Movie Review: Prom Night

By Matthew Huntley

May 30, 2008

She doesn't seem particularly receptive to his advances.

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If ever there was a movie that deserved to be called manufactured, it's Prom Night. This one comes right off the assembly line and is made up of so many exhausted parts, no people could have been involved in its making, only machines. After all, how could any human be so devoid of artistry?

Many critics have long considered horror to be the least respectable of the major genres, and with movies like Prom Night, who could blame them? But they're not complaining about horror so much as they are Hollywood horror. Two of the best horror movies in recent years - The Descent and The Orphanage - were foreign productions. Where, exactly, have all the great American horror makers gone to? The Carpenters. The Friedkins. Modern-day ones don't seem to have an inkling of style or self-respect, and our only choices end up being ineffectual garbage like this or torture porn like Hostel. Let me tell you, the lack of variety is getting mighty boring.

A remake only in name of Paul Lynch's Prom Night (1980), this entry in the D feature category blatantly rips off every trick in the book, almost as if that's its mission. Even worse is how it doesn't present them with any kind of irony, tongue-in-cheek humor or self-mockery. It actually thinks its conventions are scary, like the old "it was only a dream" routine, which it uses not once, but twice; or the skinny girl in the dark room asking, "Hello, is somewhere there?" instead of turning on the lights like any smart person would; and the omnipresent closing-of-the-medicine-cabinet-door-that-suddenly-reveals-someone-else-in-the-frame. After all these years, are such devices still considered useful? Does Wes Craven have to remake Scream already?


There are characters in this movie, but I hesitate using the word "characters" because it might suggest they're more than just annoying archetypes thumb-tacked to a paper thin plot. Six high school friends are attending their high school prom. One of them is Donna (Brittany Snow), whose family was murdered at the hands of her obsessed, psychotic teacher (Johnathon Schaech). In case you walk into the theater late and miss the "thrilling" opening scene, the same events are re-told in a long, drawn out exposition by the token black detective (Idris Elba).

Without revealing too much (how could I, really?), the psychotic teacher escapes from prison and shows up to Donna's prom. In between the inevitable murder scenes (which, by the way, are very watered down to maintain the PG-13 rating), the movie has the gall to think we care about the characters' insight about high school or the catfight brewing between two wannabe prom queens.

Bottom line: nothing works in this movie . There's not one effective moment in all of Prom Night - nothing scary, thrilling, interesting, emotional, touching, or energetic. I didn't fall for the silhouette walking across the frame when the unsuspecting victims call out for each other; I didn't believe any girl would be stupid enough not to notice a corpse under the bed when she's just gone to hide under it; and here's a question for you, why would anyone who's just had a dream about bad things to come, and who has since woken up and finds she's living the same events as her bad dream foretold, still do all the same things that led to her death in the dream? Does precognition not teach you anything?

I believe it's the job of a film critic to keep an open mind about any movie he or she sees. But in this day and age, when so much media bombards us with advertisements from every which way, it's hard to walk into a movie screening completely cold and without expectations. My expectations for Prom Night were admittedly low, what with its PG-13 rating (which automatically eliminates the possibility of sex and too gruesome of imagery), its relatively unknown cast desperately in need of acting lessons, and it being a remake of a horror picture that wasn't all that scary to begin with. What's amazing, and perhaps this is a small feat all its own, is how far below my expectations Prom Night eventually came. With movies like this, Hollywood's horror genre either needs to close out or look to foreigners for inspiration.



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