The premise behind the original Prom Night released in the summer of 1980 is a simple one: What if someone took the original Halloween and gave it a Saturday Night Fever vibe?And just for good measure, they got Jamie Lee Curtis and a nice disco soundtrack. It also helped that Curtis knew how to dance and had spent her youth with many years of dance lessons.
By then, the slasher flicks, which were also called the Dead Teenager Movie format, were in full force thanks to the surprise success of Halloween. The original Friday the 13th, then consider a knock-off of Halloween, was already in theaters making a lot of money. But Prom Night would also build on a trope that was at the heart of that movie – a serial killer seeking revenge for a past wrong.
Beginning with a prologue in 1974 where four tweens are playing hide-and-seek in an abandoned covenant when a 10-year-old Robin Hammonds tries to join them. But they begin to tease her on the second floor of the building to the point that she gets scared and accidentally falls out of the window to her death. The four kids run away as we only see the shadow of a person standing over her body having witnessed everything.
Flash forward to 1980 and the anniversary of her death. Her older sister, Kim (Curtis) and Robin’s fraternal twin, Alex (Michael Tough) are with their parents at her gravesite. Their mother, Mrs. Hammond (Antoinette Brower) is still grief-stricken and distraught while her husband, Mr. Hammond (Leslie Nielsen) tries to comfort her but reminds her that he needs to get the kids to school where he is also the principal.
It’s also the day of the senior prom where Kim has been named the prom queen as her boyfriend, Nick McBride (Casey Stevens) is the prom king. It’s revealed that Nick was one of the children who teased Robin along with Nick’s ex-girlfriend, Wendy Richards (Eddie Benton), the rich preppy girl. Wendy has been receiving obscence phone calls along with friends, Kelly Lynch (Mary Beth Rubens) and Jude Cunningham (Joy Thompson), as they were also playing in the covenant and teasing Robin.
Mr. Hammond learns the day of the prom that a sex offender who was blamed for Robin’s death has reportedly escaped from the mental hospital. Nick’s father, (George Touilatos) is the police lieutenant investigating the case fearing he may come to the prom. At school, Kim is harassed by a bully named Lou Farmer (David Mucci) and Alex steps in to defend his sister. Angered by Lou’s repetitive disruptive behavior, Mr. Hammond kicks him out of school.
This causes Wendy to ask Lou to the prom dance to embarrass Kim and Nick. At the same time, a killer wearing black and a ski mask begins to take out the students who were responsible for Robin’s death. Could it be the escaped sex offender seeking justice for a crime he didn’t commit? Or could it be something else?
I’m not going to say, but it’s quite obvious if you follow the Roger Ebert’s Rule of the Least Extraneous Character. As referenced in the 1996 Scream, Prom Night does set up a formula in which everyone can be a suspect. But once you see the killer, you can tell the options that it might be Mr. Hammond, himself, or Lou are out of the question. I will argue that the middle part drags a little in the middle as it attempts to set up an atmosphere.
There’s a creepy drunken janitor, Mr. Sykes (Robert A. Silverman) who may be the killer especially after he non-chalantly cleans up a broken mirror in the girls locker room. Wendy, Jude and Kelly all find their yearbook photos with shardes of glass in them. But the prom scenes are like a time warp from the era as well as the fact that one of the characters drives a huge shagging wagon van.
The scenes where the students dance, especially Curtis, bring some liveliness to an otherwise dreary movie about teens being stalked. Some people have commented how the character of Kim mainly is unaffected by the killer up until the very end and I have to agree. It does seem a little like stunt casting by putting Curtis in this role and having her remain mostly oblivious. And some of the movie’s effects and quality are obviously low-budget you find yourself squinting to see certain things through the dark lighting.
Part of this reason was because, like Halloween, the filmmakers wanted to make it as goreless as possible except for a few crucial scenes. For a slasher movie, they do throw in a car explosion so that’s notable.
If anything else, it’s a nice movie to watch on prom night itself, after the dance is over but you still don’t want to go home. Released during the peak of the slasher craze, it stands as of the most notable movies of the era and the second of three horror movies Curtis made released in 1980 along with The Fog and Terror Train.
What do you think? Please comment.