|Review||Prom Night (1980)||Director||Paul Lynch|
|Writers||William Gray (screenplay) and Robert Guza Jr. (story)|
|Cast||Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Stevens, Eddie Benton, Antoinette Bower, Michael Tough, Pita Oliver, David Mucci and Mary Beth Rubens|
“Tonight it’s my turn” – The killer
Four kids, Wendy, Nick, Vicki and Kelly, accidentally kill little Robin Hammond (Tammy Bourne) during a macabre game of “Killer”. The leader of the pack Wendy swears them all to secrecy but unbeknownst to them there was a witness to the events.
Six years later and Prom Night is approaching at Hamilton High. Principal Hammond (Nielsen) along with his daughter Kim (Curtis) and son Alex (Tough) attends the gravesite of Robin. As fate would have it the foursome who killed her (Benton, Stevens, Oliver and Rubens) are very much in the lives of both Kim and Alex. Nick is on his way to becoming Kim’s boyfriend and Wendy is trying everything to ruin that possible union. Vicki and Kelly are good friends with Kim also. One the day of the prom the foursome all get menacing phone calls from someone who warns them that tonight will be their last.
Maybe a bit difficult to coin this a slasher film but that’s what it’s labelled as so who are we to argue! “Prom Night” is one of my personal favourites and this flick can stand up to multiple viewings. The plot is as simple as they come but that doesn’t prevent director Lynch from trying his best to serve up red herrings as to who’s doing the killing. It takes it’s time in the build-up and firmly establishes it’s characters and the film is all the richer for it. But that fact didn’t hit home until I’d seen it more than once as I wrote a scathing review on IMDB some 10 years ago and awarded it a 4 out of 10!
Those interested can read the review here: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw2029379
In my original assessment I even went down on the execution of the important final third where the killings start. Now I really admire how it goes down as it’s actually quite suspenseful and the fact that the killer is anything but self assured in his actions makes everything borderline realistic. The showdown really is short and sweet but it’s so well played out and in the end becomes very emotional. Top notch ending all the way. The 4 stars I awarded would now be more like a 8 out of 10. How time (and multiple viewings) can change things!
I also went down on the red herrings and, to be completely honest, they are fairly obvious. But the “lunatic on the loose” angle is better handled than I gave it credit for and had the employee on the school grounds been slashed it would have made no sense for the killer to have dispatched of him. And also the reason why Leslie Nielsen’s character disappears from the prom (and thus has no role in the finale) has a reasonable enough explanation and shouldn’t be considered a fault. My own reading of this old review is what prompted me to watch the film (yet again) and post this re-evaluation. I honestly don’t know why my first impression of this great 80’s slasher was so negative.
Performances are uniformly excellent here. While his role isn’t very big top-billed Nielsen is a commanding presence and he delivers a solid performance (funnily enough; two weeks prior to the US release date of “Prom Night” Nielsen could be seen in “Airplane” and his role there paved the way for his late entry into comedic roles). Curtis is really good as well and this role is a big departure from her pure slasher roles in “Halloween” (1978) and “Terror Train” (1980) as she gets to show a lot more dramatic acting. Also she isn’t even on the list of would-be victims. The actors playing the victims are all quite good but Benton (later to be known as Anne-Marie Martin) makes the biggest impression as Wendy, the most wicked of the bunch. Michael Tough is also fine as Alex.
“Prom Night” isn’t particularly gory but the violence is pretty hard hitting; especially once you’ve gotten to know and feel for some of the victims. That is down to a mostly decent script that doesn’t present it’s character as one-dimensional throwaways. Even the requisite bully Lou (Mucci) puts in a decent enough effort and makes him a little bit more memorable.
Another thing that works tremendously in the film’s favour is it’s disco laced soundtrack that completely dominates once the big event commences. The songs are pure disco and definitely place the film as a late seventies/early eighties item but the tunes are lively, atmospheric and certainly off-beat once they accompany on-screen mayhem. You might think these were established songs but they’re actually original compositions from Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer, the film’s composers, as it was the cheaper option for a low-budget flick to have original songs then licence big hits.
All in all; I love “Prom Night” and heartily recommend it. It may take more than one viewing to truly appreciate it (it did for me!) but this is an excellent film from the golden era of slasher cinema.