its flaws at least Zombie’s HALLOWEEN had some memorable scenes, even if it fell apart at the end. I’d rather watch the Big Joe Grizzly scene 100 times than be forced to watch PROM NIGHT again.
MA: Don’t get me wrong. PROM NIGHT is not a great movie. I would have liked it a helluva lot better had it done a better job at fleshing out its villain. But it is a good movie, and I recommend it. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that in a few years from now, people may be talking about this film as an even better film than I’m giving it credit for. I think it will age well.
LS:(laughs): We’re not even close to agreeing on this one. I actually felt like my ten dollars had been stolen. I left this movie feeling like a mugging victim, and wondered if I should call the cops. In no universe is this movie worth a full ticket price. Hell, even a rental fee is too much. If I can do anything for the sake of our readers, I’d just like to say, don’t waste your time on this crap. Watch something else. If you’re in the mood for a prom-themed horror movie, rent Brian DePalma’s CARRIE. At least that has some genuine scares and real acting. But please, please do not give the people who made this movie your hard- earned money.
MA: On the contrary, go out and see PROM NIGHT. Support a film that was obviously made by a team that possessed talent and cared for its subject matter. Such an effort should be rewarded.
(LS looks at MA and smiles. Then he pukes into the punch bowl).
MA (frowning): On that note, good night. Punch, anyone?
(FADE TO BLACK)
(Originally published on Fear Zone on 4/15/08)
© Copyright 2008 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares