Sometimes They Come Back is here to take a look at the horror genre and its love for remakes! We’ll be discussing both the original movie and its remake (sometimes multiple remakes) in detail before deciding who comes out on top! Are the originals always the best? Let’s find out!
Prom Night (1980)
Prom Night (1980) opens with a group of kids (Wendy, Jude, Kelly, and Nick) playing hide and seek in an abandoned building, though they’ve taken it up a notch by playing a slightly more murderous version where they shout “The killer is coming” and “Kill! Kill! Kill!” repeatedly. Robin, her sister Kim, and her brother Alex are walking home from school, and when Robin spots that Nick is part of the game, she stops to try and get his attention. When Kim heads back to school to retrieve a lost book, Robin decides to head inside, while Alex heads home.
Once inside she accidentally alerts the others to Nick’s hiding place, and so in revenge, the group chase her around the building, before cornering her against a window, which she slips through in her bid to escape them, and falls to her death.
In a very I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) moment of bad decision, the group decides to cover up their crime rather than get the police involved. Wendy tells the rest of the group they’ll go to jail if they tell anyone, so they simply head home, leaving Robin’s body in the grounds of the abandoned building. However, as we pan over Robin, we see a shadow fall over her, suggesting someone else knows what they did. Believing the motive for Robin’s death was most likely sexual assault, which she then resisted, the police believe they know who may have been responsible, and are apparently on their way to pick him up.
Six years later, Robin’s family are visiting her grave on the anniversary of her death. Along with her grown-up siblings, Alex and Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis), are her mother Mrs Hammond and her father Mr Hammond (Leslie Nielsen). Prom night is approaching at the high school, and everyone is really hung up on the fact that it would have been Robin’s first prom.
It turns out Mr Hammond is also the principal of the local high school, and as he gives Kim and Alex a lift to school for the day they discuss the strange new janitor who rumour has it has been spying on the girls in the locker room. Even though he has only been at the school for a short amount of time, Mr Hammond stresses that the janitor has been checked out and there is nothing to worry about.
Meanwhile, an unseen figure is calling a list of other high school students and leaving vaguely threatening messages. As it turns out, all the kids they are making calls to are those who were in the abandoned building when Robin died, and the audience is given handy flashbacks to all the kid actors so we can place the characters now they have grown up.
First up he calls Jude, who seems unworried by a crank caller and is more concerned about getting a date to the prom. Luckily, outside she gets heckled by a weird guy in a van, and she agrees to let him give her a ride to school. As you do. Next up Kelly gets a call, and finally the threatening character tries to reach Nick, but misses him just as him and his cop father leave for the morning. It turns out Nick has recently dumped Wendy in favour of going out with Kim, which is perhaps in a little bit in bad taste considering he was heavily involved in her sister’s death.
At the police station, Nick’s dad Lieutenant McBride has heard that the man they blamed for Robin’s death, Leonard Murch, has escaped from the facility he was being held at and has taken a nurse along as a hostage. Though they had no real proof to tie Leonard to Robin’s murder aside from the fact he lived near where she died and was a known sex offender, when they tried to bring him in for routine questioning he made a break for it and was run off the road. As a result, he was left deformed and institutionalised, but now he has escaped Lieutenant McBride believes he’s headed back to town.
Wendy is the last on the list to get a threatening phone call, and much like the other two girls doesn’t seem too worried about it. As well as dating Nick, Kim is now also good friends with both Jude and Kelly, with Wendy acting very hostile towards Kim due to the whole Nick issue. At school Kim comes across Wendy and Nick acting quite friendly in front of his locker but doesn’t seem too bothered, clearly confident in the fact that she’s the girl Nick prefers. Jude also reveals that she finally has a date to the prom with the weird van guy, also known as Slick, while Kelly tries to fight off the advances of her overly-horny boyfriend Drew. Kim is harassed down the corridor by Lou, the token creep with a unibrow who is smoking in the corridors and looks about 45.
The cops have discovered the body of the nurse Leonard Murch took hostage, and it just so happens she’s been dumped in the abandoned convent where Robin also died. They find a huge shard of bloody glass on the ground which they guess could be the murder weapon and Lieutenant McBride takes this as all the proof he needs to prove Leonard is back and a danger to the town. The police strengthen their hunt for Leonard, and the beaten-up blue VW he is apparently driving around in.
Wendy later catches Kim practising her disco moves in the school gym (spoiler alert: there is a lot of disco in this movie. Actually, there is more disco than there is murder if I’m being honest), and she implies that Kim and Nick are only together because they have both been voted prom king and queen. This has to be the first prom-related movie I’ve seen where the king and queen are voted ahead of time as well.
