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Movie Review: Prom Night

Prom Night (Avco Embassy Pictures, 1980)
Directed by Paul Lynch
Written by William Gray from a story by Robert Guza, Jr.

It’s that time of the year. We’re just a few weeks away from the Doc’s favorite holiday when all the goblins, ghosts, and shit like that come out to play. And even though I watch horror films pretty much all year round, there’s something about October that just makes me want to watch a freaking slew of them. I don’t like to watch the obvious ones. I’ve seen Elm Street, Child’s Play, Chainsaw, Friday the 13th, and of course, Halloween enough times to know I can do without them for a month. Halloween is my personal favorite, I hope my name didn’t give that one away.

So, over the next few weeks leading up to the big night when we go all nuts and give a bunch of kids apples with razor blades in them, or is that just me; forget I mentioned that. Anyways, over the next few weeks I hope to give you creatures of the night some retrospectives on this great genre of cinema that produces more crap than gold, but hopefully we’ll find some winners. Remember, these will mostly be films I haven’t seen yet, or don’t remember much about, so I apologize if they don’t all light that fire you so desperately need to be lit. But if that’s the case, develop your own opinion, numbskulls, and stop relying on crack heads like myself. I’m giving you options, here.

Prom Night was the film I decided to kick off my month long festival of fright and gore with, and I’m not really sure why. It was just the first DVD I came across that was under 10 bucks and I hadn’t seen yet. Not sure how I missed Prom Night over the years. It became one of the more successful slasher films in the boom that hit us in the early eighties where no holiday or inaugural event was left untouched. We had Friday the 13th, Mother’s Day, New Year Evil, Graduation Day, Final Exam, etc. I’ve seen all those films, and they all pretty much suck, so why have I never seen Prom Night? Well, I don’t have an answer. I’ve never seen Gandhi either; I’m not perfect. I think that sentence suits a great purpose; in no other review you read of Prom Night, will Gandhi be mentioned. I can almost guarantee it, and I feel honored to have that distinction to my great name.

Prom Night tells the beautiful story of ten year old Robin Hammond, who fell out of a window in an abandoned school building while four kids taunted her in what became a deadly game of hide and seek. Cut to six years later on, are you ready for it, Prom Night! There’s a killer on the loose, and his/her target is the four kids responsible for a little girl’s death. It doesn’t get much deeper or well thought out than that, people. It just doesn’t.

It irks the Doc to this day that Halloween gets blamed for all of the terrible slasher films that came out after it. Friday the 13th was the real culprit; two years after one of the best, not only horror, but overall films of all time came out, Friday ripped it of everything that made it great and simply focused on the killings and gore. This became the fad that everyone with a camcorder decided to take advantage of, and we got a lot of nonsense that streamed from the craze. I give Prom Night credit for at least trying to honor the traditions that Halloween set.

Prom Night is not very gory, and doesn’t have a lot of kills. The first killing in the present day scenario doesn’t even take place till the 1 hour mark, and this is barely a 90 minute film. They actually try to build up the suspense just like Halloween did, and for that I applaud it.

However, none of that build-up is very suspenseful, and so neither is the killing once it happens. They never even explain why it has to be six years later, and on “Prom Night,” with the exception that they couldn’t use the title if it wasn’t. Would it have been that hard to have someone say that it was six years ago today when the little girl died? This isn’t rocket science!

Paul Lynch is not a bad director, he’s got some really nice set-ups and visuals in this film. Even though I’m a huge horror fan, I’m not really a big gore hound, but I have to admit the scene with the head rolling down the stage toward the students is pretty damn good. However, since the whole movie, with the exception of a few bloody sequences, feels no different than a Made for TV movie, I’m not surprised to learn that Lynch has since directed a ton of television. He’s worked on everything from Baywatch to Deep Space Nine.

The one idea the director and writers did take away from Friday the 13th was the murder mystery aspect. There is a long list of suspects. Could it be the creepy gardener, or maybe it’s Robin’s father/school principal played by Leslie Nielsen of all people? Could it be the brother or sister of the little girl? The sister is played by early eighties scream queen, Jamie Lee Curtis, who of course owes the majority of her success to Halloween. Or could it be a disgruntled teacher, the town sheriff, the asylum escapee who ended up being wrongfully arrested for killing the little girl six years ago? Or could it be one of the foursome who’s sick of keeping the secret? You get my point. There are a lot of suspects, but when the identity is revealed, you shouldn’t be surprised. Although I admit I was surprised by the interesting choice of make-up the killer had applied even though he/she is wearing a mask.

Prom Night also suffers from stealing so much from other films. There is a fine line between paying homage and flat out theft. When you have the John Travolta wanna-be hooking up with the popular bitch to wreak havoc on the prom, and the dude has also been suspended, I think you’ve gone a little beyond paying homage to Carrie. At that point, I’m pretty sure you’ve re-shot it with less interesting actors and taken out all of the suspense. I can’t even figure out what their prank was supposed to be; it looked like the guy was going to walk out on the stage acting like he had been crowned king of the prom. Wow! You really showed them, moron. Why not just use the pig blood? You’ve already taken everything else.

I have to mention this part of the film though because it simply blew my mind. Prom Night is the only slasher film, which I know of, that has a dance sequence. I could not make that up. It is freaking brilliant to watch Jamie Lee and some douche bag light it up at a “Disco Themed Prom” while their friends are being hacked away off camera. I know they’re remaking this film for next year, and I really hope they not only keep the dance sequence, but the “Disco Themed” prom as well. I would actually love to see an updated version of that.

Overall, Prom Night has its heart in the right place, but in the end it’s another case of style over substance. Which most slasher films don’t even have style, so that’s another plus for it, I guess. But for the dance sequence alone, it’s hard not to recommend the damn thing at the same time I’m telling you it’s pretty damn dull. So make of that what you will.


Sam Loomis

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