Directed by: Nelson McCormick
Starring: Brittany Snow, Scott Porter, Jessica Stroup, Dana Davis, Collins Pennie, Jonathon Schaech
OK, so it’s kinda sorta not a remake of the 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis opus of the same name. What this means is that it has a psychotic killer offing meat-on-the-hoof teens (or rather their 22- to 30-year-old cinematic equivalents) at a high-school prom, but the storyline is different. Of course, the storyline isn’t usually a high priority for the teen-target demographic of a movie like this. They’re primarily there for the shock-effect jumps and the splatter of bright red Karo-syrup blood—and the off chance of airborne viscera.
Therein lies the conundrum of a movie like Prom Night. Since it’s a PG-13 slasher picture, the aerodynamic properties of intestines are not explored and what very little blood there is happens to be dulled down to a bland dark burgundy so as not to outrage the tender sensibilities of the MPAA. This means the results are vaguely on par with having sex through a blanket.
Realistically, we all know that the R rating wouldn’t actually serve to keep too many teens out of the theater. Those who can’t wrangle someone with a properly aged birth certificate to escort them are well versed in the practice of buying a ticket to a PG-13 movie and sneaking into the film they want to see. But studios are funny about wanting to reap the remuneration of ticket sales to their movie, hence the PG-13 horror picture. And, as Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) proved, it can work. But a horror picture is not a slasher picture, and therefore it doesn’t work here.
Screenwriter J.S. Cardone (who has The Covenant (2006) on his rap sheet already) has cobbled together a patchwork scenario that affords the movie a kind of sub-Halloween backstory for the main event. Our heroine, Donna Keppel (Brittany Snow, Hairspray), loses her entire family to a homicidally bent schoolteacher, Richard Fenton (Cardone regular Jonathon Schaech), who looks like the love child of Charles Manson and Dennis Miller. Seems Fenton has a somewhat extreme crush on Donna, and has chosen this ill-advised path to win her affections. Reasonably enough, he gets carted off to the home for singularly depraved suitors and Donna (adopted by an aunt and uncle) has picked up the pieces and moved on. Why, she even has a shrink (Ming-Na) who tosses out advice like telling her that her bad dreams and memories will fade, but that she’ll never actually forget watching her mother being stabbed to death. (No foolin’?)
But wouldn’t you know it, Fenton escapes from the asylum just in time to spoil Donna’s ridiculously upscale high-school prom. (I don’t know about the rest of you, but my high-school proms were held in a National Guard Armory, not in a five-star hotel ballroom.) There’s some Carrie-esque jiggery-pokery involving a subplot about the prom king and queen (no pig blood is involved), a lot of low-wattage slashing, silly scripting (kids do the darnedest things to get themselves killed) and police ineptitude.
Since the blood’s not going to flow, the movie is filled with silly “boo!” moments that almost never work. Director Nelson McCormick likes the one where a mirror swings back into view revealing (cue musical sting) someone standing behind the person at the bathroom sink—so much so that it makes three appearances over the course of the film. There’s tremendous economy in objects, too. If someone’s holding something breakable at a tense moment, you can be sure it’ll hit the floor ere long. And as movies have demonstrated time and time again, you should never get back into bed with someone when there’s a psycho on the prowl without checking your bedmate’s pulse first. That’s perhaps a lesson we might all benefit from someday. Rated PG-13 for violence and terror, some sexual material, underage drinking and language.