Monday, February 25, 2013

Prom Night '08


A schoolteacher had become so obsessed with his lovely student (15 years old, yikes!) that he believes only he can have her (FOREVER), and so to make sure she has no one else to turn to but him (in his own sick, depraved mania), this wackjob kills her family, intending to take her for himself. When he's captured, this nutjob later escapes from his lunatic asylum (big surprise there, right?), he plans to crash her prom night (it is three years later; yeah, convenient time to escape, right?), and kill anyone who stands in his way of securing his prize.
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I read somewhere this is considered a re-imagining of the original Prom Night (1980) with Jamie Lee Curtis, but this Prom Night (2008) is more of a retread and rehash of every sort of slasher flick to come down the pike since the 70s. It is neutered of the more exploitative elements even as this film has a majorly high body count. The killer stabs and stabs and stabs (the sound editing team sure punctured some watermelons) one victim after another but this flick is positively all noise and no impact. Meticulously/painfully edited to avoid graphic on screen bloodshed, all we really get are implications. Sure popular slashers exist that aren't overtly gory, but some of them have other things to offer. This runs through all the familiar characters and plot developments (including the killer and his MO) we have seen ad infinitum. Ever heard the phrase There's nothing new under the sun? Well, it applies here. I, however, will cop to liking certain aspects of the film.





















I liked Brittney Snow. So sue me, I did. I thought, considering the part she's given, which itself is just the final girl archetype so similar to all the others that have come before her, Snow earned my sympathy. I gave a shit about her safety and well being; to me, that counts for something considering a lot of the time with these movies, I could care less about these characters because they're typically so hard to like. I don't necessarily have to love them, but it would be nice if something about their characters appealed to me in some sort of  form or fashion. You think about the plot and what it does to this poor girl. Her parents and brother. All her close-knit high school friends. Her beau. All those she loves and cherishes, stabbed and butchered by some unhinged ex-schoolteacher pedophile who couldn't accept that this girl is not in his age-range or league.





















I also think the movie does capture the perfect prom night for Donna before Fenton just ruins it for her. Like a lot of these kinds of slashers. These high-schoolers have such plans for the future like going to college (Claire and her boyfriend, Michael (Kelly Blatz) squabble about the distance of their universities and how she'd play the field while away) and talk about winning prom king/queen. The mere thought that their lives would all be in jeopardy or end even before getting started doesn't pass through their minds...and why should it? I prefer the prom night of the 80 version because more of us can relate to those kids than all the rich teens showing up in their sports cars, all looking like models in GQ in Prom Night 08. And the prom night so splashed in such splendor (the Benjamins spent on this night are quite visible) left me just laughing to myself. It reminded me of those ridiculous sweet sixteen parties thrown for divas by their millionaire dads. But to see Donna just gushing with heart-felt love and joy while dancing with her man, only for all of this to be taken away; this is the whole point of the slasher, in pointing out that what seems like a night to remember will be a night she'll want to forget. He takes everyone away from her. Everyone...well, except maybe her adoptive parents who are luckier than most.



Reservoir Dogs, anyone?


I can't say for sure if Halloween was a direct influence on the filmmakers but the way Richard Fenton is framed scene to scene, how he surprises and kills without hesitation, nothing deterring him from stabbing anyone, it seems to linger on my mind as I watched this. If he'll kill a boy just because the kid's Donna's sister, then all bets are off. The way Schaech plays Fenton, he's a guy willing to do whatever it takes--risk it all--to get his girl. This girl who was just a student in his class. He just went ballistic.Lost it. I guess he was a seemingly sane man at one point. We never get the past but in dialogue. His escape from the loony asylum is done in quick order (in seconds and just long enough not to have us question how it could happen so easily) and how he just turned from high school teacher to killing machine (again, never shown; we see him as he has taken out the father and brother, eventually stabbing the mother; his descent into madness we never see). I guess it could be sort of like young Michael as Zombie portrays it in his version of Halloween...some trigger is flipped and he's simply gone into Loonyland. Whatever the case, Fenton seems to effortlessly avoid sight and detection by those who know his identity or he intends to kill. He is able to feign his evil intentions from such victims as the hotel staff he needs to kill for his own purposes (like a master key so he can sneak into Donna's room where he kills Claire (Jessica Stroup)). He's even a bit smoothly confident and seemingly at ease when in pursuit of his victims because they don't suspect him or are not aware he's even in their presence. Unlike Michael, who hides behind the mask, we do see Schaech react with intensity when stabbing victims multiple times. It's that ruthlessness and savagery that seems to explode once he goes into brutal killer mode.