Back with our unseen creep, and now they are ripping the pictures of the four targets out of a yearbook. Meanwhile, in the lunch hall, Lou appears in a balaclava and tries to force himself on Kim as she waits for her lunch. Alex jumps in to save her, and ends up fighting with half the lunchroom before both boys are sent to the principal’s office. While Lou is suspended for his actions, Alex is sent to the school nurse, and the principal throws Lou’s balaclava in his trash can. Outside the window behind him we see an old blue VW drive past, though we can’t see who the driver is.
Kim and Nick share a tender moment during a clifftop walk where they talk about Robin, the anniversary of her death, and how this would have been her first prom. Nick looks like he’s on the verge of confessing his involvement in this whole thing, but instead, the pair says I love you and talks about the joys of being prom royalty.
Wendy decides she wants revenge on Kim for stealing her man and having sweet disco moves, so she teams up with the recently suspended Lou who has nothing to lose, and a newly-formed hatred for the school and the whole Hammond family.
After gym class, all the girls are hanging out in the locker room when Wendy discovers her yearbook picture stuck inside her locker. Dismissing it for an annoying joke she storms out, leaving Kelly and Kim alone. They soon hear a loud crashing noise, and discover someone has broken the large locker room mirror. While they can’t find the culprit anywhere in the vicinity, Kim notices a large shard of glass has been removed from the broken mirror.
When Kim heads to the gym for prom rehearsal, she notices the creepy janitor hanging around nearby, though he does seem to be lurking everywhere. Kim and Nick practise their crowning ceremony, which is a scene that’s only really there to stress that while they are waiting for their cue, the two are separated and are each down a pretty dark corridor out of view of the rest of the prom.
Kelly and Jude have also been gifted their yearbook pictures in their lockers, along with a jagged shard of glass, which again, no one seems overly creeped out about. Especially considering they both received crank calls that very morning.
Finally it’s actual prom night, though God knows what time it starts when we’ve already had so much happen during the day. Kim is getting ready with Alex, and when Nick comes to pick her up he spends a lot of time pensively staring at Robin’s picture on the mantelpiece. Wendy meanwhile is wearing a totally stunning red dress, teamed with epic ‘80s hair, which sort of makes me think she should be the queen of the prom if I’m being honest. It saddens me that she’s had to stoop to being picked up by Lou, who’s brought his two skeezy friends along for the ride as well.
At the prom, everyone is getting their disco on, and from now till the end of the film you should be prepared for numerous extended disco dancing sequences. When Wendy and her gang show up, Kim and Nick decide to really piss her off and perform a completely choreographed number to a disco song about prom night. It’s a beautiful moment.
Kelly finally decides to lose her virginity to the horrible Drew, who concludes the perfect place for such a moment is the locker room. If the whole moment wasn’t awkward enough, Kelly looks like she is just an awful kisser. Close your mouth a bit please. When Kelly changes her mind halfway through, Drew proves his full douchebag status and storms out. As Kelly starts to get dressed, a balaclavaed assailant springs out of the darkness and slits her throats with a giant shard of glass.
Next up we have Jude and Slick getting it on in his van, really hammering home that breaking the number one Scream (1996) rule “You can never have sex” will get you killed before you can even get dressed again. While the couple smoke weed after their encounter Jude comments that she’ll remember this night for the rest of her life, just as the door to the van flies open and she’s stabbed in the neck. Poor Slick tries his best to make a getaway, but in the fight that ensues he ends up driving his van over a cliff, which promptly explodes in a manner The Simpsons (1989) would be proud of.
We’ve not seen the creepy janitor in a while, so we get a shot of him looking sweaty and worried outside the school as he sips from a hip flask. Wendy and her crew are on the cusp of putting their plan into action, so she heads to the bathroom to top up her makeup, and is promptly attacked by the balaclava killer, this time sporting an axe. He chases her all over the school, through classrooms, upstairs, downstairs, into the auto shop, and not once does she try and run back to the prom, but instead opts to hide in a storage closet, where unfortunately for her Kelly’s body has also been stashed. It’s a death scene as drawn out as Helen’s from I Know What You Did Last Summer, and just like Helen before her, Wendy is axed to death when she tries to make her escape.
Lieutenant McBride has been staking out the prom and finally receives word that they’ve caught Leonard almost 50 miles outside of town. Their best guess is that he dumped the nurse and then fled into the night. Finally able to relax that there’s no danger, Lieutenant McBride says he glad he can enjoy his son’s prom and heads inside, where he comes across the now clearly drunk janitor raving about a killer being on the loose. Lieutenant McBride decides to take him down the station, leaving the prom completely unprotected, just in time for the crowning!
