Letter From The Editor - Issue 39 - May 2014

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2008

A 'Night' to forget

What a magical ride high school was . . . except for the psycho killer trying to kill us all

Prom Night
Screen Gems
Director: Nelson McCormick
Screenplay: J.S. Cardone
Starring: Brittany Snow, Dana Davis, Scott Porter, Idris Elba, Jessica Stroup, Brianne Davis, Jessalyn Gilsig, Linden Ashby and Johnathan Schaech
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 28 minutes
(out of four)

Technically speaking, I guess there's no "right" way or "wrong" way to do a movie about spoiled high-school students getting terrorized on the night of their Senior Prom. But it would be reasonable to assume that a prerequisite for success in this endeavor would be for us to root against our heroes and heroines getting killed. That way, when they inevitably do, it's . . . you know . . . horrifying. Hence the term "horror movie."

But from the berth of cheap slasher flicks to now, there's been an increasing tendency to forego the horror element in favor of . . . well, I'm not sure what, really. At least with horror, there's an intended purpose. But too often, the top priority for horror movies is simply to come up with a storyline that kind of resembles a horror movie. Dramatic tension and a palpable fear factor are way down the list. But all you have to do is look at the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for proof that the storyline is rarely, if ever, what drives this genre forward. That movie, for all its lazy plotting, generated real fright precisely because of its lack of rhythm and structure.

Prom Night, on the other hand, plays out step-by-step like a high-school play, every moment leading inexorably to the next, the bodies falling like clockwork. And it's too much to ask for us to experience any of the terror of those getting killed - just the fact that they're getting killed at all is good enough for movies like this.

I suppose Prom Night follows the time-tested Halloween formula as well as can be expected. But where John Carpenter brought humor and suspense, Nelson McCormick has only . . . well, nothing, as a matter of fact. Just a shell of a movie.

Prom Night is a remake of one of those teen horror flicks that, beginning with Carpenter's Halloween, cemented Jamie-Lee Curtis' reputation as the queen of this subgenre.

In her place as the heroine of our story is Donna Keppel (Brittany Snow), whose family was murdered by an obsessed teacher three years ago and whose prom is under attack - no, not by crappy music, garish decorations and fake orange tans, but by the obsessed teacher who has conveniently escaped from a mental institution to try and get back his dearest Donna.

There's a distinct difference between the original and the remake, and it's not just aesthetics or time period. While the 2008 version is a transparent attempt to plunder the conventions of past generations to make an easy buck from a PG-13 audience (that's right, even serial murder is toned down for kids these days - gosh, the MPAA is just so valuable!), the 1980 version at least, on its surface, seemed to make sense. Its existence, I mean. The new version has superior production value, but at least the original seemed to be the product of a legitimate cultural trend. Movies like this were the new thing. Sure, they were cheap and tasteless; but hey, it was the '80s.

The 2008 Prom Night has no identity. (It also has, unlike the original, an unfortunate lack of bosoms. No Leslie Nielsen, either.)

I suppose it's par for the course that you don't really care about the characters. I mean, even in Halloween, Curtis was the only one whose safety actually mattered. Everyone else was just buying her time before getting hacked to pieces. In Prom Night, we're not even concerned with our heroine's safety. We're not all that beat up about any of these kids getting knocked off. (Unless, perhaps, you were one of those spoiled brats in high school, in which case I hope you've outgrown all that.)

Is there any effort to marry the terror of the situation with the terror of anxiety felt by every high-schooler upon their graduation? Of course not. All we get is a basic situation with only one possible formula (Donna's friends/classmates get killed off one by one) and only one possible ending (Donna survives . . . oops, spoiler alert. What, like killing her off was ever a possibility? We've got sequels to think about, people.)

Most importantly of all, especially for horror connoisseurs, is that the proceedings are excessively boring, death and destruction notwithstanding. If I'd been to a prom this boring, I'd have asked for my money back.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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