Sony // 2008 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // August 18th, 2008
"A night to die for."
-- Prom Night tagline in English
"Ein Abend für den mancher morden würde."
-- Prom Night tagline in German
"An evening for the murder of some."
-- Literal English translation of German tagline
It's hard being a pretty, popular high school girl. Take poor Donna, for instance. She's so pretty and popular that her science teacher developed an unhealthy crush on her. When her family responded by getting a restraining order, he dropped by their modest home and systematically slaughtered them with a hunting knife. Donna was at the movies at the time (phew!), but she got home in time to see her mom take one for the team right through the sternum.
Now, it's three years later, and Donna (Brittany Snow, Hairspray) has been living with her aunt and uncle. The whack-job teacher, Mr. Fenton (Jonathon Schaech, The Doom Generation), has been locked away in one of those dreary homes for the criminally insane, where there's nothing for the inmates to do except lie around and stare at the ceiling. Unfortunately, while thusly engaged, he notices a loose panel, which gives him the opportunity to vo-de-o-do outta there.
Thanks to poor communication among the authorities -- the police are particularly stupid in this film -- Prof. Fenton gets a three-day head start. He'll be arriving in town just in time for...
Donna's prom night!
First off, don't confuse this film with the 1980 slasher movie with the same name. This is not, I repeat not, a remake. The 1980 Prom Night, which starred Jamie Lee Curtis, was no great shakes even by slasher movie standards, but it was fun, gory, a little sexy, had a bit of a mystery, featured those horrifying Jimmy Carter-era styles and dances, and engendered three goofy in-name-only sequels.
The 2008 Prom Night is like a reality TV show challenge: Make a movie with the same name as an earlier movie, only leave out whatever made that first film fun or worthwhile. Here are your bland co-stars and PG-13 rating, now get filmin'!
Yes, Prom Night carries the kiss-of-death PG-13 rating, which means everyone remains fully clothed at all times and violence is represented through quick edits and a screeching soundtrack. It matters not at all that this is the "Unrated" version, since there's nothing here that would cause this to be rated anything other than PG-13.
Despite the characters' seeming middle-class backgrounds, the prom itself is an awfully ritzy affair, held at a fancy hotel, with kids entering on a red carpet, passing throngs of people screaming and taking pictures. At first, it looks like Tony Montana's birthday bash, but once you get past the tacky glitz, there's not a lot to see. The outfits are very sedate, with the boys wearing somber suits with ties that match the girls' dresses; everyone sneaks in liquor, but no one gets drunk and stupid; and there's not much to the dancing. It's like the last-night mixer at Bible camp, only with confetti and a guy with a knife. The far lower-rent proms in Carrie and the other Prom Night were much more energetic and entertaining.
All the kids get rooms in the hotel, but nobody does anything with them (thanks, PG-13!). Crazy ex-teacher Schaech also gets a room using a credit card he stole from some guy he killed along the way. Luckily for him, we don't have the technology to track credit card usage when someone goes missing. Schaech also catches a break when the picture of him that the cops circulate is three years old and shows him with long hair and a beard, as opposed to his current look, a fashionably retro buzzcut and five-o'clock shadow. Those goofy cops. With their poor investigative techniques, it's a wonder more of us aren't out slaughtering strangers at formal events.
Naturally, Schaech is eager to get close to the lovely Snow, but he misses several opportunities for a little alone time. Instead, he wiles away the hours staring at her from a safe distance and eviscerating bit players. His shabby appearance and creepy demeanor draw no attention at the upscale digs, and his victims are courteous enough not to struggle, make much noise, or bleed too heavily after being shanked. This guy must have been born under a lucky star.
All this leads up to an inevitable, drawn-out, logistics-defying conclusion, which, for a slasher film, is shatteringly anticlimactic. Seriously. The classic false ending, weird twist, set-up for a sequel? Not here. You might find yourself sitting through the end credits simply because you can't believe how unexcitingly they ended this thing.
But this is a problem with the entire film. It's all unexciting. The pacing is wretched. There are no colorful or interesting characters, and the killer and killings are not particularly intriguing. It's not fun.
There are little bits of underdeveloped subplots, like a rivalry between nice and nasty girls and where the kids are going to college, that don't have any payoff and are evidently just there to fill time. There is more padding here than in a prom queen's bra. It's only 89 minutes, including credits, but Prom Night feels twice as long. Other than the rather ho-hum dispatchings, there's just not a lot to see.
Brittany Snow's a fine young actress, but apparently, the only direction she was given was, "Look pretty and tremble," because that's pretty much the extent of her performance.
As the deranged and obsessed Fenton, Jonathon Schaech just lacks that old fire in the belly. He's not a witty phrase-maker like Freddy Kruger, and he's not blessed with magical recuperative powers like Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees. He also doesn't do a whole lot with his "obsessive love" for the virginal teen; if we weren't told about it, we'd never have known.
However much the film may suck, Sony deserves a corsage and a limo ride for their work on this disc. We get a beautiful transfer and a dynamic 5.1 surround track, along with a whole passel of extras. Most impressive? A commentary track with Snow, Schaech, and director Nelson McCormick that's subtitled, so you can watch the film and read the comments as well as or instead of listening to them. We also get three short "behind the scenes" featurettes, deleted scenes, an uninteresting "alternate" ending, a "video yearbook" of the movie's fictional school, and a cute featurette with the cast sharing their own prom stories.
Prom Night opens with a cover of the 1960s Zombies classic "Time of the Season" performed by The Ben Taylor Band (with the lyric changed from "It's the time of the season for loving" to "It's the time for the season of loving"). Ben Taylor is the son of 1970s music icons James Taylor and Carly Simon. "Wow," I thought, "starting with a '60s and '70s musical reference for a film that's a throwback to the '80s. Nice!"
Alas, Prom Night was not the fun and funny throwback to the "olden days" of slasher movies that I'd hoped. Despite a fairly high body count, this film is just flat and unimaginative.
Sony gets off for a better-than-the-film-deserves disc, but the film itself is guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary with Director Nelson McCormick and Actors Brittany Snow and Jonathon Schaech
* Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Ending
* Gag Reel
* Video Yearbook
* "A Night to Remember: The Making of Prom Night"
* "Profile of a Killer"
* "Gothic Spaces: Creating the Pacific Grand Hotel"
* Real Life Prom Stories
* TV Spot
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict Review - Prom Night II
* DVD Verdict Review - Prom Night III / Prom Night IV