Monday, April 14, 2008

GETTING SCREWED ON PROM NIGHT... Panic At the Disco, Circa 1980 and Beyond

The immense success of PROM NIGHT this weekend may keep horror films coming out for some time. But it also encourages more remakes, more studio formula and more PG-13 rated fare in order to bring the kiddies in the theatre, whether its appropriate or not. So, PROM NIGHT has screwed us, but this should come as no surprise. Truth be told, PROM NIGHT has been ruining the day for nearly thirty years.

The original PROM NIGHT was a blatant cash grab. The slasher genre was really picking up steam, thanks to HALLOWEEN a couple years prior. In a bit of serendipity, a small film called FRIDAY THE 13TH had been released two months before PROM NIGHT and proved that masked killers would not be vacating theaters anytime soon. The Canadian producers even insured that their production would be more high profile than most by snagging HALLOWEEN's star, Jamie Lee Curtis. But even this was not enough for the intrepid producers. No, they had to make sure their film had a tie-in that has now become common but was at least a little more rare back then. I'm talking about the music tie-in, shoehorned in so haphazardly that half the time it seems as though we're watching a knock-off of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, not HALLOWEEN.

And why did they do this? Because PROM NIGHT was a truly mediocre film. It moves at a snail's pace, where nearly an hour passes before the killer even appears. The setting is a generic high school with a generic name. The characters are thinly written and dialog could be interchangeable In the lead, Curtis has never had to do less and in fact does not seem all that important to the storyline - a big problem when you're talking about the main character. It's the type of performance where Curtis is not made to act, but react to what is happening around her and she is made to react with passive bewilderment. The identity of the killer, while considered shocking to some, really makes no sense when you think about it for more than two minutes. There is very little blood, even smaller amounts of skin and an overall feeling that every moment of the film is padding. One extended chase scene towards the end of the film redeems it somewhat, but even that is something we have seen before. The film even looks bland and the D.P. glazes everything over in a nauseating soft focus as if the hide this fact.

If Curtis were not in the film, it's hard to imagine anyone would remember PROM NIGHT. There were other slasher films around that time, many of them much better. In fact, I hold a very special place in my heart for J. Lee Thompson's HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, Joseph Zito's THE PROWLER, Armand Mastroianni's HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE, George Mihalka's MY BLOODY VALENTINE and Roger Spottiswoode's TERROR TRAIN (which also starred Curtis, but to better effect). The only thing that makes the original PROM NIGHT stand out is the marketing. The then-burgeoning star power of Curtis is coupled with many scenes of disco dancing and phoned-in teen angst. The whole thing focuses very little on story, just so it can get from point A to point B and hopefully make a few bucks. And it worked.

Maybe that's why producers went back to the well and remade PROM NIGHT recently. Like the original film, it was a slap-dash effort and like the original, it made it's budget back in record time. Now, I need to point out here that I have not seen the 2008 version of PROM NIGHT, hence I will not be reviewing it per se. I will be looking at the marketing of the film and what it signifies to the rest of the genre however.

The very title is an obvious marketing ploy. The fact that it is a horror film centered around the event of PROM NIGHT is reportedly the only connection with the previous film. The lead actress, while not riding immense buzz in genre circles, is certainly known to the young teen crowd the filmmakers which to attract. It's Brittany Snow, who did a decent job in HAIRSPRAY and presumably okay in JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE, a film I could not watch more than five minutes of without retching I have nothing against Snow. She's a local around these parts and I would rather not get slapped for something I know nothing about thankyouverymuch.

The film also uses the music tie-in as a marketing ploy. Rather than use music as a driving force in many films today, it's simply to get tickets sold and maybe a few soundtrack CDs as well ( fat chance on the latter ). Alt-pop covers of 80s songs are big, so some insipid cover of "Time After Time" plays in the trailer. A quick look at the IMDB shows that songs from Rhianna, Britney Spears and Timbaland also appear. Thus, the film is aiming for the same appeal as the disco soundtrack of the original PROM NIGHT which had it's own ridiculous tunes like "Love Me 'Til I Die."

Paul Lynch, director of the 1980 PROM NIGHT has stayed active over the last 28 years, working mainly in television. Conversely, the remake's Nelson McCormick makes his feature debut after spending 15 years in... you guessed it, television.

Everything about this stresses a lack of originality and feedback both within genre circles and with the public at large are reflecting this. But the money has been made and it looks like PROM NIGHT will earn around $40 million before disappearing. Don't be surprised if a sequel, probably straight to video, is already in the works. Maybe that's where the hope lies. Lynch's PROM NIGHT spawned a few in-name only sequels of varying quality. The first one at least, HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II was much more entertaining than it's predecessor.

As for director Nelson McCormick and writer J.S. Cardone (who every now and then does something good like BLACK DAY BLUE NIGHT) on a new project.... a remake of 1987's THE STEPFATHER. We're not out of the woods yet, people. The money train is rolling again, originality need not apply.

1 comment:

therealstain said...

A remake of _The Stepfather_? Oh, dear. At least it'll give the classic original more attention...