Director: Paul Lynch
Screenplay: William Gray, based on a story by Robert Guza Jr
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens
Duration: 92 min
BBFC Certification: 18
Directed by Paul Lynch and written by William Gray, Prom Night, 1980, feels like a mix of Halloween, (1978), Carrie, (1976) and Saturday Night Fever, (1977). Starring John Carpenter’s lead actress from Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis, this film is based on a story by Robert Guza Jr and follows in the same vein as many of the later 1970’s slasher films.
Having watched this film many, many years ago (I must have been about 11) I was curious to find out if it would hold up as well as some of my other favourites from the 70s and 80s. It wasn’t awful, but I guess I was a little disappointed. As often is the case with older horror movies, particularly slasher films, it was slow to build up to any real action, and I found the incessant disco music, relentless. However, I was left guessing as to the identity of the murderer right till the end, which was a bonus.
The film opens in an abandoned convent. A group of children are playing hide and seek. A fatal accident sees the group of children making a pact to never tell of their involvement. Fast forward 6 years and the same group of friends are preparing for prom night. In addition to the original group, we are introduced to Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her brother Alex (Michael Tough), siblings to Robin, the girl who died previously.
As preparations are made for Senior Prom, each character’s short story unfolds, and we find out who is going with who. Everyone has dates and excitement is in the air along with the age-old questions, ‘will they, won’t they’. All except one girl. Jealous of Kim who is now dating her ex-boyfriend Nick (Casey Stevens), mean girl Wendy (Anne Marie Martin as Eddie Benton) plans to ruin the Prom king and queens evening, enlisting support from school bad boy, Lou (Casey Mucci).
All seems to be going well until father of the dead girl and school principle Mr Hammond (Leslie Nielsen) hears that the paedophile convicted of his daughter’s death, has escaped prison and is on the loose. In true horror style, each of the original children responsible for the girl’s death, receive a mysterious phone call. After each call, the killer carefully crosses off their name on his ‘kill list’.
Eventually the prom starts, and guests start to arrive. It is at this point the film starts to take on a less sinister tone and becomes much more about the disco and dancing. Flashy moves are performed on the dancefloor, John Travolta style by Kim and Nick, soon followed by their fellow classmates.
Then things start to take a dark turn. One by one, each of the original children meet an untimely and gruesome death at the hands of a masked killer. However, all does not go to plan for our killer when he unwittingly decapitates Lou who has knocked out Nick and stolen the prom crown for himself. As Lou’s head rolls onto the stage, terror engulfs the room, students run for their lives and realising the mistake, our killer follows Kim and Nick as they attempt to escape the building.
In the final moments of the film, Kim and Nick are cornered and the killer endeavours to attack Nick with an axe, ignoring Kim. During the scuffle, Kim manages to attack and severely wound the killer with his own axe. Staring deep into his eyes, realisation pours over Kim’s face as she is seen to recognise the killer. Close to death, the killer exits the building and collapses among the sounds of sirens and flashing blue lights. In his final breath he manages to call out the name of Robin, the dead sibling.
A plus for this film will always be the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis as the lead, Kim Hammond. Having already established herself in John Carpenter’s Halloween, she made a perfect leading lady. More time spent on her story might have embellished the character further, but Curtis performed well with what she was given. Father and School Principal Mr Hammond was effectively played by then serious actor, Leslie Neilsen, but again the role was limiting. Other supporting cast performances were also adequate as far as the roles allowed.
Not wanting to produce a gratuitous violent gore fest, director Paul Lynch went for more muted death scenes. These work well, giving a more realistic tone to the murders with just enough blood to keep the traditional horror element. The cinematography by Robert New and editing by Brian Ravok enhance the scenes further with focussed shots and quick editing. The shot of the decapitation of Lou is done particularly well with just the right amount of effects to make the scene work. The decision to use the actors head through a hole in the staging helps keep the realism which may otherwise have been lost if using a dummy.
With as soundtrack of disco tunes written specifically for the film by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer you could almost be forgiven in thinking that this film was a sequel to Saturday Night Fever. The tunes perfectly mimic disco tunes from the 70s and would certainly not be out of place amongst the disco circuit of the time. However, it is exactly this disco heavy soundtrack that ruined the film for me.
Unlike other horror films of the time, Prom Night lacks the creepy score that gives a horror film the suspense it needs. Although at times there is a more traditional film score to accompany the stalking and murder of the victims, largely all we hear is the prominent disco tunes in the background. Had the film been more comedy horror, or been more gore intense, this might not have bothered me quite so much. However, it did. I’m not a huge disco fan and I just found it irritating.
Overall, Prom Night is largely an enjoyable watch. Its very similar to many slasher films and is certainly not the worse. It is a bit heavy on the disco tunes for me personally, but the acting is better than a lot of horror films. Don’t expect too much gore or suspense and just take it as it is. Worth at least one watch.
Prom Night is released on Blu-ray by 101 Films and includes the following extras:
• Chasing the Final Girl, a new documentary on the “Final Girl” in horror movies
• An interview with director Paul Lynch
• Audio commentary with FrightFest’s Paul McEvoy and filmmaker Jake West
• Limited Edition booklet: includes ‘Just Some F****** Nerdy Brother: Prom Night and the strange case of the Canadian slashers’ by Dave Alexander and ‘Dance ‘Til You’re Dead: Composer Paul Zaza remembers the music of Prom Night’ by James Burrell
• Audio commentary with Director Paul Lynch and Screenwriter William Gray
• The Horrors of Hamilton High: The Making of Prom Night Featurette
• Collection of additional scenes added for television broadcast
• Motion still gallery
• Original radio spots
• Original theatrical trailer and television spots