Thursday, October 7, 2010
SLASHER SMACKDOWN #2: PROM NIGHT (1980) vs. PROM NIGHT (2008)
As much as I love first wave slasher flicks, I will be the first to admit that my love for them has as much (if not more) to do with the IDEA of the flicks as it does for their execution. Take 1980's Prom Night, for instance. Not a bad flick. An obvious Halloween rip-off, Prom Night is one of several impressive Canadian slasher movies that hit theaters in the early 80s. Slasher archetypes abound: the Bitch, the Clown, the Virgin, the Jerk, and the Final Girl (played by Jamie Lee Curtis herself!). This film is interesting primarily as an artifact of a moment in time when the 70s were dying, the 80s were being born, and pop culture was a mishmash of the two. I can tell you that by the time this movie hit theaters, Disco was dead in my age group, but the Prom in the movie (themed "DISCO MADNESS!!!") is an over the top disco fantasia. While those wanting gore in their slasher films will be disappointed overall, this film does blow an impressive gore wad in one brief but fantastic slash sequence which leads to a prom panic and stampede: the Jerk gets decapitated and his head rolls down the disco-lit catwalk meant for the prom king and queen. It's an amazingly tacky sequence, but well-executed and fabulous! Also, the stalk and slash sequence where the Bitch gets offed is great until she actually gets killed and you can't see a thing. The fact that you're actually rooting for her by the end of the sequence is a testament to how well it's done, but there's no pay off: it seems like a wasted opportunity. Overall, this movie is a great time capsule with good production values and a decent amount of suspense. It's very glitzy and glam in that late 70s/early 80s way (think the 2nd half of Boogie Nights), which is probably why it was a sizable hit upon release (raked in nearly $15M on a $1.5M budget. BTW $15M 1980 dollars = $38.5M 2009 dollars, which ain't chump change). Some might argue that the best thing about Prom Night is its poster, and they'd have a decent argument: I mean, I love the way that leather-gloved fist holding that mirror shard pops out at ya. In the end, though, Prom Night is an entertaining, low gore, high camp, uber disco flick for those who like that sort of thing.
Speaking of posters that are arguably better than the movies they are designed to promote, 2008's Prom Night is pretty much in the same class as the original when it comes to glam, glitz and execution. Which surprised me, cauz I was all ready to trash the new version until I rewatched the old version and realized how tame it was. The new one does have an impressive poster: kind of glam and grime at the same time, promising you some kind of sexy, messy shit. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver. The new Prom Night is a slasher movie for Tweens. It's well-made and decently-acted as far as slasher movies go...but sadly limp, with no gore and a teeny tiny barely noticable amount of suspense. Basically, the film fails too hard to be enjoyable. But that's not its biggest crime.
There are 2 types of slasher flick fans: those who are in it for the gore, and those who respond to the subtext, which just happens (coincidentally) to be illustrated by the gore. :p I fall into the latter group. People who are in it for the gore are the people who get off on watching movies like Hostel. I am not one of those people. I am not a huge splatter fan. The thing I love about slasher movies is that they are all about subtext. First wave slasher flicks represent a collective fear of punishment for the wild, carefree, druggy, sexy ways of the baby boomers. "If it feels good, do it" may have sounded like a good code to live by, but those of us in Gen X had the feeling that if we really lived like that, we'd ultimately be punished for it. So the killers in first wave slasher flicks are really a metaphor for not only our collective guilt and shame about sex and unchecked inhibitions, but for what became AIDS in real life: the other shoe dropping. Up on screen, our guilt and shame stalked and slashed our contemporaries while we had to beat it off (no pun intended) to survive. Up on screen, AIDS came in the form of Jason, and other killers just like him.
