The 1980 slasher film Prom Night is not a particularly memorable entry in its field: save for a reasonably satisfying lead performance by Jamie Lee Curtis in her scream queen years, and a notorious five-minute disco breakdown right about the time that the viewer is just about ready for the climax to kick in, there's not a lot to it. A mystery so full of red herrings that you tend to forget who the characters are, terrifically unimaginative death scenes, and the whole thing is as under-lit as the bottom of a well. You'll sometimes run into fans who declare it a classic of '80s horror, but I never took much notice to those people.

But it's a flat-out masterpiece compared to the new Prom Night, a remake so loose that the original film isn't even credited: the title, the very basic concept (kids get stalked on prom night) and the subgenre are just about all the two films have in common. I'd say they also have in common that they are bad, but the original is bad in a clumsy and underwhelming way; the new film is bad like crushing a wasp nest with your bare hands is bad.

In all honesty, there is actually an argument to be made for its historical importance: director Nelson McCormick has assembled a fairly valuable compendium of almost every kind of false scare known to exist (only the evergreen "cat thrown at the heroine by a grip" fails to make an appearance). It was just a dream; she's seeing things that aren't there; she backs into a person, but it's her friend; she backs into an inanimate object; she sees something in a mirror, but it's her mom; she hears a noise but it's just a tree; she sees a man who looks like the killer from behind. They all put in an appearance. Especially the mirror trick. Boy, does McCormick love teasing us with lingering shots of mirrored medicine cabinet and closet doors being slowly opened and closed. You can tell that somebody had a job of putting mirrors everywhere they could plausibly go; I like to think of McCormick flaunting about in tight black clothes like Roger DeBris in The Producers* shouting "There aren't enough reflective surfaces!"

Why, the film even opens on a "just a dream" scare, although it has a bit of a twist: the dream really happened to the heroine three years prior, except for the bit at the end when the killer actually nabs her. See, back in freshman year, Donna (Brittany Snow) was the cutest little thing in school, and she attracted the attention of a teacher, Richard Fenton (Jonathon Schaech), who got so obsessed that he stalked her and her family, eventually getting fired. That wasn't enough, and a while later (the dream sequence makes it hard to fit events all together; end of freshman year or beginning of sophomore year) he broke into her house and killed her mother, father, and little brother. Now it's the end of senior year - just about the day of the prom, naturally enough - and Donna lives with her aunt and uncle and her therapy is going so well that she's almost ready to stop taking her anti-anxiety medication.

The idea that a teenager would witness the stabbing deaths of her family and three years later live in the same town and go to the same school, and stop taking her meds the exact same week as prom and she's only a little bothered by all these things is one that sends my bullshit alarm sweeping into the red, but we can all agree that sometimes one must grit one's teeth and accept that films have to have a scenario, however contrived. That this should all happen the same time that the killer escapes from prison, and that the local PD headed by Det. Winn (Idris Elba, the requisite "why the hell are you here?" actor) wouldn't be notified for three days because of some anxiously nonspecific bureaucratic snafu is a bit harder to take, but it wouldn't be much of a slasher film if we couldn't get our psycho and our Final Girl in the same place at the same time. Still, it's a poor augur for things to come, and Prom Night does not disappoint: in a genre noted for the strain it often puts on our willing suspension of disbelief, this movie still spends disproportionate amount of time setting up situations that would require a whole lot of coincidence and much stupid behavior not just by addled teens, but by cops and hotel staff as well. It has been a long time since there's been a horror film with such a pristine Idiot Plot as this one.

Long story short, Fenton tracks Donna to her prom at some giant, glitzy California luxury hotel and sets up base in the suite she's rented with her posse: pretty boyfriend Bobby (Scott Porter), and her gal pals Lisa (Dana Davis) and Claire (Jessica Stroup), with their respective boys Ronnie (Collins Pennie) and Michael (Kelly Blatz). Pretty much everybody goes up to the room to be stabbed or menaced except for Donna, and on the occasions when she does set herself up so very invitingly to be ravished or kidnapped or brutalised, Fenton is content just to noisily open doors and not touch her. Apparently he is worried about not stretching things out to feature length.

The cast is exactly what you'd expect for a cheap horror programmer in April: I guess Snow counts as a star attraction, but she's not really better or worse than anybody (I take that back: Davis is really pretty awful). The most notable things about the teens as characters is that the token black couple is not at all token, and they aren't offed with the same speed as minorities usually are in slasher films, and that it's really frightening how much you can tell that Porter is seven years older than the rest of the cast.

Not to compare two mostly unrelated films, but the differences between the Prom Nights are just about the only thing compelling about the new film. The original spent almost an hour just setting up the situation without drifting into thriller territory at all, while the new film is eager to start in with the tense strings and moody lighting literally from the first scene. Yet the original delivered more in its final thirty minutes than the remake can manage in three times that: the lengths that the filmmakers go to in order to keep the violence safely in PG-13 territory are frankly amusing, such as the killer's tendency to stab people in the gut so that there are blood spots on their clothes, but no wounds.

The most telling and interesting differences, though, are all in the glossiness. Jamie Lee Curtis is not by any means an unattractive woman, but she has a kind of hardness and total lack of glamor that made her a good Everyteen in Prom Night and Halloween. Snow is conventionally pretty and too fashion-magazine to seem like anything other than a bland child of privilege. Speaking of which: the prom itself. In the first film, it was a charmingly handmade affair, with paper streamers and hand-painted decorations. Here, it's set in the ballroom of a gorgeous hotel, and we're told early on that it went $100,000 overbudget (what, I must ask, was the initial budget?). So where the first movie was small and recognisable, this one is just rich kid pornography, and that spills over into the soapy subplots that get thrown around with abandon.

In essence, it's a shiny fantasy dressed as a slasher movie, and a pretty incoherent and boring slasher movie at that. There's nothing about this film worth the while, unless you like vacantly pretty "teens" and toothless horror.

*It is good to have needlessly specific images in you're head when you fantasise about bad artists.