Honestly, Prom Night could easily have been an Unpopularity Content review, seeing as it’s almost universally despised by those that remember it, but its cast is what secures its place among the Films That Time Forgot.
Before diving into the actual review, allow me to list them: Brittany Snow stars as highschooler Donna Keppel, Idris Elba is Winn, the detective tasked with protecting her, and Johnathon Schaech (now best-known for his role as Jonah Hex on Legends of Tomorrow) plays her murderous stalker, Richard Fenton. There’s also appearances from the familiar faces of Scott Porter, Jessica Stroup, Dana Davis, Kellan Lutz and James Ransome – making for an impressive cast.
However, the cast is just about the only impressive thing in this (incredibly) loose remake of the 1980 film of the same name. The only time anyone genuinely remembers 2008’s Prom Night is in conversations about the worst horror films ever made – and this isn’t entirely unjustified.
The film’s general premise is sound (as slasher movie premises go) – former teacher Richard Fenton becomes obsessed with student Donna Keppel, and brutally murders her family. Three years later, Donna is preparing to graduate, and on the night of her senior prom, Fenton escapes prison with the vague intention of reuniting with Donna (or killing her, it’s never really made clear). In terms of setting up the brutal knife murder of partying teens, it’s no better or worse than its contemporaries, but it’s in the film’s execution (pun definitely intended) that it falls so laughably short.
For some reason, some incredibly misinformed person decided that it would be a good idea to make this violent slasher a PG-13 release, and even more unbelievably, everyone else involved agreed with them. The end result is a film so decidedly not scary that it’s practically laughable, and the only real reason that anyone remembers Prom Night is for its strange lack of injury detail, blood, or clarification regarding the details of its lazy story.
Despite there being a relatively high body count, the film makes only occasional use of any effects, instead opting to show the murders from increasingly ridiculous angles or simply implying a character’s demise only to show their lifeless (and mostly, seemingly uninjured) body later on. It’s quite possibly the most bizarre approach to the genre ever conceived, but somehow Prom Night secured a decent cast and wide release – even if it did immediately meet with overwhelmingly negative reviews and a quick fade into obscurity.
To Prom Night‘s credit, Brittany Snow delivers a passable performance as Donna Keppel, and Idris Elba isn’t too bad as Winn (even if his accent does leave a little to the imagination). There’s also a pretty creative approach to the film’s violent murders and tone which – while entirely misinformed – was actually almost impressive. Telling the story of an implied rapist and deranged killer without actually detailing any of his crimes is no mean feat, and the fact that Prom Night is able to carry it off somewhat coherently is an accomplishment in itself.
That said, this isn’t a film that deserves to be remembered as anything other than what it is: an experiment in alienating the audience in the hopes of marketing slasher-horror to a younger audience. Yes, it really is that insane, and yes, it really is that ridiculous.
Summary: It’s a slasher story with no emphasis on the slashing – so, basically it’s a story. It’s not even a particularly good one.
Highlights: Idris Elba’s almost convincing American accent is worth a look, and Brittany Snow’s performance isn’t too bad. Other than that, the film’s unique approach to bloodless knife murders is worth seeing just for a good laugh.