Prom Night (1980) Review
Written by: Jethro
Six years after the accidental death of a young girl at the hands of a group of four sub teen friends, everyone is hitting the Prom, well except for the young girl that is, (never a given in a horror flick as the sequel amply demonstrates). The normal teen shenanigans go down, rivalry, the question of sex, and of course the real horror of this movie a disco inferno (more on that later in the review).
Adding to teen angst and alienation is a masked killer out to take full toll of the four miscreants from the past. He/she has an axe, have never heard of Eugene, and isn’t afraid to use it. A mixed movie ensues.
So does this dress make my arse look big?
"It's not who you go with, honey. It's who takes you home." - Wendy.
"Prom Night … Everything is all right"
Released in 1980 Canada’s PROM NIGHT rode the new wave of slasher through the drive in circuit and has managed a sort of weird cult status. One of those movies every horror fan has heard of, but very few seem to have actually seen. Hasn’t stop the post SCREAM reviewers doing a bit of slashing of their own, and screaming cliché at the top of their voices. Is the movie clichéd? Oh hell yeah, but check the year 1980, it was helping to established the rules and regulations of slasherdom, if you want to talk clichéd then look no further than Craven’s SCREAM which really set the standard for taking zero risks and tried for a bet each way. We weren’t fooled Craven, a slasher is a slasher is a slasher dude; you made one suck it up!
The movie opens with a scene of some abandoned building wherein four sub teens are playing a game called something like "the killers are coming". Gives you hope for the future really doesn’t it! Anyways in a fairly well constructed opening gambit Director Lynch plays with the game, shows some terror on the faces of his four characters, and has a threesome of kids walking passed. One of our new group has to go back to school to get a book she forgot, which shouldn’t in anyway be compared to a scene in HALLOWEEN, and her two younger companions are left to their own devices. Nice matching tops right there. Not entirely sure, but the inference I took is twins, a boy and a girl, as Lynch goes for the all American family dynamic, a stable of Canadian slashers. Anyways the girl heads into the abandoned building to check on the game, and is subjected to the sort of cruelty only children or Uwe Boll can dish out. One thing leads to another, and it all ends in tears as the girl topples out of the window to meet her demise on top of a greenhouse thingy. The four "killers have already arrived" decide not to tell anyone, and exit stage left, while an ominous shadow appears over the dead girl’s body. And if anyone is thinking hey didn’t Kevin Williamson rip this off in I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER then we’re on the same page of the game book.
Having established the background, which will come back to haunt the lead characters, Director Lynch then takes time out to do some character development, get some rivalry happening, and of course make sure we’re well aware that it’ll hit the fan come Prom night. He probably lost the post SCREAM crowd right there, as teens watching the movie today will be wondering why the body count isn’t mounting already. All I can say is no wonder the horror genre is currently in the toilet, with the big hand of the movie god ready to flush.
Lynch proceeds to set up our candidates for serial killer, and we have quite the assortment to choose from. Is it the new creepy janitor guy down the high school, who Jamie Lee helpfully points out, stares at all the girls. Or could it be the escaped ex sex offender, brutally burnt as he fled Police six years ago, and who was wrongly accused of the murder. Once again we shouldn’t even mention HALLOWEEN in the context of this mysterious character. Or could it possibly be the student J.D who wears a balaclava while trying to pash future disco queen Kim in the school café. Of course it could be someone completely different, time and the movie’s resolution will tell, which is more than I’m going to.
Director Lynch does this weird tension grabber while not pandering to the body count disciples. His Psycho phones each of the four teens that were involved in the death of the girl six years ago. The Psycho even has a list of names he marks off after each call, as remembering four targets is probably a tall order for your average revenge seeking missile of mayhem. This shouldn’t be confused with WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, and I’m sorry I brought that up. The killer is going to see each of them at the Prom of disco intent, which sets things up nicely for the expected blood bath, oh and the horrors of disco.
Complicating matters, did I just say that, we also have the rivalry between Kim and Wendy over afro boy Nick. Wendy is going to stoop to new levels if she doesn’t win and hatching a Prom hijack plan with local J.D and bad boy Lou. This shouldn’t be confused with CARRIE and I’m sorry I brought that up.
