Prom Night (1980)

Prom Night 1Synopsis: A Prom Queen’s Dreams Turn To Screams

Six years ago when young Robin Hammond crashed through a broken window, her playmates vowed to keep thae accident a secret. They Promised that no one would ever know. But someone already does.

Now, after years of keeping the secret, Robin’s sister Kim is about to be crowned Prom Queen, but a chilling event undermines her party plans. Revenge for the six year old murder is around the corner as the unknown observer turns maniacal killer stalking the high scholl halls. Kim’s friends are disappearing and the halls are filling with blood. This was the prom where some were crowned and some lost their heads.

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Prom Night (1980) 6.75

eyelights: Jamie Lee Curtis. Leslie Nielson. the setting.
eyesores: the thin script. the unsuspenseful direction.

“It’s not who you go with, honey. It’s who takes you home.”

‘Prom Night’, along with ‘Halloween’ and ‘Terror Train’, is one of the films that made a scream queen out of Jamie Lee Curtis. Released in 1980, it was extremely popular with crowds, although it got panned by critics. It garnered a bit of cult following over the years and, eventually, a whole franchise, as well as a 2008 remake, was built around it.

It’s not exactly considered the best of films, and the series is featured pretty low in the pantheon of horror films, but it actually won awards, most notably the 1981 Genies for Best Achievement in Film Editing and Best Performance by a Foreign Actress (for Curtis). One could never tell at first glance because it comes off as your garden variety slasher.

The setting is the day of the big prom at local high school. Our protagonist, Kim Hammond (Curtis), the daughter of the school’s principal. She and her friends are all excited about the prom, but not all of them have dates. To complicate matters, Kim is going with Nick, whose ex-girlfriend is having a difficult time accepting that they’re no longer together.

And, although she’s going to be trouble, she’s the least of it: that morning, four of the teens receive creepy phone calls before going to school. The culprit is someone who knows that they were all involved in the accidental death of Kim’s younger sister, Robin, six years earlier. This psycho promises each of them that it is his turn to play a “game”… at the prom.

But who could this person be?

  • Could it be Mr. Sykes, the school gardener, whom the teens openly mock or are extremely wary of?
  • Could it be Leonard Merch, the man wrongly accused in Robin’s death, who has just escape the State Hospital that very morning?
  • Could it be Lou, the rebellious trouble-maker who has just been suspended from school for picking on Kim and her brother Alex?
  • Could it be the psychiatrist in charge of Merch, who conveniently pops up at a murder scene and reacts in a peculiar way to it?

Or

  • Could it be Mr. Hammond, himself, who seems somewhat detached and suddenly disappears from sight at the end?

Watch ‘Prom Night’ and find out!

Personally, I wasn’t all that impressed with it when I first saw it, a few years ago. I found the writing really shabby and felt that it neither built nor sustained the suspense. And the finale was such a letdown that I couldn’t help but be disappointed; it felt like a poor man’s ‘Carrie‘ crossed ‘Halloween‘ – but without the directorial vision of either.

I found the whole set-up kind of lame. A bunch of kids were playing “Killer” (a variation on “Hide and Seek”) in a decrepit old school house when they suddenly turned into a mob and chased Robin out of a window. It just didn’t make sense, and the police’s conclusion when they found the girl (the kids had run away, leaving the body there) was ridiculous.

From there, there was no real tension: almost everything that was thrown at us was a cheap scare or was so ineptly put together that it wasn’t scary at all. There was very little true sense of threat, and when here was, you simply didn’t care: you merely waited for the scene to end, for the victim to be finally taken care of in some brutal manner befitting the genre.

There was also very little story or character development worth mention. I mean, it’s just another day for most of these kids, aside for going to the prom that night. So there isn’t anything going on: they’re in school, and then they go home to prepare for the night’s festivities. There really isn’t anything worth writing about (although I’m trying my best).

Thankfully, some of the cast was pretty solid.

Leslie Nielsen, for one, gave us the gravity needed for the part. It anchored the film somewhat, even though he has only a few scenes in the picture. Jamie Lee Curtis is also quite terrific here; she plays her character with a combination of intelligence and emotional depth that I haven’t seen in any of her early films (including ‘Halloween’). She deserved that Genie.

Another terrific touch is the general casting of the younger and older versions of the kids. I don’t know who was in charge of casting, but this is one of those rare movies that, when you compare the children with their teen counterparts, you can actually see the resemblance – on all counts, too. I was rather impressed with this, because it’s so often not the case.

But the rest of ‘Prom Night’ is nothing special. I had heard so many great things about it over the years, given its cult status, that it’s no wonder that I was disappointed when I first saw it; my expectations were just too high. However, with a slight adjustment, I was able to enjoy it for what it is: a b-grade slasher-type film. And that’s okay sometimes.

It may not be the crown bearer of the horror genre, but I suspect that it’s the best of the ‘Prom Night’ series. We’ll soon find out.

Nota bene: when I first saw the movie, I gave it a 6.5. This time, it felt like a 7.0, so I rounded it to better reflect  both.

Date of viewing: April 21, 2014

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