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Monday, July 8, 2019

Prom Night (1980)




The Slasher marathon continues with an old school favorite of mine starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen. I’ve already covered Terror Train and the Halloween Franchise is eventually going to get its own special treatment so that leaves the Canadian flick Prom Night to complete the Curtis “Slasher Cycle”.

Things start off in the past, as they always seem to, with some kids goofing off at an abandoned convent. They are playing a version of hide and seek that includes them chanting “the killer is going to get you.” Walking by are three siblings, twins Alex and Robin as well as their sister Kim. Stuff happens and Robin ends up unwittingly playing in the game and takes a header out the window as result. The four kids that chased her to her death all agree that no one ever speaks of it. This leads the police to blame a local sex pervert who gets charbroiled in the ensuing car chase. That is our setup.

Six years later Kim is a senior and the prom queen. The four kids are also seniors and are getting ready to graduate. In a twisted bit of irony, they are also Kim’s friends, except for Wendy who is mean, and the only boy in the group is Kim’s date to the prom! Right away we are treated to obscene phone calls to the four from someone threatening them. Seems that the mysterious voice knows what they did and is now out for revenge. But who is it? Is it the horribly burned pervert who has recently escaped jail? Or maybe Kim’s distraught mother who can’t get over Robin’s death? We have a lot of suspects which makes the big reveal at the end all the more fun. Plus, there is disco dancing!

A lot of people don’t like this movie and I totally understand their arguments. I’m going to explain as best I can the two most common complaints and then point out why I don’t think they are fair. I’ll start off with the biggest one which is the pacing of the story. Other than the death of Kim that sets up the revenge motive for the killer there isn’t any violence or kills for the first hour of the movie.

Most of the story takes place the day and night of the prom. This means the first hour is basically setting up the characters and potential suspects, of which there are a few. I’ve always enjoyed the cast and their characters, so this has never bored me. I appreciate the slow build up to the crazy killings that eventually happen at the prom. I think that fans have that “formula” of a kill every ten or fifteen minutes so ingrained in them that it makes them judge Prom Night too harshly. Remember this is right at the beginning of the Slasher craze and the rules hadn’t been established yet. This one plays more like a murder mystery and I enjoy it.

When we do get to the last half hour of the movie the bodies start to drop rapidly. Here is where the other big complaint about the movie comes into play. The kills are fairly tame with a couple off screen deaths, a stabbing that you don’t see much of, and one beheading that is mostly just a prop rolling down a stage. The only one that really bugged me is that we don’t get to see Wendy’s demise as it is only hinted at. Still we have seven dead bodies even if they aren’t explicit or all on the screen that is a decent body count.

While the movie doesn’t have that signature kill, I would like to remind everyone that the gore hadn’t really gotten ramped up when this was being shot. Friday the 13th came out the same year and people forget how shocking and revolutionary the gore was in that movie. It was a game changer, but Prom Night was made before that became the thing to do. Blaming it for not being gory enough isn’t fair at all.

I enjoy the heck out of Prom Night. It has an engaging story, good cast, some disco dancing (damn that soundtrack is fun!), and a payoff with a killer that works. Re-watch the movie and pay attention to who is where and you will realize that this is one of those flicks that makes sure the killer could have actually been the killer. I love that attention to detail. Sure, some more explicit kills would have been nice but that doesn’t ruin this one for me. I recommend Prom Night for anyone who digs slasher movies and wants to see an early example of the genre.


© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer

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