I'm about ten minutes away from the end of the remake of Prom Night, and all I can say is that it's disappointing so far. Time and time again, these horror movies never cease to amaze me; after all, shouldn't it be incredibly easy to make an entertaining movie about teenage girls in prom dresses getting hacked to pieces?
Prom Night stars beautiful Brittany Snow as Donna Keppel, who, when younger, watched her family get butchered by a sadistic killer. Years later, on her prom night, the man escapes and comes after Donna, obsessed with having her all to himself. The hotel where the prom is being held becomes a killing ground as her friends and hotel staff get picked off one by one by the relentless murderer.
It's a story that should work, remake or not. Put a bunch of attractive girls in prom dresses, have a few of them get out of their prom dresses, slap an R rating on the pic with some quality sex, nudity and gore, and you have yourself a decent thriller. Throw in a disturbing, obsessive killer and there you go. Director Nelson McCormick takes things another direction. While not all the blame can fall on him - the PG-13 rating was certainly the studio's doing, and some of the plot points are the fault of the writer - he is, ultimately, the captain, and the captain is responsible for the actions of his crew. Prom Night is about as PG as horror movies get; aside from a few stabbing and gutting sounds, the amount of gore is minimal at best. As expected, the use of sex and nudity is strictly forbidden, leaving the characters to do rather boring stuff like dance a little bit, go up to their hotel rooms to check on their friends, and get attacked.
Prom Night isn't nearly as dreadful as I was expecting, but that may just be due to low expectations. Still, it lacks the excitement and edge this movie could have so easily attained. There are a few plot points that really kill the film, some picky and some not-so-much. For starters, the main characters keep going up to their rooms and back down again; while I'm sure the allure of getting up to the room as fast as one can would be on many teenagers' minds (whose bright idea was it to have a high school prom in a hotel, anyway?), the fact that the characters come and leave from the prom is a bit odd, and seems merely an avenue to get people killed in uninteresting ways. Specifically, why would a prom queen nominee head up to fool around with her boyfriend shortly before the king and queen are announced? Beyond that, the police strategy is just lame. While I give writer J.S. Cardone credit for attempting to intertwine a believable police response into the story, he just isn't that good at it. As soon as the police realize that the killer is indeed within the hotel, wouldn't they pull Donna to safety? And when they do decide to extract her, what do they do? They pull the fire alarm (couldn't they just ask the hotel to turn it on?) before they even locate Donna. Other little things, like the fact that Donna decides to go up to get her mother's shawl from the room - via an elevator that in the real world would not be functioning - after the fire alarm went off, are a bit weird.
What really hurts the movie is the final act, where McCormick and Cardone take us away from the hotel, the prom dresses and everything else to Donna's house, where standard horror cliches ensue. The cops protecting the house do little, but what's worse is that the entire premise of "prom night" is lost once the characters "calm down," dress down and try to go to sleep. Oh, and I hate dream sequences, and McCormick is so lacking originality that he decides to use several to have "scary" moments when none really exist.
The actors do a good enough job for what they've been given. Snow looks great, and the rest of the cast is pretty and likable. Unfortunately, the movie isn't scary and lacks a truly threatening villain. Johnathon Schaech has the look, but whether due to the writing or acting capabilities, he comes off as rather boring villain. Had another ten minutes been added to the opening sequence (and had it not been a dream sequence), McCormick could have really established the killer as a truly disturbed guy. His obsession and jealousy is never exuded in the right way, and it would have been nice to see more interaction between him and Donna. Even though the two never had a real relationship, it would have been interesting to see things from the killer's point of view, on a psychological level.
Prom Night is watchable, but it lacks the scares and originality to make it anything more than a mediocre slasher flick. A different director and screenwriter could have taken advantage of the available resources to a much greater result.
Review by Robert Bell (D-)
Bring out the taffeta, corsets, sequins, corsages and underage drinking; it's time for prom! Acting as a cultural tradition of tacky dresses, broken cherries and lonely fat girls who don't get asked, the prom defines so much of what is wrong with Western culture. Teenagers learn to spend ridiculous amounts of money on formalwear, hotel rooms and gaudy limousines, while desperately seeking the approval of their sycophantic peers. It ushers in adulthood with gusto, defining the shallow surface-based world we live in that encourages underweight 17-year-old girls to shove their fingers down their throat to expel the handful of peanuts they had for lunch. One can only hope that they will be voted the prom king or queen, winning the popularity contest of false sincerity.
Prom Night dispels no myths about the glitzy debacle, featuring brain-dead teens babbling about menstrual cramps and who they intend to fornicate with, all while smiling blankly with perfectly glossed lips and soulless eyes. The purpose of the film is essentially to stage sequences of inevitable slaughter for each camera friendly vixen, but fails at even this simple task. The scares are about as innovative and clever as a black cat unexpectedly jumping out of a closet, and character logic is almost indecipherable. This is PG-13 horror at its crappiest; a movie best viewed while drunk.
Coming home one night, teenaged Donna (Brittany Snow) arrives to a quiet and suspect house. Upon finding the dead body of her younger brother, she decides to hide under a bed, where she watches her mother get stabbed to death by creepy stalker (Johnathon Schaech).
Several years later, Donna is seen living a relatively normal teen life, save some occasional mental anguish and a need to pop pills. Coming up on prom, Donna has picked out the perfect champagne-coloured prom dress and is totally stoked to take a limo with her sassy, sexually liberated best friend Lisa (Dana Davis) and their bitchy cohort Claire (Jessica Stroup). Their concerns are mixed: Claire struggles with PMS and her relationship with Michael (Kelly Blatz), while Lisa wants only to be prom queen and to shag her dreamboat boyfriend Collins (Ronnie Heflin), and Donna is like totally upset that high school is almost over, but manages to overlook this while making out with her 40-year-old date, Bobby (Scott Porter). The gang gradually disappears up to various hotel rooms for random bizarre reasons, only to be slaughtered one by one.
Aforementioned slaughters are a bit of a problem in Prom Night. Each kill is similar, as characters find themselves alone and hearing a suspicious noise, only to have the wild-eyed Schaech jump out from a corner to strangle or stab them. Keep in mind that there are never stab wounds after said stabbings, and that the strangling is often shown in inadvertently amusing close-up (especially in the case of a particular male hotel employee). There is absolutely no tension or creativity demonstrated in this capacity, leaving one to wonder why they're even viewing the film.
In addition, characters regularly make weird and unexplained decisions. As the hotel is being evacuated, Donna decides to take a quick run up to her room to grab a clothing accessory. It's just such a bizarre decision for a psychologically scarred teenaged girl to make given the circumstances. This is just one example of many sloppy writing devices demonstrated throughout.
The young cast does their best to bring life to their cardboard roles. Jessica Stroup in particular has quite a bit of screen presence and is consistently a pleasure to watch. The young men in the film are bland and interchangeable, but Brittany Snow carries the film relatively well, appearing natural on camera and giving an occasionally convincing "scared" vibe. Other times, her fear seems a bit more like she's about to throw a hissy fit at the shopping mall because there isn't a shirt in her size.
Prom Night feels like a half-assed, last minute hack job throughout. It may please less discerning 14-year-old girls who are easily scared, but will likely annoy all other demographics.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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