2 out of 5
Directed by: Paul Lynch
I don’t think we ask much of our beloved slasher genre. In fact, we might embrace those that fall well below that low “much” line for whatever other reasons – some spark of imagination, or so-bad-it’s-goodness, or self-awareness, etc. Prom Night has some interesting bits and pieces mixed in, and maybe one or two great moments, but it’s otherwise pretty incompetent, and rather boring, which is one of the mightier sins of film. It’s maybe telling that one of those sole great moments was a studio mandate to add more gore; it’s not necessarily the gore that makes the shot, but rather, a sudden willingness to lean in with a sense of humor that’s otherwise lacking.
Prom Night opens with several kids playing a game of hide and seek in an abandoned, crumbling building. Youngster Robin approaches, and wants in on the game, but she ain’t part o’ the hide and seek gang, so the others taunt her until the inevitable accident in which Robin falls out of a window and dies, and the kids all quickly swear to not-tell-a-soul, in one of the several clunky sequences in the flick in which there’s no attempt to direct, light, or frame with any style, write anything that’s not cookie cutter, or encourage acting that isn’t just about making it through the scene. They’re kid actors, so I get it, but it’s a tough, completely unconvincing (an unentertaining on any level) start to the movie.
A shadow looms above Robin’s body; we flash-forward 10 years, and it’s prom night (well, it’s prom day for the first 60 or so following minutes of the film), and our killer kids have grown up, secret still kept. So you know how this goes.
There are some scenes in Prom Night that make me wonder if it inspired some similar scenes in slashers that would follow, but even if so, there’s no real sense of authority over these scenes, and I’d say that’s one of the flick’s largest problems: it feels unfocused to the extent that it could really be any kind of movie; meaning, if you took away the inevitable “killer returns for revenge” moments, the overall tone is… not there. It could be a PG coming-of-age movie, it could be a comedy, it could be a drama. You only really know it’s a horror movie, and a slasher, because… it is. That’s why you’re watching it. But if you were flipping through channels, no clue as to what this was, you’d still have no clue through most of the runtime.
The splash at the titular event finally has gusto, making the last ten or fifteen minutes of the movie pretty good – Jamie Lee Curtis gets to be badass final girl; the killer reveal – while predictable – is well handled; and the juxtaposition of disco music playing while our slasher chases people is amusing and weird. Also, the flipside of the rather hands-off approach that Lynch seemed to take with the movie is that we get some pretty naturalistic performances and interactions between some of the lead “teens” (aka 20 year old actors), and it also highlights how bumbling the kills are, which is a unique touch. And I’m surely reading into this too much, but the languid pace black-suited-killer-with-a-funny-voice read as giallo flavorings to me, so that’s something.
But that’s not enough of something to meet that “much” bar. Prom Night may have worked during the slasher boom of the 80s, helped along by Curtis’ genre star power, but it’s a pretty snoozey flick, start to finish.