PROM NIGHT (1980)
While playing a diabolical game of hide and seek in an abandon building, four friends are joined by another pre-teen. When the four decide to gang up on the poor girl to scare her, she accidentally falls to her death. The four make a pact never to tell anyone about the accident. Now six years later, on the anniversary of Robin's death which happens to coincide with the high school prom night, these four friends are marked for death. As the light in the gym fade and the disco beats start pumping, am axe-wielding masked killer is stalking the halls looking to finally give Robin her justice. But just who is behind the mask? An escaped mental patient that was blamed for Robin's death? Robin's father and principal of the school? Robin's older sister Kim? Or even the school bully? When the spotlight is put on Kim to receive her crown as prom queen, everyone is going to find out!
As one of the earliest movies to take advantage of the slasher craze that make its mark on the early eighties, PROM NIGHT definitely has plenty going for it, and unfortunately against it. The plotline seems somewhat original, or at the very least not absolutely derivative. Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Kim, who looks like she just stepped off of the set for HALLOWEEN, and you half expect her to break into a monologue about the boogeyman at any moment. It also stars Leslie Nielson as the principal, in one of his final "serious roles" before transforming into the comedic genius most of us know him as.
Screenwriter William Gray takes cues from the Italian giallo style as multiple frankly unnecessary subplots are injected to make everyone seem like the potential killer. He takes so much time pushing one suspect that you instantly discount him as the real killer. Between this subplot, and his attempting to build the current relationships of the four teenagers through standard high school bickering and rivalry, there is no time for anything even scary to work its way in until almost an hour into the movie. Even the eerie phone calls and heavy breathing don't seem to bring any threat to the four.
Director Paul Lynch, who has gone on to be a prolific director of sci-fi and horror television shows, cuts his teeth here one of his first movies. For the first two-thirds of the movie, Lynch plays it mostly like a cop show or teen soap drama, and the two dueling storylines almost feel like your flipping back and forth between two movies. Once the prom starts, and the horror begins though, Lynch gets a little more creative with camera usage to build up a bit of tension and sticks to the shadows with some FRIDAY THE 13th inspired POV shots. Nothing ever gets the heart racing too much, but the effort is there.
However, as one of the first films to really go for the newly born slasher target audience, Lynch doesn't know just what to fully exploit to the fullest extent. There is only a brief flash of nudity from one of the victims, though Jamie Lee Curtis does go through a scene with her low-cut bra exposed. The gore level, as well as the body count, are at a minimum, with the only great effect being a decapitation that does deliver the goods at the height of the massacre. The attacks though even have to take a back seat to a dance sequence with Curtis, which goes on for several minutes. Disco horror? Now that will put chills down your spine!
PROM NIGHT retains a strong cult following among slasher enthusiasts, mostly due to its starring of Curtis and its assistance in molding and following the "rules" of horror. Though it has fallen off the radar for most horror lists, definitely check it out at some point. There is plenty of 80's low budget cheese to be had, and it makes for a good history lesson in the evolution of horror over the past thirty years. Plus any movie that has the balls to throw a twelve-year-old out a window into a pane of broken glass has got count for something.