Nearly 30 years ago, Jamie Lee Curtis gave her lungs a workout in “Prom Night,” playing Kim Hammond, a prom queen who, along with her three friends, was terrorized by a vengeful killer. Their crime? Six years prior, they had antagonized a child, which had resulted in its death. Aside from the teens being stalked on prom night theme, the recent remake, also called “Prom Night,” has little in common with its antecedent.
In this version, Donna (Brittany Snow) has become the unnatural object of her teacher’s (Jonathon Schaech) affection. He’s so obsessed with her that while she’s out with her friend, Lisa (Dana Davis), he breaks into her home and, angry that she isn’t there, kills her entire family. As if that wasn’t traumatizing enough, Donna comes home just in time to watch her mother being knifed. Flash forward three years and Donna, who is still an anxious, fearful wreck, is eagerly awaiting her senior prom. This is, after all, “the time of their lives.” But the crazed teacher has other plans. He breaks out of his maximum security mental ward, steals a car, and heads for the prom, a hunting knife at his side.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to write to a teen slasher flick. All you need are some pretty girls, usually scantily dressed; some horny, muscular guys; and a super insane killer with a vendetta and a very sharp stabbing implement. Check, check and check. All of these are present in “Prom Night,” so there are relatively few surprises. But that doesn’t mean that this remake doesn’t rise above its genre. Despite the fact that most of J.S. Cardone’s screenplays are B-level, straight-to-video schlock, he has, at least in this case, turned out something with which an actress worth her paycheck can work.
And Snow is that actress. Thankfully, she doesn’t spend the entire film screaming and running around, mascara running like a river. Instead, we see her struggling with her fears and trying to be normal. It’s unusual that a slasher film makes us feel compassion for its heroine. And the reason we do in “Prom Night” is because Donna isn’t written as some two-dimensional bimbo who at any moment could show us her boobs. (I don’t recall if Curtis flashed anyone in her version.) Donna is shown to be a sweet and likeable girl – albeit a seriously traumatized one – who just wants to get on with her life, but she can’t because of Mr. Unhinged with a Blade. Rather than a straight up horror film, “Prom Night” often feels like one of those “ripped from the headlines” tragedies.
The film is unnerving because it’s grounded in reality. After all, how often do we turn on the news and hear about a teacher or religious leader who develops an unhealthy interest in one or more children under his or her tutelage and care? Also unusual for this genre is the fact that this stalker never wears a gimmicky mask or hides in the shadows. He’s an attractive guy, so as a female spectator, you experience revulsion and attraction. At times you think, “ah, come on, Donna, he’s cute, and he really, really, really likes you.” Then once he sticks someone like a pig, you curse yourself for being so shallow. (As this is PG-13, the blood is kept to a minimum and ferocity of the killings is downplayed.)
“Prom Night” has a stylish look, which shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that director Nelson McCormick honed his skills on TV series as varied as “Nip/Tuck” and “Prison Break,” and the cinematographer, Checco Varese, has worked on such recent lauded efforts as “The Aura” and “Under the Same Moon.” The soundtrack is another plus. During the title sequence, Ben Taylor, son of Carly Simon and James Taylor, performs an industrial sounding version of “Time of the Season,” one of my favorites; and Rock Kills Kid, sounding like a band straight out of the 1980s, closes the film with “Paralyzed.” If you watch the trailer, you know that Quietdrive offers a modern take on Cyndi Lauper’s hit “Time After Time.” Good stuff all around.
I’m usually the first to leap onto the “let’s bash the horror remake” train, but in this case, I can’t. I also typically love to complain about PG-13 rated horror, but for “Prom Night” I’ll let that slide, too. Why? Because I found myself suitably disturbed by the subject matter without being overly horrified, and, for a change, I felt real emotional attachment to the lead character. Poor Donna. “Prom Night” isn’t a film I would watch again, but it’s an enjoyable diversion on a rainy afternoon.
Nelson McCormick (director) / J.S. Cardone (screenplay)
CAST: Brittany Snow … Donna Keppel
Scott Porter … Bobby
Jessica Stroup … Claire
Dana Davis … Lisa Hines
Ming-Na … Dr. Elisha Crowe
Johnathon Schaech … Richard Fenton
Idris Elba … Detective Winn