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Prom Night (2008)

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // August 19, 2008 // Region 0
List Price: $38.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 16, 2008 | E-mail the Author
One of the featurettes on Prom Night starts off playing not like a stock making-of piece so much as a pre-emptive defense against...well, reviewers like me, I guess. No, no, it's not really a remake! Our movie is a thriller, not a slasher! We don't need barrel drums of splatter; the anticipation building up to a kill is more intense than the actual release. Besides, it's more horrifying if the camera's pointed away from the killer -- if you just see the terror in someone's face -- 'cause letting your imagination fill in the blanks is always gonna be scarier!

Okay, let's roll with that for a minute. I mean, the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre still holds up as one of the most unrelentingly intense horror flicks ever made without really any gore in it at all, and you never once see the knife actually connect when Marion Crane is being carved up in the shower in Psycho. The extras scattered across this disc compare Prom Night to The Shining, Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Se7en, and a long list of other thrillers, The difference between those movies and Prom Night is that they know how to keep the audience on edge. They know how to eke out tension. This remake-in-name-only of a flick hardly one really liked in the first place...? It's just going through the motions.

Rattle off a cliché and it's not only in here somewhere, it probably creeps in seven or eight times. Y'know, hey! That guy who's been stalking me is across the street,
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but...sweet baby Jesus, that bus went by and now he's vanished! Go ahead and keep a shot ready every time you see a mirror 'cause you're probably about spot the killer in it, you've got a bunch of lazy sudden-hand-on-the-shoulder-style jump scares, red-shirts strolling around carefree when there's a sudden "WHOOSH!" effect and the black smear of the killer zips by, the obligatory hiding-in-a-dark-cavernous-room-with-lots-of-sheets-of-plastic scene... I'm halfway surprised they didn't have a cat leaping onto the frame just to hit every last cliché, although they do throw in a pretty similar gag with pigeons.

Even the worst horror flicks usually have something memorable about 'em. Maybe one stretch is kinda/sorta intense, there'll be a cacklingly creative kill, or the whole thing's so hysterically inept that at least you get a laugh out of it. Prom Night is too bland and plays it too safe to work on any level, though. There's zero tension, the kills are all straightahead stranglings and stabbings (borderline-bloodless and pretty much entirely off-camera), it's just barely competent enough to steer clear of any unintentional laughs, and even the standard issue Final Girl Takes a Stand angle is botched because Prom Night wants to play like some generic NBC police procedural half the time too. There's not much to say about the writing. The dialogue's passable, I guess, and the story's so forgettable that there's no point in even bothering with the usual rambling summary. (Stalk-'n-slash by some deranged nutjob who picks off his fantasy girl's pals one-by-one at a prom while the cops try to track him down. That's it.) The cast is mostly okay, at least, so I guess that's something.

This Blu-ray disc piles on an unrated version of Prom Night, but it's hard to believe even this cut couldn't score a PG-13 without breaking a sweat. Hell, Prom Night could probably air uncut on basic cable, and that seems kind of appropriate since this pretty much is a slightly glossier version of a Lifetime Original Movie as it is. Skip It.

Video: Yeah, yeah, I know that's five paragraphs straight of me bitching about the movie, but I don't have any gripes at all about how Prom Night turned out in high-def. The scope image looks slick: clean, clear, richly detailed, and teeming with the sort of "wow." moments I kinda hope for from a shiny, newly-minted Blu-ray disc. Checco Varese's cinematography is polished to a glossy sheen, black levels are consistently deep and substantial, and the faint trace of film grain is presented flawlessly and is never intrusive. While most horror flicks these days drain away most of the color or crank them up like Dario Argento on a Red Bull bender, the palette in Prom Night finds a nice middle ground: bold, nicely saturated, but still very natural. The image holds up well when the lights are dialed down, not marred by any black crush or exaggerated grain. It's another solid effort from Sony.

Audio: Like the movie itself, Prom Night's 16-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack isn't nearly as aggressive as most slasher flicks. It still sounds decent
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enough on Blu-ray, though. The film's dialogue is crisp, clean, and nicely balanced in the mix, aside from the D.J. working the prom who can be kinda tough to make out. Bass response is a little timid but punchy enough, especially when it's punctuating all the jump scares. Prom Night is especially keen on trying to establish an unsettling atmosphere by starting with dead silence and tossing in slight discrete sounds -- squeaking footsteps, the clink of metal hangers in the closet, etc., etc., etc. -- and the mix handles all of that well. This lossless soundtrack isn't anything all that remarkable, but I don't have any major complaints.