When Kim and Nick head backstage to wait for their musical cue, Lou and his friends grab Nick and tie him up, while Lou takes his place, presumably so he can get his hands on Kim. Unfortunately for Lou, the killer is also lurking backstage, waiting to take his revenge on the final name on his list. This is pretty much the only death we see fully on camera, and man, do they go all out. Poor Lou gets his head chopped off, which then rolls onto the stage and down the catwalk, causing the rest of the prom attendees to flee. In the process the killer manages to hit the electrics with his axe, which stuns him long enough for Kim to rescue the real Nick from his bonds.
The killer approaches the pair, attacking Nick again and again as Kim tries to fight him off. Eventually, his loses his axe in the fight, and Kim smashes him in the head with it. As the killer attempts to flee the scene, he locks eyes with Kim, and she seems to recognise him.
The killer runs outside where the rest of the prom is gathered, and as Lieutenant McBride approaches him with a gun, Kim runs up to the killer, begging Lieutenant McBride not to shoot him. As he collapses on the ground, Kim removes his balaclava, revealing it to be Alex. He says he saw what the group did to Robin that day and he knows they were responsible for her death, before he dies from the headwound Kim dealt him moments earlier.
Prom Night (2008)
Prom Night (2008) goes for a slightly different approach when it comes to the killer, and instead of having an element of murder mystery to the plot, we are instead introduced to the killer straight away. Donna (Brittany Snow) is getting a lift home from her friend Lisa and her mother. When she arrives in the house, the place seems deserted, though the camera pans to reveal her father dead on the livingroom floor. She heads upstairs, and finds her little brother also dead, and when she hears her mother fighting with someone in the hallway she decides to hide under her brother’s bed.
It turns out the killer is looking for Donna, but her mother tells him she’s not home, despite spotting her hiding her in bed, and gets stabbed for her trouble. Outside police sirens are heard, and when Donna makes a run for it she is grabbed outside by the killer and is stabbed before we find out, that’s right kids, it was all a dream. Well not all a dream, because her family did get brutally murdered by her ex-teacher who was obsessed with her, but Donna escaped the ordeal unharmed, and her teacher Richard Fenton was arrested. In fact, the whole thing happened three years ago and she now lives with her aunt and uncle, though she is still plagued by nightmares of that night.
But there’s no time to be traumatised by past events right now because it’s prom night! Yay! While getting her hair done at the hair salon Donna thinks she spots Richard across the street, but in true horror movie style, when a bus speeds past he’s suddenly nowhere to be seen.
As a gift for her prom night, Donna’s aunt gives her a shawl that belonged to her mother to complete her outfit and the group head off in their limo to enjoy their night.
We then join Detective Winn (Idris Elba… yup) and Detective Nash (James Ransone) at the police station. Winn finds out that Richard escaped his prison three days ago, and is understandably raging that he’s only hearing about it now. He reveals that Richard lost his job when his obsession with Donna got too much, and after the family filed a restraining order against him he was psycho and killed her whole family. Sadly the jury decided he was insane rather than giving him the death penalty, and so he ended up in prison.
At the very swish hotel where prom is taking place Richard has turned up and is checking into a room. He’s shaved his hair and beard off, and is wearing a cap, teamed with a false ID, so gets given a room no problem. For some reason Donna, her boyfriend Bobby, and the other two couples they are friends with (Lisa, Ronnie, Claire, and Michael) are all staying in the same hotel suite. Presumably so they can all have post-prom sex right next to each other. Ronnie loudly asks for the room key and practically shouts the room number in Richard’s face, so the killer doesn’t even need to waste time figuring out how to get to Donna.
Richard follows the girls to the room (why they have to go up to the room immediately is a bit weird. Though brace yourself guys, because half this film is just the group traipsing up to the hotel room for various reasons), and when they go inside he lures a maid to his room so he can murder her for her universal key card.
Winn decides to tell Donna’s aunt and uncle about the situation, but they decide not to share the news with Donna as they don’t want to ruin her prom for no reason. Instead, they go to stake out the hotel just in case Richard turns up.
Claire and Michael are mid-fight about her going off to college without him. Claire is also on her period and has major cramps, so Donna offers to go up to the hotel room (yes, again already) where Richard is creeping about in order to get Claire some painkillers. Claire comes up to join her and decides to stay in the room by herself for a little while while Donna heads back down. When she hears noises in the hotel room she thinks it’s Michael arriving to make up with her, but sadly it’s not, and she is murdered.
