Category Archives: Verses

Prom Night 1980 Vs Prom Night 2008

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.

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Sadako Vs Kayako (AKA The Ring Vs The Grudge) 2016

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This is the kind of nonsense that the die hard horror fan lives for. Since the days of Universal there have been monster match ups and battles, mostly between Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein‘s monster with varying degrees of success. More recently the biggest battles have between Aliens and Predators, twice. Neither battle was worthwhile. Then there was Freddy Vs Jason which you either love or hate but at least it was better than either of the remakes of their respective franchises.

I can’t say I was expecting a battle royale between Japan’s premiere long haired ghouls to exist, let alone be any good but here it is. Both franchises have been dead for a number of years and only The Ring has shown any sign of returning, and that’s with a sequel to the American remakes which is forever being pushed back in the release schedules. So this team up comes as a surprise, in more ways than one.

The first thing that grabs you is how seriously the whole affair is taken. We begin with a social worker discovering the scared-to-death corpse of her elderly charge, before she sees The Ring video tape and the long haired Sadako appears behind her. Jumping forward a couple of days and she is dead too, her mouth all twisted in fear. A couple of students end up seeing the tape and are next on the hit list. Meanwhile a teenage girl move a next door to The Grudge house where various people see that weird little naked boy and Kayako who is one freaky creation. I’m not sure I saw much more than one Grudge movie (and not sure if it was the original or Sarah Michelle Gellar remake) but I certainly don’t remember what Kayako looked like. Flipped over on her back but walking on all fours, her head twisted around with blood pouring out of her eyes and mouth, she is all kinds of wrong. The nasty little clicking sound she makes just adds to her unhinged presence.

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I guess as this is a verses movie we, as the baying crowd around the edges of the ring (rather than The Ring), are meant to pick a side. Certainly I would always have been more of a Sadako fan I guess if I had ever given it any thought. She’s completely terrifying and always gets her man (unless you get someone else to watch the tape in time), and the scene at the end of the original film where she climbs out of the television in one shot is one of the great moments in horror cinema. Kayako on the other hand clearly left no impression on me at all, as I couldn’t remember seeing her before. She does have a small boy sidekick, which is always a bonus, but then movement seems difficult at the best of times, which can’t be good in a fight.

However both Sadako and Kayako are terribly evil and frightening ghouls from beyond. You don’t end up so much taking sides as hoping that they’ll both destroy each other so that the human characters don’t have to suffer any more. That’s the thing with both these creations, they are so horrifying that even the most awful of their victims (for example the three bullies who get nabbed in The Grudge house) have your sympathy. No one deserves their dreaded fate, especially as these boys are only about eight years old, and even the kid they were bullying gets his head pulled off.

Fortunately the mechanics of how Sadako gets into a showdown with Kayako works a treat. The two teenage girls get the help of some demonic expert and his own child sidekick: a blind girl who dresses in red and is smarter than Yoda. He figures out that if they are cursed by Sadako by watching the video tape and then by Kayako (by entering the house, which apparently is all it takes with her – obviously has personal space issues) then the two of them will fight it out over who is who’s cursed victim. Its a great idea and a much simpler one than the convoluted nonsense Freddy Vs Jason had to come up with.

This great premise helps build up the tension brilliantly and I couldn’t wait to get to the big face off. Unfortunately that is what I had to do: wait. It is a long, long time before we get to the climactic battle, too long some would say, me being one of them. The film is only just over an hour and half and the two fiends don’t meet until the last ten minutes at the most. I mean really, what was I expecting? There’s not a hell of a lot they can do to each other anyway is there? Mostly they just scare their victims to death and so its unlikely that they could scare each other. So maybe a very short showdown is all we could expect. Despite its brevity it is fairly satisfying though with an extra twist at the end for good measure.

I guess by default this is the best horror-icon-verses movie as the rest of them aren’t up to much anyway (I’ll always have time for Freddy Vs Jason though). Even if you ignore the external franchises Sadako Vs Kayako works as a good horror movie in its own right. The characters and crew take the whole thing seriously enough to make it as creepy and unsettling as the best of J-Horror without descending into the jokiness that you would probably expect of this kind of thing. Add in the fact that both Sadako and Kayako are brilliant creations which retain all of the characteristics which made them so memorable in the first place* and what we have is one of the better horror movies out of Japan in a while.

 

*Okay maybe not Kayako as I can’t remember her. However I’m beginning to think that when I saw The Grudge it was one of those too late at night, too much wine scenarios, so probably fell asleep before she showed up.

 

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Carrie VS Carrie VS Carrie

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I have to confess to being quite excited about this new version of Carrie. Although a massive fan of the original, and of Brian De Palma in general, even I can admit that it must have dated a fair amount with all the spilt screen/super slo mo/floating fire hose/big, big hair shenanigans. Plus the story is still one of Stephen King’s best with the central core of the tale, a bullied outsider with special powers, still being a strong and resonant one. What’s more, the talented Kimberly Peirce is directing this, so we have a strong female voice directing a story consisting almost entirely of female characters. What could go wrong? Well… nothing. Nothing went wrong, Carrie in 2013 is perfectly fine, not great; just fine. But let us also not forget that this isn’t the second time Carrie has been filmed, no it’s the third. A TV movie was made in 2002, but we’ll get to that in a bit…

Chloe Grace Mortez leads the way as Carrie in this 2013 version and a fine job she does, catching the balance between sweet and really rather weird, although she’s never actually creepy. We are very much on her side as she is humiliated when she has her first period in the school showers and the other girls throw tampons at her yelling “Plug it up!” In the other two versions Carrie really is a disconnected, freaky woman-child who, while you sympathise with her, isn’t that easy to like. Here, whether it’s on purpose or just because of Mortez’s natural charm, Carrie really is just an oddball striving to be accepted and normal, and if the odds weren’t so stacked against her, you feel like maybe she could make it.

Unfortunately two women stand in her way to happiness, and thanks to King’s prose, they are two of the most evil women in fiction. Julianne Moore plays Carrie’s mum, Margaret, with horrific malice. One minute she’s throwing her daughter in a cupboard, the next cuddling her goodnight. She also does a fair amount of self mutilation and head banging. How are you meant to cope with a mother like that? No child should have to deal with this behaviour, least of all one with telekinesis. You can always rely on Moore to put her all into a role, and this is no exception.

Also, the hilariously named Portia Doubleday is excellent as the school bitch Chris. While the character is technically a one-note bully, Doubleday invests such a sense of spoilt entitlement into her performance that you can almost understand where she comes from, although let’s face it no one is going to be on her side. I mean, getting revenge on a girl you tormented when she got her first period by pouring a bucket of pig’s blood on her and in front of the whole school at the prom at of all places, is a hideous and genius thing to do. Chris really is an absolute monster. As such I’ve always thought that the one thing De Palma’s original missed out on was (MASSIVE SPOILER) her death being rather quick and over and done with in flash, and a little bit unsatisfying because of that. Not this time round though, she meets a suitably grisly and protracted death, with an ironic image of her ugly ruined face, a reflection her ugliness on the inside. (END OF MASSIVE SPOILER)

But despite this and the suitably modern effects heavy climax, I feel that the film makers missed a trick here. They could have added an extra layer of commentary as we are essentially dealing with the quiet student who kills half her class mates. This, sadly, has become an all too familiar occurrence in the States, and I feel they could have acknowledged this somehow; but maybe it’s still too difficult a subject for mainstream cinema. Still, Carrie in 2013 is diverting enough, you could do worse… …

For example the 2002 TV movie of Carrie. It’s a little unfair as we are comparing a low budget TV version to a fair size cinema release, and a 70s classic. But they made it, so we are doing it, so tough. Okay: So it isn’t very well shot, the music is relentless and AWFUL, and a lot of the girls’ performances are unfocused and weak. It does add a fair amount of background stuff missing from the other versions, but this only serves to slow things down to a mind numbing 132 minutes. Also some of the stuff like the meteor shower (don’t ask) and the whole town on fire at the end are done on the cheap, so don’t really help proceedings.

