|Prom Night (2008)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Wednesday, 08 October 2008|
The packagers of this Blu-ray release have crammed the disc with numerous extras, but it’s not likely there’s anyone out there who’s going to care about this movie one way or the other to find these mostly routine extras of much interest. Similarly to the movie, they’re workmanlike and professional, but of little interest.
One of the most striking images in the film is the helicopter shot behind the credits. It’s an early-evening swooping view over the handsome bridge that leads to Newport, Oregon, an attractive town on the coast. (But there’s an even more majestic bridge to the south of Newport, crossing wide Coos Bay, leading down into North Bend, Oregon, but it’s been used in only one, very obscure, movie so far. Get on the stick, location scouts.)
The movie opens as young Donna Keppel (Brittany Snow) returns home one evening only to find her mother, father and brother all killed by an insane teacher, Mr. Fenton (Johnathon Schaech), who’s developed a fixation on her, convinced she loves him as much as he does her. He’s sent to prison 2300 miles away.
Three years later, Donna is still troubled by nightmares and thoughts of that murderous night. She still lives in (fictional) Bridgeport, Oregon, with her aunt and uncle, and is getting ready for her senior prom. Her boyfriend Bobby (Scott Porter) picks her up in a limousine, and they head for the prom with their friends: Lisa (Dana Davis) and her boyfriend Ronnie (Collins Pennie), and Claire (Jessica Stroup) and her boyfriend Michael (Kelly Blatz). It’s rather clumsily established that classmate Crissy (Brianne Davis) is intensely envious of Lisa, her only real rival for Queen of the Prom. But don’t pay much attention to that plot element; the movie certainly doesn’t.
Over at the police department, amazingly large considering the probable size of the town, Detective Winn (Idris Elba) gets a call belatedly informing him that Fenton has escaped from prison and is on his way to Bridgeport. He knows Fenton will go after Donna again, and heads to the prom to protect her.
But Fenton has already arrived there, learned which room Donna and her group have rented; he gets a room on the same floor—interesting that nobody recognizes this guy, who must have been notorious in town just three years before. Sure, he’s shaved off the beard and long hair that made him resemble Charles Manson, but still….
Fenton kills a maid for her master key, then kills a steward for reasons that seemed a bit muddled, and sits down in the kids’ room to wait for Donna to show up. Meanwhile, down at the dance—which we’re told cost the school $100,000 to stage (is that possible?)—not very much is going on other than a mild quarrel between second-string heroine/hero Claire and Michael. Claire goes to the room, and….
Well, it is a semi-horror movie, so it’s not surprising that Fenton keeps on murdering people. It’s not exactly convincing that nobody notices for as long as they do, but the movie did have to be feature length, of course. But the script by J.S. Cardone, a busy but undistinguished writer of movies on this budget level, is not very persuasive at any point. It seems unlikely that someone as deranged as Fenton would have appeared normal enough to be hired as a high school teacher in the first place. Also, Cardone isn’t inventive enough to set up killings that come about in anything resembling an interesting manner. Fenton more or less stays put and waits for his victims to come to him.
Nelson McCormick primarily directs episodes of dramatic TV series; this may be his first theatrical feature. He seems low on creativity or distinction, but he’s competent enough. The sequence in which Lisa, who does recognize Fenton (after a while), is stalked by the killer through a section of the hotel undergoing renovation—cans of paint, hanging sheets of plastic, low lighting—is reasonably suspenseful. He occasionally cuts to minor, pointless details, perhaps merely because the budget allows it, though it’s possible he thought of these as increasing the suspense. It doesn’t. Brittany Snow and Brianne Davis strongly resemble one another; surely something could have been built on this coincidence? But no, nasty Crissy (Davis) and her pals are never menaced, not even momentarily.
Production designer Jon Gary Steele is one of the film’s major virtues; he makes the Park Plaza, an aging, disused Los Angeles hotel, seem vast and alternately attractive and menacing. Cinematographer Checco Varese is also a standout; he plans his wide screen images very well; the one sequence in the movie that justifies releasing it on video in high definition is at the prom itself, when glittering confetti wafts down through the strobe lights. However, overall, the movie could have been set at any large gathering of teenagers; there’s nothing about the plot that justifies the prom night setting. (Quite unlike the 1980 “Prom Night,” in which that particular event was crucial to the story.) The score by Paul Haslinger is, probably appropriately, standard thriller stuff of little style.
The cast is acceptable with no one a standout except, maybe, Dana Davis, who’s almost ferociously beautiful—in the right hands, she could easily become a star on her beauty alone. The plot requires the cops to act like dolts—Winn has several men at his disposal, but all of them are watching the prom itself, just in case Fenton might show up. He doesn’t post men in any other part of the hotel, though he does have one guy watching the aunt and uncle’s house. He passes out photos of Fenton—in easily-removed beard and mustache. And he has a plot-driven habit of arriving just a little too late.
As mentioned earlier, the disc is laden with extras. As usual, it’s all too clear why the deleted scenes were removed; in this case, it’s mostly pointless diversionary material—Fenton escaping from the asylum, the activities of Crissy and her pals (who could possibly care?), Fenton going to Donna’s old house, etc. The gag reel is, as usual, mostly people blowing their lines or breaking up. There’s an alternate ending that’s really just a variation on the ending the film does have. In the background of the prom scenes, a video of this class’s four years of high school activities unreels; it’s one of the extras, and is successful, in a sense—it’s just as uninteresting to those not involved as the real things are. There are standard featurettes on the making of the movie, on the characterization (which is practically non-existent) of the killer, redressing the real hotel to be the movie hotel, some video clips of actors in the movie talking about their real-life prom experiences, and so forth. It’s thorough; clearly the ancillary material had a reasonable budget. But it’s remarkably uninteresting. So is the commentary track, although it’s amusing when Brittany Snow points out, accurately, that the movie seems somehow obsessed with closets.
It’s unusual when there are no good reasons to avoid OR to watch a movie, but that’s how this particularly cookie crumbles.