A number of years ago, I grabbed a huge movie theater size poster of the 2008 Prom Night remake off of the swag table at a film event. Now, I couldn’t tell you if I still have that poster, rolled away, in some corner of my ever expanding memorabilia filled closet…but I can tell you that I will never forget the look of pure surprise that came over a dear friend’s face when he saw me snatch it off that stack of terror filled goodies. There was no derision in his glance, as best as I can recall, just pure shock.
Recently, I was reminded, again, of how disdained that reimagining was upon reading Rue Morgue’s look at the Golden Age of Canadian horror, Horrorwood North. The original Prom Night, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, filmed in 1979 in Toronto, is considered one of the original slasher classics, and, naturally, is covered, lovingly, in the volume. On the other hand, the 2008 version was mentioned at the end of that cherished terror’s profile as being “much despised”.
The original film, as many know, focused on the revenge fueled slayings of a group of high school students who had, unwittingly, killed a young girl through their cruel bullying, years before. Alongside the expected sex, drugs and…disco, the film also spent some time exploring how the young girl’s death had affected her family – particularly her extremely fragile mother and her sensitive older brother, who had actually witnessed her death throes and, eventually as the film’s dance fueled finale reveals, become’s the film’s vengeful (yet sympathetic) killer. These layers have endeared the film to horror sophisticates for decades.
The 2008 version told the tale of Donna (a sweetly effective Brittany Snow), a teenage girl whose family had been slaughtered by her (Hollywood handsome) teacher, Richard Fenton, three years previously. Now living with her uncle and her aunt, she, hesitantly yet happily, prepares for her senior prom with her adorable boyfriend, Bobby. But, after Donna and her friends settle into their hotel rooms and begin to celebrate, Fenton emerges and begins to slaughter them. Donna is rescued by the police and taken home, but the ever resilient Fenton tracks her down and murders Bobby, who is trying to protect her. After a final battle with Donna, Fenton is finally dispatched, leaving the young woman safe but further traumatized, echoing the devastating emotional fate of Kim Hammond, Curtis’ character in the original.
Despite its critical drubbing (with extremely low ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic), this revamped tale took in nearly $57,000,000 on its original release, ultimately making it the 16th highest grossing slasher. Perhaps, more importantly, there are a couple of elements in its plotline that speak directly to the homosexual heart. (Well, at least, mine!)
Reflecting on the film’s appeal to me, an image popped into my mind of myself at 16 or 17 watching a popular girl, at the small Catholic school I attended, arriving with her handsome, college age boyfriend for a Homecoming Dance. I remember wishing with all my might that I could do the same. But, I definitely wasn’t of the “in crowd” and there was no way that a guy was going to ask me to a dance in mid-80s farm country. Thus, I believe a thread of appreciative sorts is formed by myself with the reimagining’s heroine, Donna, who is doing exactly what I always dreamed of doing. (The fact that her relationship is ultimately thwarted is, perhaps, even another reminder of all those young crushes and sexual dreams that never quite played out, as well.)
Even more so, queer men (including myself) have notoriously been preyed upon by older men – whether in the form of teachers, clergymen or family friends – adding another layer of understanding and connection to this character. While, thankfully, many of the predators who shaped our younger selves were not as murderously insistent as Fenton, they have still left their mark. This bittersweet resonance is something that especially connects me (and possibly others) to the vulnerable Donna as the film fades to its jauntily strained credits.
On a purely fan boy level you, also, can’t fault the film for its cast, many of whom are besotted with genre pedigree. Firstly, we have the preternaturally attractive Jonathon Schaech who essays the evil Fenton with a black intensity in his eyes. Schaech who had, sexily, burst onto the scene with Gregg Araki’s gonzo The Doom Generation, has also made a name for himself in such spooky fare as The Forsaken, Living Hell and The Washingtonians episode of Masters of Horror. Linden Ashby, who brings a kind glow to Donna’s uncle, is familiar from such projects as Werewolf, The Perfect Bride, Night Angel and Resident Evil: Extinction, as well. Meanwhile, Jessica Stroup, who flamboyantly fills in the shoes of the film’s doomed sexpot, is most familiar to terror enthusiasts as the female lead in 2007’s The Hills Have Eyes II, but her other roles include ingénue parts in Left in Darkness, Pray for Morning and Vampire Bats (with Lucy Lawless). Most importantly, perhaps, in one of the film’s best scenes, The Blair Witch Project’s Joshua Leonard appears as a hotel bellhop who is slaughtered as part of Fenton’s vicious revenge campaign. Fun!
But more than that, Prom Night 2008 shows that even the most reviled celluloid can resonant as art and fulfill viewers emotional needs when viewed in the right context. Or, more simply, as another friend has stated, “There are no guilty pleasures. Just pleasures!”
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!