Another TrueHD track is served up in Portuguese alongside Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in Spanish and Thai. Subtitles are offered in English (traditional and SDH), Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Indonesian.

Extras: The only high-def extras on this Blu-ray disc are a stack of trailers, including one for Prom Night.

Director Nelson McCormick piles into the recording booth with actors Johnathon Schaech (Richard Fenton, the stalker) and Brittany Snow (Donna, the stalkee) for Prom Night's audio commentary, and...okay, I'll go ahead and admit that I dug this track. I know I probably shouldn't -- they take the movie way too seriously, and it's one of those Mutual Admiration Society commentaries where they go on non-stop about how much they love everyone and everything -- but it's so bubbly and personable that it's hard not to find it kinda charming. Snow frets that they're spoiling things for people who hadn't seen the movie before, gushes about ladybugs, snickers at her wardrobe in one early scene, and mentions that Halloween star Scout Taylor-Compton auditioned for a part that would've put two Jamie Lee Curtis horror remakes under her belt. The discussion also swirls around the design of Fenton's knife, the psychology behind psycho killers, how the camera makes the audience feel like the murderer, bringing in a contortionist to step in as one pretzel-limbed corpse, and how Schaech completely smashed a door down in a single take. Nah, this isn't an essential listen or anything, but it's kinda breezy and fun, and sometimes that's good enough.

The three of 'em also chime in with optional commentary over five and a half minutes of deleted scenes. There's nothing all that memorable: more stalking, a trip to the Mean Girls' suite, Donna's OMG gabbing about kissin' her arch-nemesis' boyfriend, a full run through how the Psycho Killer busted out of the asylum, and a cringingly bad alternate ending that would've closed the flick with a freeze-frame and a finger-wagglingly ominous voiceover. The AV Club's video yearbook that's briefly seen in the movie is presented in full, running five and a half minutes, and there's also a better-than-average gag reel (2 min.).

"A Night to Remember: The Making of Prom Night" (13 min.) spends a lot of time practically defending the flick, but at least it does seem to be genuinely interested in tackling the making of the movie, and that's one-up over most DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Some of the topics tackled include the theme of prom as a sort of death of innocence itself or...something, director Nelson McCormick making the transition from television to his first feature film, shaping the look of the movie, and suffering through a parade of grueling night shoots.

"Profile of a Killer" (6 min.) kinds
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of just recaps what's already clearly shown about resident nutjob Richard Fenton in the movie, but there are a couple of other quick notes, such as the research into real-life killers and how, like Fatal Attraction, these murders are driven by love rather than anger. I think Devo wrote a song about that.

"Gothic Spaces: Creating the Pacific Grand Hotel" (5 min.) runs through how a Park Plaza hotel in downtown L.A. got a production design spit-'n-polish for the setting of this hyperlavish prom. The chatter includes how the hotel is practically a character in its own right, the elevated design of the dance floor and D.J. booth, and how one floor happened to be under heavy renovation exactly as scripted.

The last of the featurettes is "Prom Night Photo Album: Real Prom Stories from the Cast" (6 min.), which is...well, exactly what it sounds like. The cast is charming enough to make it worth a look, though, and a few of the stories really are pretty funny.

There are a couple of Blu-ray exclusives lurking around on Prom Night. This is a BD-Live enabled disc, although taking a stab at that functionality just seemed to lock up my PS3. All I could tell at a glance was that the disc serves up an interactive poll that lets viewers pick the best hiding place for a butchered corpse, but the bar froze halfway after trying to send in my vote. Also included is a picture-in-picture storyboard feature that runs throughout the movie. I'm usually not a fan of this sort of thing, but I really liked it in the case of Prom Night, and it's impressively comprehensive. There are stretches without any storyboards at all, but those that do frequently have the storyboards change every few seconds to match just about every last shot in the scene. It's worth setting to play alongside the disc's audio commentary.

A short TV spot rounds out the extras.

Conclusion: The original Prom Night wasn't exactly some cinematic milestone or whatever, but at least it had a personality. This room temperature remake-in-name-only limps along for an hour and a half straight, thumbing through every last dog-eared page in the Big Book of Thriller Clichés without managing to come up with one solid scare or a single standout moment. If you're hard up for a high-def slasher, stick with Halloween or settle for Urban Legend or I Know What You Did Last Summer instead. At least this Blu-ray disc looks and sounds pretty great, so it's not a total loss, but still: Skip It.
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