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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Prom Night is a loose remake of the 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis/Leslie Nielsen slasher pic about a crazed killer hacking up teenagers on the night of the school’s biggest dance. This new version stars Brittany Snow (Hairspray) as Donna Keppel, a teenage cheerleader whose beauty captivated former teacher Richard Fenton (Johnathon Schaech) to the point where he became murderously obsessed. (This is potentially the most interesting aspect of the story, but there’s no time for it when there are people to kill!) Fenton was sentenced to a psychiatric prison after murdering Donna’s family, but three years later he’s managed to escape and make his way back to the tiny town where the object of his obsession lives.

Donna senses something is wrong. She confides to her therapist (Ming Na) that she’s been having nightmares about Fenton again. The therapist urges her to forget all that and enjoy the upcoming prom. (A hundred dollars an hour for that?) Donna puts on her fancy dress and heads to a luxury hotel with boyfriend Bobby (Scott Porter) and assorted dead meat…I mean close friends. Fenton, in a stunning baseball cap disguise, checks into the hotel and begins knifing Donna’s friends one by one. Meanwhile, a local detective named Winn (Idris Elba), discovers that Fenton has escaped. Instead of ruining the prom by stopping it and getting everyone to safety, he has cops swarm the hotel to protect Donna and find the madman.

Prom Night is yet another example of what I call Horror Movies for Middle School Kids. (Any self-respecting high school age teen would certainly prefer a hardcore effort like Saw or a Rob Zombie splatterfest to watered down horror such as this.) These HMFMSK are relatively safe, PG-13 thrillers with emo-rock soundtracks and very little blood/gore. They are the kinds of pictures that junior high kids attend in groups, so that the girls can get scared (or pretend to) and cuddle up next to the boys they are too young to do anything else with. Films like Prom Night – and One Missed Call and Boogeyman and The Eye - are part of an adolescent pre-sexual ritual in our culture. If you don’t believe me, pay your money and watch the audience instead of the movie.

HMFMSK pictures are not made for adults with discerning taste who might want to be entertained or scared. They do not offer anything new and different. For proof, consider that Prom Night has just about every horror cliché you can think of. The moment where the crazy dude is standing on the street and then disappears as a bus passes in front of him? It’s here. The scene where an animal pops out for a “false scare?” It’s here too. And you know that bit in which a character goes into the bathroom and opens the medicine cabinet, only to see someone reflected in the mirror after closing it? Well, that’s here, like, six times! And, of course, there are plenty of scenes where Donna bumps into something harmless while a loud clanging noise abruptly shatters the silence in digital surround sound. (We jump at the sudden noise, not what’s actually taking place on screen.) It’s just staggering how lazy Prom Night is. This stuff stopped being scary decades ago, yet the filmmakers are content to trot it out again.

Why? It’s for the kids, of course! A middle schooler hasn’t seen hundreds of horror movies yet and therefore isn’t likely to recognize the complete lack of creativity he’s witnessing…especially when his “girlfriend” is wrapping her arms tightly around him and burying her face in his chest out of fear. The product achieves the desired effect for the target audience, and therefore it is “awesome.” All this is basically my way of saying that if you’re older than 14, you aren’t going to find anything worthwhile here except, perhaps, a surprisingly good performance from Brittany Snow, who somehow manages to earn our sympathy amid all the formula.

Prom Night keeps the actual violence off-camera, showing us only what comes immediately before and immediately after each killing. Again, that makes it acceptable for the middle schoolers, but horror-loving adults will want a lot more. And that’s fine – or at least it would be if the filmmakers had come up with an original story. But they didn’t. They remade a well-known horror flick in a very specific subgenre. The 1980 Prom Night was by no means a masterpiece, yet it begs the question of the remake: If you’re going to make a slasher movie and you take out all the actual slashing, what else is left?

( 1/2 out of four)

Air Guitar Nation is rated PG-13 for violence and terror, some sexual material, underage drinking, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

To learn more about this film, check out Prom Night

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