PROM NIGHT (1980)

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PROM NIGHT
Back in September, I went on opening night to see SORORITY ROW, a silly remake of a just-as-silly 1980s slasher. I really don’t like slashers in general, so why this lame remake inspired me, I’ll never know. But inspire it did, and I set myself to the task of reviewing a bunch of slashers, the first round of which were school-based. Several months later, I stopped stalling and actually committed myself to following through on it (hey, I told you I can’t stand slashers). Below is the eighth in this series of reviews.
Get out your tuxedos. Gas up the van. Pull Jamie Lee Curtis out of the mothballs and get her expensive dress ready. IT’S PROM NIGHT! And some of our students aren’t going to make it out alive (and they thought the greatest tension of whether to go all the way or not would be their biggest problem).
Originally I intended to critique this film in standard paragraphs. I decided instead that it would do better justice to PROM NIGHT to present my review as series of yearbook quotes and “most likelies,” to reflect the spirit of the film.
• “Most Non-Standard Opening Scene with Striped Shirts” – The film opens with some of the blandest kids playing a game in an abandoned building. As this is a horror film, these bland kids manage to cause the death of another bland kid. Kudos to his and his sister’s matching striped shirts, though, as they are the liveliest characters in the scene. Even if they’re apparel.
• “Biggest Bob Clark Rip Off in a Slasher Film” – When our killer starts making obscene phone calls in whispers, it’s more black Christmas than June in Cali. Hey, at least no one’s wearing Alan Ormsby’s ascot (extra points scored with your prom date if you get that reference).
• “It Was the Best of School Slashers, It Was Close to the Goofiest of School Slashers” – PROM NIGHT has some very tense stalking scenes, and some really well done, bloody kills. Parts of it are very competently made, unlike some of its ridiculous brethren (SLAUGHTER HIGH, anyone?). And then there’s a scene with Jamie Lee Curtis dancing disco. Dancing. Disco. Jamie. Lee. This dance runs on for several minutes. Watch it and you’ll be guffawing for several days.
• “Catchiest Theme” – It plays during the disco dance. It’s on the soundtrack album. Yes, I said “soundtrack album.”
• “Most Standard Red Herrings” – Why is the custodian/janitor/grounds keeper always a suspect in these films, and never ever the killer? My dad works maintenance at a college. At least I know he’ll never be the one responsible if the students start getting snuffed. Equal mention goes to the Michael Myers ripoff “escaped psycho from another town” who never ever was the murderer in a slasher unless he was… well, Michael Myers.
• “Studliest Use of a Paraplegic” – There’s a kid in a wheelchair who uses some incredibly awkward pick up lines. They work. He gets laid. Then he gets offed.
• “Best Central Event for a School Slasher” – If you’re gonna do a school slasher, which school event can trump the prom? None, that’s which.
• “Most Gratuitous Disco Ball” – It was such a big part of the final third of the movie, I consider it a character. If I close my eyes now, over a month after watching this movie, I can still see it with my burnt retinas.
• “Most Big Names Cast” – Jamie Lee had already played Laurie Strode. Leslie Nielsen had yet to play Lt. Frank Drebin. It certainly beats having Daphne Zuniga’s screen debut in THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.
• “Mask that Best Reflects the Film” – Damned if this kid isn’t wearing a cloth disco ball on his head.
and my favorite of all
• “Slasher with the Testicles in His Purse” – Most slashers, they’re unstoppable killing machines. This one? As the tense climax arrives and he encounters resistance from our remaining protagonists, they fight back. And then he runs away. He runs away. In all the slasher films I’ve seen, this is truly unique.
Okay, admittedly this is a goofy review. But PROM NIGHT is a goofy film, at times playing like an atmospheric slasher, at times like a rowdy lampoon of slashers. And it’s well ahead of the curve; while most of these school slashers were out to imitate FRIDAY THE 13TH and ride its coattails, PROM NIGHT came out right on the heels of the first FRIDAY, following it by barely two months. It’s the ground zero for films of this type, and certainly deserves the “Most Likely to Be the Grandest of All School Slashers” in the yearbook. In that regard, it’s just as prominent in its influence on them as Jason Vorhees’ initial trip to Crystal Lake.
Not prominent are special features. There’s a trailer that sells both the creepy and silly aspects of the film. And nothing else. Given its pedigree, it’s criminal it didn’t get more.
PROM NIGHT counts itself among the better entries in this series of reviews. Slasher fans should dig the prolonged chases, the tense build up to the kills, and the true terror of Jamie Lee dancing under a disco ball with Leslie Nielsen. I enjoyed this film’s unique approach to the school slasher, and appreciate its odd legacy as an innovator in horror, even though I never went to my own high school prom. Which very well might have saved my life.
–Phil Fasso
Score Points with Your Prom Date! Buy PROM NIGHT Here!