How do you like your abysmal? Inept but distinctive, with lots of gratuitous violence and T&A;, and Leslie Nielsen in a serious role? Or slick but perfunctory, with no imagination and all the nasty bits scrubbed for mass consumption? That's the difference between 1980's Prom Night—a cheap Canadian cash-in on Halloween, featuring "scream queen" Jamie Lee Curtis and a bizarre five-minute disco-dancing interlude—and the virtually in-name-only remake, which contents itself with delivering a few mild shocks to accompany its generic modern-rock soundtrack. What's missing from both films, mysteriously, is any meaningful connection to prom night itself, a rite of passage that's full of anxiety and expectation even without a knife-wielding lunatic on the loose. Not every film can be Carrie, blowing the inherent anxieties of prom up into larger issues, but Prom Night might as well take place on Casimir Pulaski Day, for all the difference it makes.
The victims in the original Prom Night are bound by their shared guilt over an accidental death that occurred six years earlier, when they scared a girl into falling from the window of an abandoned schoolhouse. No such pact binds the brain-dead teens in the remake, though the threat of a Michael Myers-like escapee remains the same. Three years earlier, jumpy good-girl Brittany Snow managed to fend off a teacher (Johnathon Schaech) whose obsession led to several deaths, but now he's back for more. As Snow and her friends attend prom at a fancy hotel, Schaech camps out in and around their suite and methodically dispatches them one by one, with the police always a step or two behind.
There's really nothing much to Prom Night: No twists, no atmosphere, no big Grand Guignol setpieces, not a single moment when it tries to do something novel with the event, the killings, the villain, or the victims. It's a little like going on a tour of the slaughterhouse, where death is meted out with mechanical regularity, but visitors are kept at a safe, PG-13 distance from all the butchering. Outside of a bitter prom-queen rivalry that's missing a payoff, the only odd detail is Snow's hilarious, cat-like skittishness; she freaks at the slightest provocation, from metal hangers clanging in a closet to the appearance of any figure she can't spot from 20 paces away. Look for the sequel, where she's menaced by the dryer buzzer.