APRIL 12, 2008
Well I was wrong. The new Prom Night IS an improvement over the original, at least in general. It would be easy for me to join the bandwagon, and say that this movie is an abomination, complete waste of time, etc, etc. But that's not the case. If I had to choose to rewatch either of them, I'd definitely go with the new one, and would recommend it more than I would the original as well. And hell, it's literally a 'remake' in name only; absolutely NOTHING is carried over, not even a name (it's worth noting that the original's screenwriter is not given a "Based on a screenplay" credit that is customary for remakes, even those with little to do with their predecessors). Why it's been damned from its announcement I have no idea - I'm hardly the only one who dislikes the original, and it wasn't being made by Platinum Dunes (poster child for "Let's hate it before we see a single frame of the film" mentality). And no, it's certainly no masterpiece, but it's definitely worthy of a better reception. Christ, it's not even the worst movie I've seen this week (hello there, Scarecrow Slayer)!
Let's get the bad out of the way first. For starters, the final third of the film is a bit of a letdown. Like Assault on Precinct 13's remake, and Red Eye, the screenwriter opted to set the entire finale of the film somewhere completely removed from the film's focal point, in this case, the goddamn prom. Having run out of things to do, I guess, the action shifts to the less interesting locale of... the Final Girl's house. It'd be like if the finale of Halloween was set on Christmas. This is the exact opposite of the problem the original had, which took fucking forever to GET to the prom. Again, it's an improvement, but it severely breaks the tension.
Also, the 2nd in command cop, played by James Ransone. Who the fuck is this guy? (uh, James Ransone.) He resembles a video store geek or maybe one of the extras in Chuck's computer store. They don't try to make him a badass or anything, thank Christ, but still, it looks like most of the high school kids could take him out with a stern look.
And they somehow managed to make a costume LESS impressive than the original's ski mask. Our killer wears... a baseball hat. That's it. Granted, his identity is not a surprise, we are told who he is right from the start (the movie is refreshingly straight forward - there are zero twists or last minute revelations), but even so, if the movie's a smash hit, thousands of jock douchebags will be accused of dressing like the Prom Night guy.
And yes, there are a lot of fake scares. We are supposed to accept them because Final Girl (Brittany Snow) saw her family killed and thus is jittery, but they go a bit overboard. At one point she gets scared of her own boyfriend, sitting next to her in bed (something she had initiated to begin with). It's not as bad as When a Stranger Calls (The wind! The phone! The ice machine! The sprinklers!), but I would be happy with a few less.
But that's about it for complaints (oh, those and putting the beautiful Jessica Stroup under a pound of unflattering makeup. She's made to look like Lohan at her crackwhoreist). There is actually quite a bit here that is impressive. It's completely solid on a technical level (2.35:1 to boot!), which automatically puts it higher than most of the shit I watch (even other theatrical releases). And while the rating obviously means we are spared excessive gore, there is some light splatter. More importantly, it's actually pretty violent. The body count is higher than I expected (though many are off-screen), and it's even a bit sad when a few of them die. That is due to the fact that the kids are all likable, albeit in stereotype form. There isn't much in the way of characterization, but the actors are all good in the roles. Also, and this is surprisingly rare in slasher movies, we actually see the aftermath of how the deaths of friends affects our heroine (one benefit to the disjointed finale). One of my favorite scenes in Scream 2 is when Sidney says that she has to call Randy's mom and tell her that he is dead, and then Dewey lets her know that he "already made that call". It's a sad scene, and makes the death carry more weight when you know it's actually made an impact on the other characters. Same thing here - the boyfriend of one of the dead girls gets a nice moment of grievance.
Speaking of which, the guy in question is "the black guy". And yes, he survives. As does the resident bitch girl. These two archetypes are pretty much guaranteed knife fodder, but they survive (as do one or two other "sure things"). And this was surprising to me not just as a slasher fan, but as someone who read a review where the writer bitched and moaned that the killer was killing people for no reason. If you ask me, he was pretty selective - he even had the opportunity to kill the black kid and didn't bother. The review specifically pointed out the "pointless" killing of a maid, when in fact he killed her to get a master key which he used to get around. Fine, it's hardly the most original motive, but it's SOMETHING. It's not like the Halloween remake*, where Michael was seemingly going out of his way to kill people at random.
It's also reasonably suspenseful, and ironically I think the rating has a part of that. Since it's PG-13, we know that it won't be wall to wall killings. So when someone goes into a room by themselves, we aren't quite sure whether or not they will be killed, whereas in an R rated film it's pretty much a sure bet. They're also smart enough to avoid putting Snow into any such situations until the final half hour, as we know damn well she won't be killed or even harmed until the finale. I should point out that Variety, in their surprisingly positive review, made note that the kids separate for smarter reasons than usual. And they're right - I think this is the first slasher which put a girl by herself because she was starting to get her period. And since they aren't aware of any danger, there's no reason why they WOULD constantly stick together in the first place. The only exception is when one couple sneaks off to the room to fool around, 10 minutes before the announcement of Prom King and Queen (which they are both in the running for).
Idris Elba was the best thing about The Reaping, and he's damn good here too, as one of the better horror movie cops in recent memory. He's smart, he's not an asshole for no reason... he's a cop doing his job. The fact that Elba is a solid actor doesn't hurt, and he even pulls off the exposition scene (which comes surprisingly early) admirably.
Is it the best slasher movie of all time? Of course not. But is it the worst? Not even remotely. It's entertaining, it's well-made, the pace is good (we get a kill every 10 minutes, not too shabby), it has a cameo by Josh Leonard and the movie Can't Hardly Wait, and there wasn't a single point in the film where I was ready to throw something at the screen (except maybe the boyfriend scare. Come on!). I even went in expecting it to be decent, not listening to the reviews (most of which were seemingly written in the writers' heads prior to seeing the film), and it was even a bit better than my expectations. If it wasn't for the poor box office of The Ruins (why is no one seeing this??), I would wholeheartedly recommend going out to see it, so long as you can accept that anyone old enough to vote is not the target audience. As it stands, it's the year's best remake, and a reasonably decent slasher to boot. It's kind of depressing that simply doing what it set out to do and absolutely nothing else is enough to warrant a recommendation, compared to all the abysmal shit that comes out nowadays, but that's the reality.
What say you?
*The highlight of the screening was when it was over, the 60ish woman in front of me said to her husband: "Rob Zombie would have made it a lot worse!" If I was 30 years older...