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Also I have problems with the two evil women. The usually excellent Patricia Clarkson as Margaret White underplays the role so much that she looses a lot of that character’s bite. I presume this was a reaction to Piper Laurie’s performance in the original which was so wild and crazy; it must have felt like the natural thing to do was go the other way. But that’s not what Carrie’s mum should be about. She is mad, so she needs to be played that way.

Then there is Emilie de Ravin as Chris. I love de Ravin in Lost and The Hills Have Eyes, and maybe it’s my own fault because I associate her as always sweet, if a bit moody, but here she’s just too gaddam likable to convince as a class A bitch.

This seriously undermines the drama of the story, that and the length, the never ending length. God. When it was shown on TV with adverts it would have been three hours long. I’m not surprised no one watched it. And that’s probably a good thing, as apparently this was meant to be a pilot for a TV series about the further antics of Carrie. That’s a dreadful idea. The book is short, the two cinema films are short, and we don’t want hours and hours of this TV dross version.

There is one redeeming feature here though and that’s Carrie herself. Angela Bettis made a film the year before this called May, where she plays a seriously unhinged loner with an unhealthy interest in weird dolls and men’s hands. Here she channels more of that madness into Carrie White but spends a lot of the time almost in a state of ecstasy, lost in a bizarre world of rolling eyeballs and hunchbacked insanity. It’s a really intense performance which must have been exhausting for Bettis. When she tells her mum she just wants to be normal, you really, really believe it. But she really, really is not normal in any way, shape or form. Shame the rest of the film doesn’t go as off the rails as much as she does, it might have been more fun.

And that’s really what worked about De Palma’s original. He really takes the medium of cinema and goes wild with it, descending into filmic madness, with his crazy camera work, nuts editing and excruciating slow mo, in the same way Carrie loses her mind to her to the insanity of her telekinesis. After watching the other two versions in a row and thinking that it must have dated, plus taking into account the fact that I’ve not seen it for at least twenty years, I thought I had better dig De Palma’s up from its grave and see how the original stands up.

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It’s magnificent. Right from the off with the camera floating down onto the school, girls playing volleyball, you can tell it’s on a different level. Sissy Spacek is incredible, really tragic but adorable at the same time. Rake thin and nervous as hell, there is something disturbing about her, but you totally want her to escape this living hell of school and bad parenting. Other than Carrie and her mum, De Palma pushes most of the other characters into the background. But what a mother she is. In the book a neighbour describes Margaret White as literally drooling mad on one occasion. Piper Laurie, while not actually foaming at the mouth, is, absolutely bat-shit crazy. Like all properly insane people, her performance (if you can call it that) is scarily unpredictable. She is firm and in control one minute, the next weeping and pulling her hair out.

Then there is the incredible climax at the prom. Did I say that the slo mo was dated? No way. It builds the tension up so much before the bucket of blood drops that I was actually screaming on the sofa. Rarely has there been such a perfect blend of camera work, sound and editing. There are loads of other great moments but you really should go out and rediscover them for yourselves.

Not that it’s all perfect. There’s some very goofy music here and there, and of course the haircuts. William Katt (as sweet but simple Tommy Ross) has blonde curls that seem to have a life of their own. Even in 1976 his hair must have been a distraction for audiences. Why does it defy gravity like that? How is it SO golden? Just… What the fuck? Also, most of the cast look far too old to be at school. I swear at some point I saw one “kid” who was balding. The only one who does indeed look the sixteen/seventeen she’s meant to be is Spacek, and she was 26 when she made this.

Anyway, who cares about all that? It’s still a hands-down classic. A lot of people questioned the need for a remake of Carrie, but like I said, I wasn’t one of them. However watching Brian De Palma’s one again, it really does beg the question, why bother? You ain’t going to make it better than that.