When it comes to remakes probably the best approach is to take a movie that was kind of shit in the first place and remake that. Then the only way is up: there weren’t that many fans in the first place* so the hate will be limited, and if the orignal was garbage but there was an inkling of a good story there you can use that as a starting point and make a better film.
Well that’s the theory. Or you could do as the producers of the Prom Night remake did: just take the title and setting and make a different film all together, albeit one that is equally as bad as the original.
Let’s face facts though, when you think of the best of the slashers from the early eighties, even when you limit it to the slashers with dates/holidays in their titles, Prom Night is not the first film that springs to mind. The reasons for this are multiple but the main ones are that it takes way too long for any slashing to begin and it is deeply dull leading up to said slashing. Actually its not exactly heart racing when the killing finally does happen but at least Jamie Lee Curtis is in it.
Why, exactly, is Jamie Lee Curtis in Prom Night? Obviously Curtis had yet to break away from the Scream Queen label she had helped to create two years earlier in Halloween, so you could see why she was popping up in the likes of The Fog and Terror Train but at least they were decent films with good scripts and directors. Prom Night is dull as watching the British Parliament TV channel on a Friday morning when the chambers are empty because everyone’s still at the commons bar drinking cheap booze and having fisticuffs.Before anything interesting happens we have to spend a lot of time with Curtis and her friends stumbling around high school being boring. There is an opening of the I Know What You Did Last Summer variety when a bunch of children accidentally kill a girl in an abandoned house. This will obviously will lead to the revenge killing spree but it’s not hugely exciting or original stuff. And Curtis has to wade through all this acting like a teenager whilst looking far to old to be in school. She dresses like she has a job in New York City so sticks out from the rest of the cast even more. Its like she said, I’ll do this film but only if I can stress my mature side by wearing modern office fashion.
What Prom Night does ask of its audience is to guess who-done-it, even before anyone starts doing it. There are multiple potential murderers from disgruntled parents to escaped lunatics and, to give Prom Night it’s due, I did not guess who the killer would be. This killer had a certain style – if you can call an all in black number with a black sparkly sequinned balaclava stylish. The sparkles are a particularly odd choice as I’ve never found the shimmering mermaid look particularly scary or threatening. It must be something to do with discotheque because there is a lot of disco here. The prom night itself is basically one big homage to Saturday Night Fever, from the light up floor tiles to Curtis spinning around the dance floor whilst staring at the camera. In fact Curtis does get to show of some pretty decent dance moves. Maybe she took the role with promises of horror themed choreography, if so then it was a job well done… Unlike the killings themselves which again like so many of the other Friday the 13th rip-offs, fails to deliver on what made that film so successful in the first place.
What we have got, and the disco is just one part of this, is a lot of padding. There are numerous scenes of characters preparing for the prom, we spend far too much time with various red herrings which are a total waste of time and there is a Carrie-style sub plot that literally gets cut off halfway through and goes nowhere. Oh, and Leslie Nielsen is in here (as the head liner no less) but is only in it for about five minutes. This was pre- Airplane and Naked Gun times where he was actually a dramatic actor, but such is his presence that we expect him to say something funny or do something stupid. In fact I laughed several times at him when I wasn’t meant to. Even staring at his dead child was somehow a comedy moment. Poor Nielsen: his early career has forever been retrospectively turned into a farce.
There’s also plenty of time for dubious chat. Curtis is struggling with a prom dress in her bedroom when she turns to see her brother standing at the doorway. “Are you going to get over here and help me, or are you just going to leer?” She asks. “Well I am your brother so I think I’ll just leer,” he replies. Say what now? What is going on here? Why is he perving over his sister or have I just mistaken what leer means. Or maybe the script writers have mistaken it’s definition? Later, a horny male character is trying to get laid. He says to the girl he is basically forcing himself on when she tries to pull away “if you don’t, I know plenty who will!” This seems to seal the deal for her, not to run away screaming but to say oh okay and relent to some almost certainly bad sex.
All this padding is clearly necessitated by film makers who don’t have enough faith in the slasher story. Admittedly this is because it is slim stuff: masked killer turns up and kills a bunch of youths is essentially your lot for all these films, but by filling the rest of your plot with unnecessary guff makes you slasher less interesting not more. Halloween understood this: it kept the story to the bare minimum – there was character development (to an extent) but it was all either in service to the main plot or happened whilst Michael was watching his victims. Prom Night mostly ignores that it is even a slasher for an hour before we even get to the Prom Night of the title, let alone any of the slashing.
