(Release Date: July 18, 1980)
The cop in charge of the investigation (George Touliatos' Darryl McBride) targets a known sex offender as the only guy who could've done it. But before he can have his day in court, he's in a terrible traffic accident and remains comatose in the hospital and nobody is there to clear his name. But what no one realizes is that someone actually saw the whole thing and has been keeping the secret for years!
That's the opening of Prom Night, the 1980s Slasher Thriller, considered an unassailable classic by some and an overrated mixed bag by others. A common complaint is that Prom Night was one of the first of the "Red Letter Day" Slasher Flicks that followed Halloween that seemed to fall into the now-familiar formula that lends itself so easily to Parody these days. This observation is made all the more palpable when one considers that after we flash forward by six years, Kim is played by Halloween's own Scream Queen, Jamie Lee Curtis!
Those more favorable to Prom Night will point out that, while the film certainly embraces a lot of what today are considered cliches, the film also started quite a few of those very traditions right here. Elements of Prom Night are all over a great many following films from Graduation Day to Happy Birthday to Me, culminating in the near-parody of Scream (which could almost be considered a Jamie Lee Curtis tribute film). Further, it's true that Prom Night does borrow a good bit from Carrie, while following the formula that Halloween made popular, the mystery here is much more about who the killer is and why he or she is doing what she's doing. There is no supernature or horrifying devil-spawn child to shoot this story into a less believable (though still superior) dimension. In short, it is what it is, but what it is happens to be pretty good.
Once we're back in 1980, we see Robin's family still mourning her untimely and unfair death. Raymond (the dad of the family) is the principal of the school his two surviving children attend and the anniversary of Robin's death coincides with that year's Senior Prom. The good news is that Kim is the Prom Queen and her prom king Nick (Casey Stevens) has grown up to be one of the most sought-after guys in school. The better news is that this event promises to be a family affair with Dad and his date Mom dancing there and even Alex (now played by Michael Tough) operating the lighting rig. The bad news is that Nick's ex-girlfriend Wendy (now played by Anne-Marie Martin) isn't over Nick and might be up to her wicked old tricks again. Worse than that? The Pervert on whom Robin's death was pinned has reportedly broken free and started killing. Surely things can't get any worse, right? Well, it's right about that time that the phone calls start!
Wendy gets her anonymous call but is too preoccupied with Nick to pay it much mind. Nick would get his, but he declines to answer the phone, thinking it must be Wendy (egotistical guy that he is). Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens) gets hers, but is much more concerned with whether or not to give her virginity to her dorky boyfriend Drew (Jeff Wincott). Jude (Joy Thompson) gets hers but, dateless, she mistakes it for an Obscene Phone Call and actually laments the fact that it wasn't as obscene as it could have been. Well, I'll admit that the person on the other end of that phone call is a bit better than the goof ball she ends up going to prom with, a morbidly obese, bespectacled '70s Sex Van-driving geek who calls himself Seymour "Slick" Crane (Sheldon Rybowski). Yes, there's one thing that survived whole and intact from the Halloween series: Incredibly dorky guys scoring with cute chicks. What childhood traumas were these filmmakers channeling, man?
Regardless, the Strange Caller soon moves from phone calls asking if the recipient likes "Games" to actual murders, which (I would say) are a little bit more obscene than phone calls at best! Writers Robert Guza, Jr. and William Gray don't follow the Slasher Flick cliche of coming up with more and inventive ways to kill teenagers (the killer follows a standard M.O.), but they do manage to throw in enough red herrings to keep the viewer guessing as to the killer's identity. It doesn't help that Slashy McStabsalot is wearing all black with a black ski-mask in some primarily dark scenes.
And, of course, the teenagers drop like flies all against the backdrop of the Prom. This brings me to one of the more horrifying parts of the movie: the frequent switch between Horror Film and Disco Dance Party. Look, I'm not saying the music is bad (though if you're a Disco Hater, you'll consider this one very terrifying movie) but when our characters decide to rip into some DISCO INFERNO Dance Routines to show each other up and throw taunts to their High School Enemies, I half expected someone to pop out from stage left and scream "Aw, yeah! YOU GOT SERVED!!!"
In truth, director Paul Lynch does a pretty good job of balancing and juxtaposing the horrors of the bloody murders with the happiness of the disco prom party but scenes like this tend to remind the viewer of just how dated Prom Night actually is. This, coupled with the truly annoying guys managing to get with some very hot ladies (David Mucci's Lou Farmer springs to mind), not to mention the top-heavy hairstyles, all put this one squarely in a certain era of the Slasher Subgenre.
That said, this is not the derivative and standardized filmic repeat that some have rumored it to be. Maybe it's not quite up to the legendary status that others would like to put on it either, but then again, its influence is pretty strong and noteworthy. In short... it's very worth seeing, especially for the Slasher Fan!
What makes this one work doesn't directly have to do with the slasher angles that are all over the place, but the well-hidden mystery of who the killer really is. Could this be the unseen Sex Offender returning for revenge because of his incarceration and injury? Is this an angry family member? Or is this someone completely different with a new angle for revenge. The film doesn't let us know for sure until the bitter and abrupt end.
Prom Night went on to spawn three slasher sequels in the late '80s and early '90s and a (very loose) remake in 2008, none of which featured sweet, sweet Jamie Lee. Instead, Jamie Lee starred in other horror films in the same year like The Fog and Terror Train before returning to the story of her big break with Halloween II and then hitting the mainstream. All of those are reviews for other days, of course. As for 1980's Prom Night, I'm definitely in the proponents corner and am handing over a corsage of Three Stars out of Five! Is it a Slasher Classic? Yes. Is it among the best of the classics? Well, it's not Halloween, but it's pretty good. Watch this one along with your favorite slasher flicks before reliving Scream and see just what I'm talking about. Meanwhile, I've got to go rent that Tux! See you in the next reel, Promgoers! Tell "Mary Lou" I said Hi!
If your Prom Night feels like a Terror Train
on a Foggy Halloween, don't
Settle for your Dufus Date
Click HERE for more reviews instead! They're a real SCREAM!
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