The detectives have arrived at the hotel, and despite showing the receptionist a photo that looks exactly like Richard’s current face, he doesn’t recognise him. Michael finally realises Claire is missing and heads up to the room to find her. He thinks Claire is hiding in the bathroom in the huff and looks really smug when he hears the door finally opening, and then slightly less smug when he also gets murdered.
The hunt is also on for the dead maid, as the receptionist has been paging her for some time, and when another member of staff heads upstairs to find her, Richard lures him into Donna’s room and kills him as well.
Despite Lisa being very excited about the prospect of being voted prom queen, she and Ronnie head up to the room to have sex right before the big announcement. On the way up in the lift she spots Richard, and while she recognises him, she can’t quite place him. Now, when we see Richard checking into the hotel, sure his appearance has changed, but not so much that we the audience aren’t meant to recognise him instantly as the killer. But Lisa doesn’t recognise an ex-teacher who murdered her friend’s whole family. I would imagine that face would be imprinted on your brain.
While hunting for clues in the parking lot, the police have found a car that has been reported missing. In the boot they find the body of the owner, also reported missing, and think Richard might have something to do with it.
Mid-shag Lisa finally remembers who the man in the lobby was, and rushes out the room without any explanation to tell Donna what’s going on. Ronnie is left alone with an engagement ring and his dying boner.
While Lisa is being terrorised by Richard upstairs, which culminates in Lisa getting her throat slit, Ronnie heads back to the prom to look for her. When he tells Donna that Lisa was looking for her, Donna heads off on her own to see if she can find Lisa herself.
The police finally check the name of the dead man in the car against the hotel records and discover that’s the alias Richard used to check in to the hotel. When they search his room they find the dead maid, and decide to pull the fire alarm in order to evacuate everyone to safety. Donna, in a moment of complete horror movie stupidity, decides to head up to the room to save her mum’s shawl. She tells a fellow student to tell her boyfriend where she’s gone, and then she heads up in the lift (that somehow works during the fire alarm). She is really chill considering the hotel could be on fire, and when she heads into the hotel room, Richard finally gets his hands on her. She hides under a bed, discovering Claire’s body in the process.
The police hear from Donna’s fellow student that she’s up in the hotel room, and they head up to save her, literally running into her as she escapes from the room. They can’t find Richard in the room, but they do find Michael’s dead body as Donna and Bobby head back to her aunt and uncle’s house. In a very The Silence of the Lambs (1991) moment, they see blood dripping from the air vent in the hotel room and assume Richard is hiding in there. When Winn opens the vent, the hotel worker from earlier falls out in his underwear, and Winn realises Richard must have made his escape in a hotel uniform.
Even though Detective Nash and the SWAT team are guarding Donna’s house, Winn rushes over to alert Donna and her family to the fact they’ve lost Richard. However, he cannot get through because the phone lines have been cut. Meanwhile, Donna goes to the bathroom and has a dream that Richard has found her, but wakes up safe in her bed with Bobby. That’s right, that’s two fake dream jump scares. Shame on you Prom Night. It turns out she really does need to pee, and when she comes back to bed she finds Bobby dead beside her.
Winn has arrived to find every other police officer dead. I’m not sure how Richard got so good at killing people, included SWAT team members, when really, he’s just a creepy teacher. Donna has hidden in her closet to escape Richard, and as we see an ominous shadow creep into her room, it looks as though Richard has found her. However, it turns out Richard is in the closet with her, and the shadow was actually Winn. When Winn is drawn away by Donna’s aunt’s screams at finding yet another dead police officer, it seems as though she’s done for.
However, she manages to fight Richard off and create enough noise to draw Winn’s attention, and he promptly shoots Richard to death.
Prom Night (1980) vs Prom Night (2008) – The Final Verdict
I think the setup for Prom Night (1980) is interesting in that the kids think they have got away with killing Robin, and therefore don’t see themselves in any danger in the future. Even when they start getting odd messages six years later, they never have a I Know What You Did Last Summer moment where they all meet up to discuss the past and wonder about who could be on to them. None of them realise they are under any real danger until they get murdered. They don’t know that anyone saw them, and with Leonard locked up in a state facility, they must think they are home and dry.
However, in the 2008 version, Donna is very aware of this threat to her life which exists somewhere in the world, even if she doesn’t’ know he has escaped to begin with. She still lives with the memory of what happened, teamed with the fact she’s lost her entire family. She has reason to be scared, she’s been plagued by nightmares, and it’s mentioned at one point that Richard started sending her letters from prison.