So obviously ripe for a remake. However if anything the 2008 version of Prom Night is loathed even more than the original. This is a shame as it does the opposite of the 1981: after a brief and tense prologue the film starts on the night of the prom with the heroine, Brittany Snow, being picked up to get to the event where all her friends will, and do, die. There´s no hanging up decorations or choosing outfits, its straight to the main event of death.
Proms have clearly changed in the 27 years between the two films. Back in the old days all the proms seemed to be held in the sports hall with some tacky decoration to make the room into some sort of Doctor Who-set version of an underwater palace. By the noughties, and I guess prior to the bank crash, all these kids were having their prom in the fancy ballroom of some upmarket hotel in the heart of down town Los Angeles.
What has not changed is using the same escaped killer trope from one of the sub-plots of the previous film and, indeed, Halloween. This forfeits the who-done-it plotting of the original but unlike Michael Myers this killer is just some ex-model looking chap who´s weak attempt to follow his serial killing forefathers is to disguise himself with a baseball cap. He also manages to get himself a room in the hotel where the prom is going on and much of the film involves the victims mistakenly going into his room so he can kill them with his big knife. He´s a pretty lazy murderer really, he only chases one girl besides Snow, most of the time he just kicks back and, presumably, work his way through the mini bar until the next idiot victim shows up.
At lease having the killer there and killing from the start of the film solves the originals main problem – pace. Prom Night ´08 races along at a breakneck speed and is entertaining enough whilst its going on, even if it doesn´t have anything new to add to the genre. Also without the who-done-it story there’s no room for a Leslie Nelson cameo, which would have livened up things no end.
The remake does, however, break the one cardinal rule of slasher movies – the final girl has to learn to have some grit. Brittany Snow, who has proven herself an able actor in more challenging stuff than this, only gets to play the victim. She is in fear of the guy who killed her family in the prologue the whole way through the film. She barely gets to do any running away, she mostly cowers under beds or in cupboards and screams a lot. This is no way for the final girl to act. Well it is for most of the movie, but at some point she is meant to dig in deep, find her survivor’s instinct and fight back with an axe, shotgun or booby-trapped floor lamp. Instead Snow kicks the killer once whilst scrambling along the floor and that seems like an accident.
It’s left for the investing detective to work out what is going on and rescue the girl, which is not right I tell you! On the positive side said detective is played by Idris Elba, clearly looking for something to fill his time what with The Wire coming to an end. He probably did it before the final season in the hiatus to kill sometime. He certainly didn’t do it because of the great dialogue or interesting character development because there isn’t anyway. Maybe they paid him well.
Actually I would have thought everyone got paid well, because they spend $20 million dollars on this thing. Twenty. Million. On a slasher, with no stars, big set pieces or visual effects. Someone was having a laugh, all the way to the bank I reckon. Especially as this is about as generic a slasher movie as you could get but without the who-done-it of the original to keep you guessing or a final girl you can root for. Yeah I know I just said earlier that Halloween‘s genius was how simple and stripped down its plot was, and essentially this remake does the same but it doesn’t have an embodiment of evil in a William Shatner mask scaring you to death, it has the embodiment of Elite modelling agency look silly in a cap.
In the battle of original verses remake I’m afraid the losers are both versions, and me for sitting through them. Both had their pluses; the original had disco and the remake was short. Maybe if you combined the two you might have a good yet brief disco slasher. Sadly twenty eight years stand between them,so unless they’re going to make a third version combining those elements and a Leslie Nielsen cameo before he dies** then please: no more Prom Nights thank you.
*Even the worst things in the world have fans. There are a lot of people who like the slasher Madman even though it has no redeeming features at all. And I had an (adult) friend who used to be really into Rolf Harris. I say used to be…
** Apparently he died seven years ago. I missed that. Thanks Leslie for making us laugh, even if it wasn´t intentional.
A clear winner on the poster front though. The original is strong and well designed with the shard of mirror (the killers weapon of choice – let´s hope his gloves are thick enough) showing one of the victims, the killers eyes staring into your soul. Its certainly better than the film, or indeed the 2008 poster which is one of the least interesting and laziest horror posters ever created.