Prom Night (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Spoilers, I suppose…

Sony is releasing Prom Night under their "Screen Gems" imprint. Gems? More like turds. By its nature, the slasher film is not a terribly deep or complicated effort. To be successful, all such a movie needs is a sympathetic victim/protagonist, an implacable killer, a suspenseful buildup, and (most importantly) a cornucopia of blood and gore. The 2008 version of Prom Night misses on all four counts, making it virtually worthless by any measure of the genre. Despite having the same title and a similar premise to a 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis flick (kids getting slaughtered on prom night), this is not a remake. In fact, it really doesn't have much of a plot. It's basically The O.C. with a body count.

The movie opens with a reasonably effective prologue - the only part of the film to which that description could be applied. Freshman Donna Keppel (Brittany Snow) returns from the movies one night to find her father and brother dead and someone in the house. She hides under her bed in time to see the killer (Johnathon Schaech) finish off her mother. There's an eerie moment in which Donna and Mom lock eyes just before the death blow is delivered. It's the kind of thing upon which a movie can be built. Unfortunately, director Nelson McCormick treats it as a throw-away, perhaps unaware of how effective that single shot is. He never comes close to it again. It turns out that the psycho is a former teacher who developed a crush on Donna and has determined that the best way to win her affections is to eliminate her family. That's taking a teenager's autonomy fantasies too far.

Three years later, Donna has almost shaken off the specter of that night. She's getting all dressed up to go to the prom with her hunky boyfriend, Bobby (Scott Porter). Unfortunately, our deranged killer has just escaped from the maximum security mental asylum where he was being held. Using a stolen car, he's on his way back to Haddonfield with Dr. Sam Loomis in pursuit… sorry, wrong movie. But the nutcase has escaped and he's intent upon hunting down Donna. His pursuer is a thick-headed detective named Winn (Idris Elba), who's the kind of gung-ho moron that gives movie cops a bad name. How many people get killed under his nose? At least Loomis had an excuse - he was just a psychiatrist. Winn has the entire police department behind him, he's on the scene, and he still can't prevent a massacre by a guy who doesn't even have a gun.

The movie has been targeted for the PG-13 audience, which means that the girls keep their breasts covered and the editing is such that the murders aren't too graphic. I'm willing to allow that it's possible for a PG-13 movie to provide effective horror if it's made with skill and intelligence. (After all, with only a few minor trims, Halloween could have been PG-13.) Prom Night, however, is about as skilled an intelligent as a guy with his girl in a hotel room after the dance. It bumbles and fumbles and climaxes perfunctorily. There's no suspense. We know from the beginning pretty much who isn't going to make it, so the entire story is an exercise in crossing names off the death list. Anyone think the best friend is going to make it? How about the boyfriend? Is that a spoiler? Is it even possible to spoil a movie like this? It all comes down to a confrontation in a closet followed by the arrival of Dr. Loomis, who shoots the psycho six times. Sorry, wrong movie again. Or is it?

I don't know any of the cast members except Brittany Snow, who has done a lot of TV work and has appeared in a few films. It's hard to criticize her performance since the script doesn't give her much to work with. Ellen Page couldn't have done anything more with such meager material. (Then again, Ellen Page would have had the good sense not to accept the part.) Everyone else cut their teeth either on daytime soap operas or their nighttime counterparts. None will find their careers damaged by an appearance in Prom Night because their roles are fade-into-the-background forgettable. The set design has more personality.

If comparisons to Halloween make Prom Night sound marginally watchable, I have erred. It's a bore, even taking into account unintentional moments of humor that resulted in audience members jeering. This is a case study for Filmmaking Ineptitude 101. Director McCormack is so bad at his job that he can't even execute an effective "boo!" moment - one of those things that even the worst horror movies seem to get right. While the PG-13 rating will undoubtedly allow Prom Night to score some extra money at the box office, it has eliminated any possible guilty pleasures associated with the viewing experience. Why did slasher movies become so popular during the '80s? Blood, guts, and T&A. Those were the elements that kept Michael, Jason, and Freddy coming back repeatedly. Take them away and what are you left with? Prom Night.

Prom Night (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:28
U.S. Release Date: 2008-04-11
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1