The cherry on top of this pretty decent sundae is of course the much-anticipated disco scene near the end. Hold on to your panties, we get Jamie Lee doing the funky chicken for about 5 hours to some diabolically bad disco beat. Actually it was only about 15 minutes, which is approximately 14.5 minutes to long truth be told, but I was grinning as the 1980s scream queen tried to go John Travolta on us. At least she didn’t fall on her arse, as I half expected. Right there kids, ask your parents about the horror that was disco. It crept into the mainstream like an insidious alien invasion and turned teens into pod people. Do the shuffle on that one.
A couple of other highlights and I’ll attempt to wind this review down before going Peter Jackson in length.
Breaking the rules of slasherdom, Kelly discovers that not having sex isn’t guaranteed to get you through to the end credits. But Lynch handles getting her alone in the school via some plot foreshadowing well and Kelly’s demise rings true. Our next victim of course proves that having sex is definitely not conducive to long life as well, or it could have been the drugs, either activity is a death summoner in a slasher.
Why I have a soft spot for this movie is the Psycho himself. Simply the worse serial killer ever committed to film. Our bumbling villain manages to forget his axe in one scene, almost gets done in by the odious comic relief character, and gets his arse kicked by the little girl .. not once but twice! I’m surprised Michael Myers didn’t let his fingers do the walking, and phone in asking if the dude needed some help here.
To round out, Director Lynch is stylish in this movie behind the camera. Some outstanding use of slow mo, good scene transitions, and a fair dose of tension and dread are layered onto proceedings with a deft hand. An above average movie considering the low budget. We get a few twists, anyone see the resolution coming, that were well masked (pun intended), and the beheading scene is horror classic time, you didn’t see that down the disco Friday night kids.
Leslie Neilson (Mr. Hammond) here does one of his very last dramatic roles, did I just say that, before turning his talents to comedy farce. He doesn’t manage to hit anyone in the nuts or fall over so I’m personally peeved Oscar wasn't kind to him with this movie. Jamie Lee Curtis (Kim) is sort of incidental to the whole fandango, except for the resolution and the whole funky chicken thing. Once again Jamie scores, but stands out like Michael Jackson at a Republican convention amidst the "B" grade actors around her.
Casey Stevens (Nick) can’t emote and is frankly an embarrassment. Anne-Marie Martin (Wendy) handles the bitch role with a fair amount of panache, nice effort there. Mary Beth Rubens (Kelly) was also spot on with her character concerned about going the whole way, I probably dated Rubens in college, as I wasn’t getting any either. And finally David Mucci (Lou) let’s his beer gut do the acting. We simply don’t get enough beer guts in modern pretty people horror flicks; I for one am extremely disappointed in this development.
T&A sort of swings into play every now and again. Mary Beth Rubens gives out a quick boob shot which will have people hitting the slow frame to catch, Pita Oliver does a moon, and even Jamie Lee decides to show off her bra. Misuse of girl’s locker room warning amigos. The gals get … uhmmm …. feck nothing, this is the 1980s only males went to horror movies apparently. Hey it could have been worse, David Mucci might have unleashed the beer gut, and that my friends would be true horror.
Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer handed in an eerie score that Director Lynch gets full value out of. We also get lots of pop and disco, which was sort of interesting in an "upbeat happy music set against a slasher" kind of way. Nothing worth investing in CD wise, except if you have a white suit in the cupboard and are simply aching to recreate your disco moves just one more time.
I had a hoot with this movie and enjoyed every weak point, the care Director Lynch went to in fleshing out his characters, and the bumbling Psycho. If he movie isn’t a cult classic it deserves to be. PROM NIGHT did it’s part in formalising the rules for a slasher movie, and on occasion decided to break those rules. The movie does borrow heavily from 1970s outings, but uses everything to best advantage in becoming an amusing and user-friendly early slasher. Some scenes are actually disturbing, the opening prologue is simply nasty, and the scene where Wendy is being stalked through a surprisingly empty school ramps up the tension.
PROM NIGHT has managed to franchise itself with three sequels, none of which have anything remotely to do with the first movie. There’s a remake on the way in 2008 curtesy of Sony, as Boredwood leaves no stone unturned in their attempts to reinvent the wheel ad nausea. Expect a sanitised PG13 outing there.
I couldn’t find any box office figures, but there have been reports this was the highest grossing Canadian horror movie of the time, and was a smash hit at the drive-in.
Okay so the movie is dated, check the clothes and hair styles, and the rockers in the audience will be throwing things at the screen due to the disco intent, but what the heck full recommendation, a decent slasher movie setting the pace in 1980. If you don’t mind your movie fare with a touch of the claret, then you will have fun times with this movie. Take it to the disco, go home with it, and get ready for a blast.