A solid earner that premiered to $20.8 million on April 11, en route to a $43.8 million domestic haul, Prom Night is a moderately well done slice of stalking teen horror, courtesy of some invested work by first-time feature director Nelson McCormick. Starring Brittany Snow in the Neve Campbell role, as a teenager who’s also the object of obsession for the murderer of her mother, the movie doesn’t offer much that’s new in the way of story or twists, or even revelatory performances, but the glossy finish and snap-fit of its component parts at least make it palatable for those for whom it was chiefly designed.
For Donna Keppel (Snow, above) senior prom is supposed to be the best night of her life. After surviving a horrible tragedy several years earlier, she’s moved in with her aunt and uncle (Jessalyn Gilsig and Linden Ashby) and finally moved on a bit, enjoying her last year of high school. Surrounded by her best friends, she should be safe from the horrors of her past. But when her prom night turns deadly, there’s only one person who could be responsible — former teacher Richard Fenton (Johnathon Schaech), a man Donna thought was gone forever. Now, as Detective Winn (Idris Elba) works to track Fenton down, Donna and her friends (a group that includes Scott Porter, Jessica Stroup, Dana Davis, Brianne Davis and Kellan Lutz) must find a way to escape the sadistic rampage of an obsessed killer, and survive a night “to die for.”
The big screen debut of acclaimed television director McCormick (Prison Break, and many other hour-long serials), Prom Night is a film that gets the most out of its meager budget. Penned by horror veteran J.S. Cardone (The Covenant, The Forsaken), the movie invests both in back story and the investigatory strand headed up by Winn, to decently differentiating effect. There’s a half-hour to 35 minutes spanning the second and third acts that very much recalls something like When a Stranger Calls, wherein Donna’s friends are cornered and picked off. But eventually the movie escapes its hotel setting, providing a small gasp of originality before a very pat, familiar ending.
Fairly attractive but still snakebit by bad small screen habits, Snow does that scrunchy-face thing an awful lot, like she’s entering some Renee Zellweger impersonation contest. The best work is actually turned in by Schaech, who captures the zombification of true obsessiveness, wherein psychotics kill not in willy-nilly fashion, but based on need and opportunity, to escape a particular situation or do away with a (human) obstacle to their pursuit. The rest of the kids generally acquit themselves; certainly they’ll have an easier time booking gigs based on the film’s commercial performance.
A cardboard slipcover masks the regular, plastic Amray case in which the unrated edition of Prom Night is sold. Presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio mix, the movie not too surprisingly embraces the concept of volume when it comes to supplemental extras. An audio commentary track with director McCormick, Snow and Schaech kicks things off, and there are plenty of compliments to go around, in addition to production detail provided by McCormick.
A two-minute gag reel finds Stroup getting a door handle to the butt in one sequence; there’s also a completely worthless five-minute “video yearbook” comprised of material strung together to play in the background at the movie’s prom. Five minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary show more character stuff, including more of Fenton’s escape from prison (modeled after one of Ted Bundy’s escapes, McCormick tells us), while the sticker-touted alternate ending is in actuality just a 30-second clip that freeze-frames a portion of the original ending, and slaps on it a line of whispery voiceover.
A 13-minute making-of featurette includes interviews with cast and crew; most interesting is cinematographer Checco Varese, a former CNN stringer and war photojournalist, who talks about closing the shutter angle of the camera to achieve the jittery, fractious look of its final chase sequences. There’s a five-minute look at the creation of the Grand Hotel set (yawn), while another featurette, “Profile of a Killer,” runs about six minutes, and finds writer Cardone mostly explaining his research process in crafting the screenplay. Most amusing, though, may be a six-minute bit which finds the cast sharing real prom stories of their own; Porter turns out to be the pimp of the group, racking up six total prom nights. Well played, kid — hope that worked out for you. Click here for a clip from the film. To purchase the movie on unrated DVD via Amazon, click here. C (Movie) B (Disc)