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"Prom Night" (1980) Review

I have a weakness for cheesy, "so bad they're good" low-budget horror, sci-fi, or action movies. I watch' em so you don't have to!

Slightly misleading VHS cover

Slightly misleading VHS cover

Prom Night (1980)

Directed by: Paul Lynch

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Anne-Marie Martin

Prom Night was one of the films that rocketed young Jamie Lee Curtis to 1980s "Scream Queen" immortality (the others include the original Halloween and Terror Train). Prom Night was a late-night cable staple for decades, and I remember being creeped out by it as a young teen, many moons ago. Unfortunately, the film has dated very badly, and watching it again recently only served to reinforce how easily impressed I was as a kid. But hey, if a low-rent combo of Halloween and Saturday Night Fever (yes, really!) - with none of the suspense of the former or the amazing dance sequences of the latter - sounds like your idea of a good time, feel free to read on.

The Review

Filmed on the cheap in Canada and rushed out to drive-ins to capitalize on the then-current Slasher Film craze, Prom Night spends an agonizing amount of time on set-up. We open with a flashback to six years previous, with four shrill children (Nick, Jude, Wendy and Kelly) playing a "Hide & Seek" style game called "Killer" in an abandoned building. The apple-cheeked Hammond siblings - Alex and his sisters Robin and Kim - happen to pass by, and when Robin sees the game going on, she tries to join in while her brother and sister continue on their way. Unfortunately, the other children belittle and threaten poor Robin and chase her through the building till she falls out of a window to her death. The stunned quartet swears never to tell anyone what's happened and cover up the entire incident. We learn that a local sex offender was arrested for the crime, and after an escape attempt left him catatonic and disfigured, he was railroaded off to the insane asylum. Wow, sucks to be him, huh?

Plot Developments

Returning to the present day, our four Cover-Up Kids (plus Alex and Kim, who's now played by Jamie Lee Curtis) are all grown up and attending Alexander Hamilton High School. The specter of young Robin's death still hangs heavy over the Hammond family, particularly the clan's grieving mother (Antoinette Bower) and father, who is also Hamilton High's principal. (Fun fact: Dad is played by the great Leslie Nielsen, in one of his last 'serious' acting gigs before "Airplane!" sent him on an entirely new career arc), The prom - which, as fate would have it, falls on the anniversary of Little Robin's death - is quickly approaching and it would appear that Kim and her boyfriend Nick (Casey Stevens) - yes, that Nick - are favorites to be voted Prom King and Queen. As the teens prepare for their Big Night in the disco-themed bash at the school gymnasium, the four conspirators begin receiving threatening phone calls from a mysterious heavy-breather who asks them if they "still want to plaaaaaayyy ?"

In the meantime, Wendy (Anne-Marie Martin) from the prologue has grown up to be Hamilton High's "Mean Girl," and she's jealous of Kim's virtual lock on the Prom Queen title. She and tough guy Lou (David Mucci) are cooking up a prank to ruin Kim's big coronation moment (think "Carrie," but with less pig's blood). Just to add another unnecessary ingredient to the soup, the "catatonic sex offender" blamed for Robin's murder has escaped from the asylum, so there are several "Halloween"-ish scenes in which a grizzled police lieutenant (George Touliatos) stands around looking at a map on his office wall, chain-smoking, and having inner dialogues with himself about why this guy is back in town. with all this drama going on, when does the slashing start? I was asking myself the same thing by the film's mid-point. Instead, the film tries to build up suspense by showing endless shots of darkened school hallways and a mysterious set of hands tearing kids' photos out of the Hamilton High yearbook, When the Prom eventually begins, viewers are likely to say "Geez, it's about damn time!" ...but before bodies start to pile up, you've got to endure some absolutely cringe-inducing scenes of Kim and Nick showing off their disco moves as they boogie-oogie-oogie on the light-up dance floor. Arrrgh!


