Prom Night (1980)
I haven’t watched Prom Night in at least 20 years. For the life of me I could not remember a single thing about it, or whether or not I liked it, which is usually not a good sign. I went in with some trepidation, because in my old age I find myself getting crankier and crankier about the current state of horror films, and I seem to be mostly let down by the big budget Hollywood productions. I fear one day I’ll get so disillusioned, that I’ll start enjoying modern comedies; oh the horror. I honestly had little hope that this cheap rip-off/cash-in of Halloween, Friday The 13th, and Carrie, would do much to endear itself to me. But wait, is that character development I see? Not only that, but an interesting plot in the vein of any good whodunit mystery/suspense film. Yes, by God it is.
The movie opens in 1974 at an abandoned, and sufficiently creepy convent. Four children: Nick, Wendy, Jude, and Kelly, are playing their own version of hide-and-go-seek, called “killer”. Three more kids approach the convent from the road: Robin, Kim, and Alex, who notice the kids playing. Robin decides to join in and leaves her siblings who run off towards home. Once upstairs, the other kids led by their ringleader Wendy, find her and start to bully and terrorize her. Backed into a corner, Robin has nowhere to go, but the other kids are relentless, and finally Robin falls out of a window to the ground below, where a window falls after cutting her throat. The kids peer down and begin to panic about the fact that they are going to be sent to jail for murder. Wendy takes control and makes each of them vow never tell anyone, so they agree and flee the scene of the crime. They were not alone, as a shadow appears over the little girl’s dead body.
Flash forward six years later to the morning of the Prom 1980, and now all of the potential killers and their motives are introduced, and it is a pretty healthy list suitable even for a good game of Clue. Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis), sister of Robin, is the center of attention, soon to be crowned Prom Queen. Wendy (Eddie Benton) has grown to be a most beautiful woman, but she retains the mean streak she had as a little girl. She is not happy with Kim at all, because her boyfriend, the now grown up Alex (Casey Stevens), has ditched her to be with Kim as her Prom King. He is not the only suitor for Kim though, as the school bad seed Lou (David Mucci), is also vying for her attention only to get rejected. Lou, frustrated by this, gets a bit violent and is suspended from school indefinitely. He’s none too happy about that, and joins forces with Wendy in a plot of revenge. At the same time, Lt. McBride (George Tulinatos), is busy trying to capture the man who was convicted of Robin’s death, Leonard Merch, who has just escaped from the institution where he was being held, and has been seen in the area. Finally, there’s the janitor suspected of peeping in on the girls while they shower and dress, who always seems to show up when anything odd happens; Sykes, played by genre perennial and Cronenberg favorite Robert Silverman.
With this story, conceived by Robert Guza and screenplay written by William Gray, there’s just no quick way to describe the plot and major characters of Prom Night, as it is surprisingly quite complex and deep for a slasher flick. I appreciated the character development, which is the majority of the run time. It is a fairly suspenseful movie as well, which kept me waiting and trying to anticipate the first kill, which director Paul Lynch doesn’t allow to happen until very late in the movie. The kills, a couple by glass shard and then a couple by axe, including a decapitation, aren’t shown on screen. They only show the aftermath. This I’m sure, was due to the limited budget constraints of the movie. Jamie Lee Curtis really shines in her role as usual. Her characters always seem to be the most intelligent and mature in all her movies. If nothing else, it’s always enjoyable to see Jamie grace the screen. I was also surprised by how much I liked the ending. I honestly couldn’t figure out who was doing the killing. My biggest gripes with the film were first the voice-over narration of Lt. McBride, as he’s tracking the psychopath. I’m just not very fond of VO, as I would rather have seen it explained with a conversation, or with me just figuring out, as it was pretty obvious anyway. The other major complaint I have, could just be an issue with the particular transfer I saw, which was very dark, and at times it was hard to see as if I had lost my peripheral vision.
All in all, I’m glad I decided to watch this movie again. It really is much better than I expected. The score however, is not so easy. I could give a 3 based on the fact that it is far better than it really should have been. I could even argue a 4, since it really wouldn’t be out of place to discuss this movie along with Halloween, Friday The 13th, and Carrie. I won’t do that though, because for all its got going for it, it’s kind of average due to the fact that it comes off as though even when they were making it, they didn’t intend on it being any kind of a classic someday. I’ll give it a 2 out of 4, and I plan on watching it again in another 10 years or so.
©2010 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.