Prom Night 1980 Review
Prom Night 1980
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens
Review by Luis Joaquín González
This is another of those titles that to be honest, I should have covered on the site long ago. It was only when a SLASH abover, Ned, gave me a kick up the backside by reminding me that I hadn’t yet posted my thoughts on it that I converted it to MP4 and added it to my iPhone 6 Plus playlist.
Back in the days when I was hunting through video shops for slasher films, Prom Night was one of those that I couldn’t find for love nor money. I’d seen images of Jamie Lee Curtis facing off with a balaclava sporting nut job and had believed that it would be a classic slice of eighties special-ness. With a top-notch cast and a comparatively big budget, my eleven year-old brain saw nothing but slasher-tastic satisfaction. Eventually it got another limited VHS release and the nice guys at HMV (RIP) ordered me a pristine copy. Without a review to browse through (children of the Internet don’t know how lucky they are) I was on the bus home and fully expectant to enjoy a rival for Halloween.
A disfigured maniac that was accused of a heinous crime, breaks out of his asylum and heads back to the location of the event from a decade earlier. It’s Prom Night at the main high-school and Kim is highly emotional. Not only is she set to be the Prom queen, but it’s also the ten-year anniversary of the death of her younger sister – the victim of the escapee. When the body of a young nurse is found gruesomely slashed, it looks like the loony is up to his old tricks.
At the tender age of 16, I was mad about cars. No I’m not talking about toys; I’m talking about the real fuel-guzzling automobiles. I saved up some money from my weekend job and purchased a 1982 Ford Fiesta from a newspaper and fell madly in love. Over the year whilst I was waiting to pass my test, I bought a set of gold-coloured alloy wheels, a cherry bomb exhaust system, a race carburettor, roll cage, tinted windows and neon lights for the number plate. When I finally got my driving licensed, I was ready to hit the road, but just as I’d turned the first corner, the clutch went. A week later, it was the entire gearbox. I got it towed to the garage and they noticed that nasty brown rust had been devouring the floorboards. My world was shattered, but the car wasn’t worth the sum of the parts that I’d placed upon it, so it had to be scrapped.
Watching Prom Night after many years reminded me of that Fiesta so much. First things first, the film is beautifully shot and DP Robert New has done an amazing job of planning his photography with grace and dynamism. The opening scene takes place inside an abandoned school and there’s an adept aura of isolation and spookiness that surrounds the child actors. Paul Zaza’s scoring is as creepy as always and the film lets you know from the off that it’s slickly put-together. When our key players are introduced, they are awarded the space and time to bond with the audience and it’s interesting how the script hints that humans develop a specific personality trait that maturity doesn’t alter. It was almost as if they were subtlety stating that if you’re born with a nasty streak, it’s likely that you’ll stay that way unless you decide to change. During the story development parts, the underscoring of horror is provided by some stalking scenarios and the killer phoning and threatening his intended victims. This concept was clearly lifted from Black Christmas and shows that Prom Night is a slasher movie that knew its target audience. We get very few, if any, attempts at innovation and the crisp rolling photography through the town where this was filmed may well have been left-over footage from Carpenter’s Halloween. As with Humongous, Lynch was certainly a director that wasn’t ashamed of looting from his peers.
Jaime Lee Curtis heads up a note-perfect group of performers and I couldn’t point out any weaknesses in the casting. This was Peter Simpson’s first foray into slasherdom and the success that he received led him to begin development on the far more authentic Curtains. Prom Night was a big hit upon its release and is widely regarded as one of the genre’s most recognised features. Going back to the Fiesta that I told you about above though, the strong dramatics, superb score and lush photography don’t conceal the film’s limp and predictable spine.
Robert Guza’s script is extremely focused on its mystery, but we are given far too many clues to the maniac’s true identity. They were expecting the unmasking scene to be something of a shock, however it is obviously diluted by the fact that it’s exactly who we expected it to be. It’s almost like the screenwriters didn’t think that their audience would be smart enough to face a compelling puzzle without assistance. I felt that a lot of effort was wasted focussing on numerous red-herrings, when perhaps what the movie really needed was a larger impetus on generating suspense. It’s impossible to deny that Lynch is a director that shoots with panache and draws the best from his cast, but with Prom Night – I noticed this with Humongous too – there’s just never an air of unpredictability. Once we’ve picked who will survive, we know that they’re untouchable and it takes the tension away from the rest getting killed. It’s strange that a filmmaker so inspired by John Carpenter didn’t recognise the necessity of keeping his viewers hooked. Perhaps he just couldn’t pull it off.
Still, there’s a lot of silly eighties stuff, including a bizarre Saturday Night Fever-like boogie scene towards the climax. I also found it hard to keep a straight face when Jamie Lee called Leslie Nielsen’s character a ‘Disco King’ whilst he was awkwardly bopping like a one-legged ostrich. Oh and the fat joker guy in this one actually pulls (and scores) with a chica. So there was one authentic aspect after all ;).
Prom Night is a well-produced slasher movie that has moments of creepiness that are truly well delivered. It’s just a shame that it feels too much like a Halloween rip off and even lacks the authenticity of titles like: Friday the 13th, The Prey, Unhinged, The Unseen, Silent Scream, Small Town Massacre, My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, American Nightmare or even Graduation Day, Happy Birthday To Me and Embalmed. Also, the fact that it’s never really scary is a sin that, for such a visually competent picture, is hard to forgive…
Posted on October 10, 2015, in Pure Eighties Cheese, Slasher and tagged Canada, Canuxploitation, cheesy wotsit, Hot Chicas, masked killer, Sorority Slasher, Whodunit?. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.