So, what's the subtext being delivered in the new Prom Night for its young audience? First off, the killer is a TEACHER! Those evil teachers! In a baseball cap. With a goatee. He's like the evil killer from the 90s! Ooooooh! BTW, the only other teacher depicted in the film is a LESBIAN GYM TEACHER with a crush on the main girl (Amber VonTussle from the Hairspray remake). The main characters deride the lesbian to Amber ("She's so into you." Snicker, snicker), which seems totally unnecessary when all the dyke is doing is being supportive, since Amber's got a tragic backstory that I won't go into. So far, the subtext of this film is aimed at conformist heterosexual assholes who hate teachers and gays. Then you've got your sassy black girl who so wants to be Prom Queen, right? Like, she never shuts up about it. And she keeps saying that if she wins Prom Queen then that'll be making a statement for black girls everywhere, blah blah blah. Which is all fine and good. But then, what does she do? Right before they're about to announce Prom King and Queen, the bitch goes upstairs to have sex with her boyfriend. Which, when you read this as subtext, is TOTALLY EFFING OFFENSIVE, right? It makes no sense. So basically she's like this sassy little black girl living in a white world, and she's really likable up to the point where she ditches her dream of being prom queen (not to mention her chance to be a game-changing role model to future generations of sassy young black girls living in a white world) to go upstairs to do her boyfriend. Because...I don't know, pleasing her horny boyfriend is more important than being crowned Prom Queen? Or...black people can't help but succumb to their primal sexual urges? I'm not quite sure, but whatever it is, I'm not buying it. Before actually screwing her boyfriend, however, she leaves suddenly b/c she realizes she's seen the killer and must warn the others. And her boyfriend takes out this ring after she's gone, like he was gonna ask her to marry him, if only she'd stayed...and fucked him. It's fucking RETARDED. Remember, subtext. Then, she goes from being the sassiest black girl in the slasher universe to being the stupidest slasher bitch of all time, and she basically breaks down into hysterics and gets murdered more brutally than any of her contemporaries in the flick. Later on, after it becomes rather obvious that she's been murdered, her boyfriend sits down on the curb outside the hotel and cries, clutching the ring, looking up into heaven as if to say: if only I hadn't tried to fuck her first. It's retarded. And don't even get me started on the hapless latina hotel maid named Maria...
Anyway, the plot doesn't matter, it's your basic Disney-fied slasher b.s. The white blond Aryan girl almost gets killed but not quite, and then everyone around her gets killed, and then she almost gets killed again, but then she gets SAVED BY THE COP. Which is more total bullshit! She's supposed to save herself! That's the whole point of a slasher movie, right? Final girl and all that? HELLO! But no. This being a Tween slasher flick, girls are being taught that they must be SAVED to survive. IT'S LAME!
Then there's the making of doc, which I was stupid enough to watch. Let me tell ya, after the director very defensively tried to rationalize the lack of gore in the movie ("It's so much more effective to see the characters react to the violence than it is to see the actual violence!"), and dismissed the original as having absolutely nothing to do with his fabulous remake, or reimagining, or whatthefuckever, ("The only thing these movies have in common is the title!") he went on to try to compare this piece of garbage to Se7en and Silence of the Lambs. That's when I realized he is a FUCKING TOOL and I just got done watching A PIECE OF SHIT. He’s all, "It’s not just a slasher movie, it’s so much more: a cop thriller, a killer on the loose, a coming of age drama..." BITCH, PLEASE! It’s a half-assed slasher movie with a big budget and no balls that got rated PG-13 and should have been rated G! A movie that reinforces homophobic, racist and sexist stereotypes and teaches kids (the obvious intended audience) that conformity and 1950s gender roles are what's most important to survival in this world. Hey Mr. Director (Nelson McCormick), you know what? You suck! And so does your movie.
In the movie's defense, I'll say this: It's shot and acted well. It's got the actress who played the crazy fake-pregnant wife of the music teacher on Glee Season 1 as Amber's aunt. And while there is no gore, there is violence, and the violence is, at times, disturbing. I must also say, in all fairness, that it did go on to rake in just under $44M on its $20M budget. Whatever, it still sucks.
Anyway, the winner: PROM NIGHT (1980). Not because it's one of the greatest slasher flicks out there, but because (1) The new Prom Night's subtext totally sucks ass, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna promote a movie that teaches girls that conforming to regressiver gender roles is the way to go; (2) The original Prom Night has the best Disco Prom on celluloid (not to mention-which I didn't-the most BITCHEN disco dance routine by JLC and her date!); and (3) The original Prom Night's got Jamie Lee Curtis kicking psycho killer ass, teaching young girls everywhere that they can be self-reliant survivors and not hot mess victims who need to be saved by men! Need I say more?