The 1980 “Prom Night” — notable only for Jamie Lee Curtis’ big disco number and for a serious, pre-“Airplane!” Leslie Nielsen — is not a classic of horror cinema, so it’s not like the idea of remaking it seemed heretical. Or even particularly difficult. So for the talent behind the 2008 remake to have created a movie that’s completely different and yet even stupider than the original has to represent some kind of achievement.
This time around, our heroine is high school senior Donna (Brittany Snow); she’s model-pretty (yet somehow not in contention for Prom Queen), Ivy League–bound, and haunted by the brutal murder of her parents and little brother three years earlier. The killer was Richard Fenton (Johnathon Schaech), one of Donna’s former schoolteachers, who became violently obsessed with the lass.
Even though Donna still has nightmares about the incident, she’s trying to move on with her life and enjoy her long-awaited prom night. But guess who’s busted out of the mental hospital, armed with a shiny new knife?
Have movie characters never watched “Scream”? How is it that, more than a decade after that snarky series of teen-horror homages, nubile adolescents in harm’s way continue to choose the worst possible options when they’re running from a blade-wielding psychopath? Even the police in this movie — led by a detective played by the talented Idris Elba, who looks like he wishes he were anywhere else — make one boneheaded move after another, for no other reason than to keep the movie going way past the point of all logic.
One way the killer confounds the cops is by being shrewd enough to commit mayhem in a PG-13 movie, which allows for stabbing but not much blood. In an R-rated horror movie, you would notice that the person lying next to you had had his throat slit, because you’d both be lying in a puddle of viscera. But with the more 12-year-old–friendly rating, you have to actually turn the body and notice the wound, since it’s merely surrounded by some discreet red markings.
The real horror of “Prom Night” comes from having to think about Johnathan Schaech’s career trajectory. Once a sexy and compelling presence in movies like “That Thing You Do!” and “The Doom Generation,” he’s been reduced to playing boogeyman opposite a cast of generic, forgettable teen victims. Surely there are better scripts out there for an actor of his gifts.
One script that’s better than this one, shockingly enough, was written for the original “Prom Night.” That film’s twist ending wasn’t particularly heart-stopping, but at least there was some effort to keep the audience guessing. “Prom Night” 2008 is, both literally and figuratively, a bloodless waste of 88 minutes in which the only suspense generated comes from trying to guess the eventual body count.