Sunday, April 13, 2008

Prom Night 2008

The original "Prom Night" came out in 1980, in the wake of every movie studio imaginable trying to make slasher movies to capitalize on the succes of "Halloween" a few years before. The only thing that made "Prom Night" stick out from the crowd was the presence of "Halloween" star Jamie Lee Curtis. Oh and Leslie Nielsen's in it.

So here we are twenty-eight years later and there's a new "Prom Night" in the theaters ... and it's pretty much there so another studio can try and capitalize on the success of "Halloween" thirty years ago. If not "Halloween" then more likely the remake of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" that stunk up theaters a few years ago and made a ton of money.But, really, it is genuinely still all about "Halloween."

The great slasher movies -- "Halloween," "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "A Nightmare On Elm Street" -- have a few things in common, the most important of which is they were made by hungry filmmakers looking for a break who had everything except money. Once the real studios started trying to drink from the slasher teet we got what we always get from big studios: slick and completely forgettable movies devoid of anything resembling creativity. Like the original "Prom Night."Nowadays the studios are generally more incompetent than ever, test marketing everything into oblivion, trying to make every movie as vanilla and inoffensive as possible, foolishly assuming that a more palatable product will sell more tickets, ignoring, well, all the evidence to the contrary. What makes it worse is recently they've discovered PG-13, so they try even harder to make horror movies that are so easily consumed by the public that they can't even land an R-rating.

Look people, this is basic stuff: horror needs to offend people. CSI and crime fiction is all over TV and they're doing far more intense and gruesome stuff than what these awful PG-13 horror movies are doing. Yes, horror needs to push further ... artistically, we hope, but, horror needs to be a little bit skeevy. It's not about body counts or whether or not there's a lot of blood onscreen -- a good horror movie should disturb its audience in every possible way. It should look, smell and feel wrong and should make the audience uncomfortable watching it. Not just this 'edge of your seat' nonsense. Jumps are easy to get. A good horror movie has to challenge the audience at the core of itself.

2008's version of "Prom Night" looks like a made for MTV horror movie. Slick. Impersonal. Cameras jumping and cutting and rolling for no real reason other than for the creators to probably distract themselves. Really pretty actors trying the best with material that doesn't give two shits about them. It looks like a music video. There's no tone. There's random pop songs thrown in, assumedly to cell the soundtrack, the actual score is the usual mix of thunderous drums and big chords that any two bit filmmaker would use in lieu of doing anything original. The score to "Halloween" is scarier than this movie was ever going to be.

"Prom Night" is about a girl who had a deranged teacher get obsessed with her three years before, who then escapes and goes after her at her Senior Prom. Ok, that's fine. What we don't get from that premise is very much about our dreamgirl, other than she's lucky enough to look exactly like Brittany Snow. She's just the vanilla heroine that we know is going to survive simply because she's the only known actress in the movie. Which is why horror movies need to cast a group of unknowns so there's some debate about who will or won't make it through the adventure alive. She goes to prom with five friends, her boyfriend who's as vanilla as she is, her friends who are as faceless as anyone else at the dance. They're slasher fodder and as the events begin to unfold and they continue to wander off by themselves, even though they don't know they're in a horror movie, the audience does and it becomes irritatingly cliched within seconds.

To be fair, Collins Pennie tries his bet to stand out as a star quarterback who actually gives a crap about his girlfriend and friends. Unfortunately for him the movie isn't as interested in his plight and while for a moment or two it seems like he might be given an actual arc and try and rise up to join the fight, it never happens. He ends up sitting on the stoop. In fact, Snow's boyfriend also comes close to standing out but his fate is barely onscreen and completely meaningless by that point, serving only to point out all sorts of plot holes and inconceivabilities about how this one man is avoiding an entire battalion of police officers who know exactly what he wants and where he's going. (There's also a weird plot hole where the killer escapes from prison and the local authorities aren't told for over 3 days. Not only does the local cop wonder how on earth it took three days to find out, so do Brittany Snow's aunt and uncle who are raising her. The movie has no answer to this fairly obvious question so they probably should have let it go, rather than keep drawing attention to it.)

I understand why Brittany Snow would do a movie like this -- or why her agent might have convinced her it's a good idea. The easiest way for a young actress to prove to Hollywood that they can anchor a movie is to do a horror flick. It goes back to "Halloween," again when Jamie Lee Curtis springboarded her star turn to a pretty solid career. And it also worked for Jessica Biel in the "Chainsaw" remake as she's now onto bigger and better things. (Well, bigger things I guess. I'm not sure she's done a lot of GOOD movies but she is getting better parts.) But both Curtis and Biel were given strong, tough characters to play, whereas the lead in this movie is so blandly drawn and doesn't even get her strength turn at the end to confront her attacker.

Alas, in this age of cop shows trumping all, even an old-fashioned slasher flick has to have a cop save the day, even if it means undercutting the basic style of these movies where the girl takes care of herself.And in a movie that's so annoyingly formulaic, why'd they cut out the one climactic cliche that actually makes the star look stronger?

I think the most irrtating part of this whole thing is that even using what they had, they could have made a better movie. One where the young kid who's worried about his girlfriend goes after her killer, even if he fails, it would have meant something. It might have been sad even. One where the girl who gives a speech about how she realizes her family and friends are dead because one man is obsessed with her turns and fights him and beats him, because she's determined to survive, even if the police can't protect her. That might be an ok slasher movie. We didn't see that movie at all.

We got "Prom Night."