Prom Night (1980) Review

Definition of the word kitsch – “something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste.” Kitsch was the word I had originally chosen to describe Prom Night, but now that I’ve seen the movie, like, 1,000 times I realize that to call it something of undiscriminating taste would just be wrong. I’m not saying that it’s some underrated exploration of the dark side of the human spirit or anything. And sure, it’s a formulaic slasher and yeah, there’s the whole disco trend represented here in all of its sequined and strobe lit glory, but underneath what may seem like a time-capsule lays a fairly dark thriller about loss. OK, and it’s a wee bit kitschy.

One thing is for sure – Prom Night is addictive. From the creepy phone calls to Jamie Lee’s curly headed mancub to the awesome disco music to Leslie Neilsen to the fun and sometimes suspenseful killings, Prom Night is a movie I can’t seem to get enough of. It took awhile to grow on me and I’ll be the first to admit that Curtis’ other slashers, Halloween, its sequel and Terror Train are indeed much ‘better’ films but they don’t really enlist that kind of re-watchability of her second foray into the world of splatter. Curtis is Kim Hammond, a teenager who lost her sister in a horrible accident some six years prior. The sister, Robin, had tried to crash a spirited game of Killer with a few of Kim’s friends but unfortunately tumbles out of a window to her death. The group swears to secrecy and the accident gets pegged as murder ending with a local sexual predator getting accused and burned real bad-like in a chase. For the next few years these kids continue to go to school and apparently stay friends (for the most part) with Kim. Except for her boyfriend, Nick (Casey Stevens), none of them seem too bent out of shape about Robin’s death. The Hammond family, including Robin’s twin brother Alex (Michael Tough) visit Robin’s grave on the anniversary of her death, which just happens to fall on the same day as of the biggest dance of anyone’s high school life… The Prom. The random teenagers responsible for Robin’s demise begin to get prank phone calls, and the police are warned that Robin’s supposed killer has escaped and may be heading to the dance. When the party starts, so does the slaughter.

Prom Night spends a lot of its running time building up to the dance. There is a very entertaining but completely superfluous sub-plot involving Wendy (Anne-Marie Martin), the bitch-from-hell and the instigator in hiding the truth behind Robin’s death. Arch enemies, Wendy longs for Nick and turns to Kim’s ex-boyfriend Lou (an excellent David Mucci) to plot revenge against the King and Queen of the Prom. It’s a pretty silly little storyline but both actors are memorable and a lot of fun to watch. And Wendy’s prom dress – oh yeah, she’s a hottie! Kim really puts Wendy to shame though with her awesome disco movies. In fact, the segment featuring Nick and Kim cutting a rug is totally amazing. I mean, they do the robot and everything! And there’s a nice twirl cam featuring Kim looking like she got caught in a windstorm. There are also a few false scares and a bit of character development. It’s not entirely successful, but the actors are certainly game. I like that a lot of them looked like normal people. The actor who played Slick is a bit abnormal, but in a fun way. I mean, who doesn’t love an androgynous-pot-smoking-van-driving sixteen year old? Most the film is subtly real in a lot of ways. The scenes towards the beginning in the high school halls reminded me a lot of when I was in school. But even underneath that, there is a very tragic story being told.

The reveal of the killer may be obvious to some (it was not to me originally, but I was, like, ten then too so who knows?), but there is definite knee-jerk reaction to the discovery. In any kind of real terms, the story has no heroine because when the truth about Kim’s sister’s death and what it did to her family comes to light, she’ll be destroyed. It’s like her life was built on lies. I guess I could ponder how this relates to the horror of being a teenager, but that would be too much I think, so I’ll just stick to the basics. The killings are pretty great. Wendy’s death is truly the show-stopper here, but I’m kind of soft on Lou’s decapitation because I remember when this movie finally aired on network TV, all of the kids in my grade school talked about it the next day during Show and Tell. Lou had everyone buzzing!

I know Prom Night won’t go down in the history books as a great film, but it’s hard to deny that hypnotic trance the disco ball puts you into. It’s an endlessly fun film for me to watch, even if it’s just to remind me how cool kids like Slick and Lou were. If only I had gone to school with these people. Well, everyone except the homicidal maniac…

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