There’s a not-too-bad chase scene (I feel a slasher movie isn’t a slasher movie without a nice, long chase scene that ends badly for the runner) in Prom Night 08 that mirrors (slightly) the one we see in the original (it in the empty halls of the high school of the film) where Dana Davis (as potential prom queen, Lisa) figures out that a man she recognized as a familiar face was in fact Richard Fenton (Johnathon Schaech), her best friend’s stalker/psycho, encountering him near the stairs, fleeing into a being-renovated wing of the hotel still in construction. In this film, the ante is upped as Lisa’s star quarterback beau, Ronnie (Collins Pennie), goes searching for her as Richard prepares to stick his knife in the kid. I think what does sell this scene is how helpless Lisa is when Ronnie calls out and she cannot answer. Richard allows him to leave in the elevator and very patiently moves out of her sight (the tease of a scene like this is that the killer knows where she is and mocks her by pretending he doesn’t, moving out of her sight just enough to give her hope of possible escape, just to reappear when she thinks the coast is clear). Funnily enough Lisa can’t stop from stumbling over shit, making a ton of noise, and turning his attention to her, even if he didn’t already know.








You know, I have to say that this is a damn good looking movie. Besides the imaginative ways the director photographs Fenton as if her were a phantom--a serpent that strikes--the camera has a fluidity I appreciate. Blue is a significant color used; and, I'm a sucker for blue as an aesthetic. I'm a sucker for the foreground/background effect where characters are emphasized at a distance and close up so the film had plenty of that. Like a lot of music videos, Prom Night 08 has quick edits a lot of the time so we get a constant stream of perspectives and as scenes carry out, we see action and the characters at different angles. When Fenton cleans off his bloody knife in the sink we see it from above and underneath as water washes the blood away. Interesting how plain and average the filmmakers decided to dress down Schaech also. A blank ball cap and delivery-man clothes, he does blend in the background without standing out. The director does everything possible to lens him ominously. His shadow, slight glimpses, his silhouette behind wind-swept plastic, his face behind thin glass windows on doors; Schaech looks unimpressive when in person with someone, but when it is go time he's far more impressive. I thought they do all that is possible to make him intimidating and unhinged.






Of course, the screenplay has contrivances specifically designed to build suspense in regards to Donna’s life placed unknowingly in harm’s way. Not once, but twice, Donna heads into possible peril by entering her hotel room, with the knowledge that Fenton could be waiting. I can’t imagine the average horror fan will be gullible enough to assume that early in the film or at the 60 minute mark, Donna will be victimized by Fenton. Oh, you bet the film will tease danger to her; there is a meeting face to face, the menace and his quarry, but this wasn’t about to end inside the hotel room. I couldn’t tell you how many times the director relies on the open the closet door effect, clothes-less, empty hangers clanging together as the girl looks for her shawl or article of clothing. Fenton gives chase as Donna scatters about the massive hotel room into another room, finally fleeing into the hall, her pursuer having used a fire extinguisher to blast a hole in a locked door keeping him from getting to her. Then it appears she’s made it to safety only for Fenton to sneak past Detective Winn (Idris Elba) by using a hotel staff member's uniform. That’s how he sneaks past. It makes Winn look like a total boob. All of those plain clothes and uniformed cops, yet none of them can catch a killer. As Donna goes home with her Bobby (Scott Porter) at her side for support, Fenton isn’t through taking loved ones from her…not by a long shot.














This film relies on the loud jump scare sound effect (like when Donna bumps into a lamp and the old medicine cabinet mirror gag where the aunt appears to freak out her niece accidentally), while hints of bloodshed are used to compensate for an extreme lack of gore. I remember an imdb post celebrating the body count for this film while others chastised such recognition. This has lots of dead people but as much as it might belong in the category of body count slasher, it never hits you in the jugular or impacts on a visceral level. It is protective of its mainstream audience. There should be two categories of slashers: the visceral slashers and the delicate slashers. Prom Night 08 is a delicate slasher. It is soft and easier to digest because it doesn’t contain explicit depictions of Fenton’s handiwork. We know he kills them. We are assured this by the bodies and bits of blood. Prom Night 08, though, won’t cause the squeamish any problems. The loud bangs and ratcheted score building its intensity will have to take up the slack. Which category you prefer will determine how you feel about Prom Night 08, I guess.






I had read that this remake cost $20 million! Good grief. Slasher movies typically of this ilk; should they cost this much?!?!  I can only wonder what director Paul Lynch would have done had he'd been given that much money to make his Prom Night; instead, he had to dig up the resources, damn near begging for financing (that is until Curtis signed on). I imagine many do consider this remake superior. It is better looking visually, I think, and has a beautiful cast, but it doesn't have Jamie Lee Curtis disco dancing; that, my friends, you can't duplicate. 



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