We definitely expect Richard to break out and go after Donna after we see the setup of her story, whereas with the original 1980 movie we’re unsure who the killer is and what they’re motives are. Is it revenge for false imprisonment? Or are they avenging Robin’s death? This makes for a more interesting story as we try to figure out what is going on and if Leonard really is the face under the balaclava.
The killer is the 1980 film is quite a strange figure as on some level he is portrayed as a sympathetic character. Even when we think it could be the mysterious Leonard, we can understand his need for revenge as he’s been falsely accused, deformed, and locked away in a state hospital all because four stupid kids decided to lie one day. It makes sense that he would come back and kill them. Then when we find out the killer is actually Alex is makes him even more sympathetic. Imagine knowing these four people who you go to school with, and three of which end up very close to your older sister, killed your sister and then left her without a second thought? Nick is the only character who seems remotely remorseful about the whole situation, and he bloody well should because he really started the whole thing, so I can see why having to deal with six years of that would push Alex over the edge. Perhaps Nick and Kim finally becoming a couple was the last straw and what drove him to celebrate Robin’s anniversary in such a bloody fashion.
Richard, however, is not a sympathetic character at all, and someone who is willing to kill anyone he comes across so he can kidnap and/or kill his ex-student who clearly has no interest in being anywhere near him. We’re supposed to hate him. He’s another forgettable male killer on a rampage because a woman rejected him, so he’s not very interesting when stacked up against suspect and killer from the original movie.
With a title like Prom Night, it was clear that the prom itself was going to feature heavily in both of these films. In fact, most of the action of the 2008 remake takes place at the prom, even though they probably spend more time up in the hotel room rather than at the prom itself.
The original, while it doesn’t get to the prom itself as quickly, puts the prom right at the centre of the action once we get there. In between grim murder scenes, we’re bombarded with original disco songs and choreographed dance sequences.
The prom in the 1980 version is also the catalyst for all the events that happen in the film. It just so happens to be the anniversary of Robin’s death and would have been her first prom. Teamed with Kim and Nick attending the prom together it’s no wonder Alex chose this day to start killing.
In the remake it just seems like a coincidence that Richard broke out of jail on Donna’s prom. Perhaps he was just trying to get to her before she finished high school and moved away for college and he lost track of her, but there’s really no significance in the prom being the night he decides to come back for her.
The Final Girl
Prom Night (1980) is quite unique in the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis plays the final girl, but she herself is never in any direct danger. She’s the main character, and the one we’re rooting for, but even before we learn the killer is her brother, it’s still pretty clear she’s not on the killer’s hit list as he never makes any threatening moves towards her. Apart from constantly getting freaked out by the janitor, she doesn’t spend the movie being scared or in any kind of peril. Her friends get their photos stuck in their lockers and threatening phone calls, but she really escapes it all, and of course survives until the end of the movie.
Donna, however, is very clearly in danger, but she’s not aware of it until the end of the film when the Richard pops up in her hotel room. She actually spends very little of the film being terrorised by the killer and is pretty unaware that all her friends are being picked off one by one in the hotel room upstairs.
I think we obviously feel more fear for Donna, as we are very aware of the danger she is in even if she isn’t. And while we know Kim probably won’t get hurt as no threats have been made towards her, there’s still the unease that she may get mixed up in the whole thing. Just think about poor Slick!
Both characters are very sympathetic as they’ve both had bad things happen to them in the past that they’re just trying to get past by enjoying their prom.
It wouldn’t be a horror movie comparison if we didn’t discuss the kills right? As I said above, Prom Night (1980) has more disco dancing than murder at one point, but it quickly makes up for it by hammering us with kill after kill once the prom starts. Most of the violence actually happens offscreen, with us usually just seeing the aftermath rather than the actual killing blow, as is the case with Kelly. We don’t even see Wendy get murdered at all as it’s all implied through sound.
The big exception to this is, of course, Lou, and by this stage, we’re so used to not seeing the full kill that’s it’s extra shocking when his head bounces across the stage.
The kills in the remake start within the first five minutes, with Donna’s entire family being brutally offed. We then have characters dying fairly regularly with various members of hotel staff and most of Donna’s friends, along with most of the town’s police force, meeting their end before the night is over.
I’m not saying I’m not a fan of a high body count, but I appreciated the original movie’s approach better. You don’t need to see every single character die to be scared, and saving most of the shock value for Lou’s death was a great move. The remake just felt like it wanted to cram as many deaths as possible into a quite short movie.