Breaking the Mold

I will give Prom Night credit for one thing - it breaks the time-honored Slasher Film "rule" that states the virgin always survives. One of the first victims is Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens), who refuses to "go all the way" with her boyfriend in a secluded locker room and promptly has her throat cut by the ski-masked intruder. Jude (Joy Thompson) is then murdered after a tryst in her new boyfriend's tricked-out van. Mean Girl Wendy is dealt with after an extended chase scene through the school's science lab, boiler rooms, and auto shop, which leaves only one member of our Not-So-Fantastic-Four - Kim's boyfriend Nick, who's about to accept his Prom King crown. Ski Mask Guy crashes the backstage area just as Lou springs his prank, which leads to his decapitation by axe. The scene where Lou's severed head sails out from backstage and lands on the royal runway is the film's lone money shot. Naturally mass panic ensues. Kim and Nick battle valiantly against the ax-wielding maniac for several minutes before the police finally arrive and the murderer's identity is finally revealed -- is it indeed the wrongly imprisoned sex offender, back for revenge? Maybe it's the creepy old groundskeeper, Mr. Sykes, who's been leering at the well-stacked female students for the entire movie and seems to know his way around gardening tools? Or is it someone else entirely? I'll leave it for you to discover, but let's just say you'll figure it out way before the characters do.

Summing Things Up

Prom Night may be an interesting watch from a historical perspective, but it certainly isn't one of the Great Slasher Films by any means. One has to wonder if it would be held in such high regard today (or if it would even be remembered today) if it weren't for the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis. Film quality aside, it seems that 1980 audiences just couldn't get enough of seeing J.L.C. being pursued by murderous lunatics, therefore the film made money and went on to inspire three belated, unrelated sequels (1987's better-than-you'd-expect Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, 1990's passable Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, and 1992's godawful Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil, A widely-hated, PG-13 "remake" appeared in 2008, which I've also been unfortunate enough to see. Let's put it this way: if I were forced at gunpoint to choose between the 1980 Prom Night or the 2008 version, my response would be "Just pull the trigger already."

I was hoping for a "so bad it's good" slasher flick when I pressed play on Prom Night, but In the end, all it did was remind me that disco sucked, and so did the movie. View at your own risk.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Keith Abt


Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 01, 2013:

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Hi Keith - oh definitely, it was absolutely snail paced!! By the forty minute mark I was practically screaming at the TV "would they please hurry up and KILL somebody already?" Haha

Keith Ham from Niagara Falls, Ontario on April 01, 2013:

This movie was okay to me but it really drug on far too long for me.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 01, 2013:

Hi Geekdom - that's exactly the kind of vibe I'm trying to bring back with these entries! Glad you're diggin' em!!

Geekdom on April 01, 2013:

I think what I love most about these hubs are the memories they bring back of me and my friends watching these on VHS in highschool.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on December 12, 2011:

Yeah, I'd agree with that, but I'm in no hurry to watch either version again any time soon!!

tschaunerb from Medicine Hat on December 12, 2011:

i think the old one had more substance then the remake!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on December 12, 2011:

Hi tschaunerb - I salute your courage for trying to gut this one out. You know a slasher movie is in trouble when the disco-dance sequences are more impressive than the killing scenes. Haha.

tschaunerb from Medicine Hat on December 12, 2011:

attempted to watch this on net flix...

yeh its bad, buts it's a novelty. ha ha

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on December 12, 2011:

Cool to meet a fellow "so bad they're good" movie enthusiast, icountthetimes. Not every film is gonna be a winner, unfortunately!!

icountthetimes on December 12, 2011:

I really enjoy bargain basement horror movies. I'm with you on the desire to watch "so bad, it's good" type horror and there's no shortage of that. It's a shame this one fell into the "so bad, it's just bad" category for you :).

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on December 11, 2011:

Hi Carl - yea, I saw the remake too, and thought all the same things about it. Oddly enough I rented the so-called "unrated, uncut" version of the remake and it was boring as hell and relatively bloodless. If that was the "uncut" version I can only imagine how tame the PG13 theatrical version must've been.

Carl on December 11, 2011:

I haven't seen this version, but I saw the remake... It was unpleasant, stupid, and full of plot holes. I would much prefer to see this one. Great Hub as always, voted Up, and Everything Else :) Keep up the great work.

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