Despite being enamored with 80’s slasher movies, I’ve never really held Prom Night in very high regard much preferring the supernatural, undead hijinks of deceased prom queen Mary Lou in the Nightmare on Elm Street inspired ‘middle’ sequels (part four returned the series to its slasher roots). Even within the realm of Canadian slice ‘n’ dicers of the time (Terror Train, My Bloody Valentine); the only thing that really stuck with me about this was the effective opening sequence and the extremely painful, and long-winded, disco dancing moment. Apart from that, I draw a blank, so that’s why revisiting this iconic (at least poster art wise) flick all these years later was a welcome event – but would I think differently this time around?
Prom Night’s kick-off is still memorable as some youngsters are playing a hide ‘n’ seek-like game called “The Killer is Coming” in an abandoned building one afternoon. Along comes an unwelcome player in the form of one of their schoolmates and they’ve soon backed her out of a window to her death after surrounding her chanting “kill! kill!”. This being a horror flick, they all decide to cover it up rather than get in trouble.
Fast forward to six years later at Hamilton High where, just in time for the prom, all of the people involved in the cover up start receiving menacing phone calls from an obsessed psycho who is obviously out for revenge. They’re all your pretty typical teenage stereotypes with the main focus on Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis), who happens to be the sister of the girl who died all the years back.
In amongst all the dull teenage talk, a subplot that has a detective tracking down an escaped lunatic, and various red herrings; people soon start getting killed off by a masked psycho. This all culminates during the night of the prom as our cast is slowly thinned out before the predictable finale rolls around.
I’m still not sure what the big deal about Prom Night is. Sure, it’s structured to mix slasher movies with murder mystery but it’s never really done convincingly with the kill scenes being pretty tame (at least until one pleasing moment in the finale) and all the banter in-between nothing more than dull. Whereas flicks that came before it like Friday the 13th had the appeal of shocking, bloody deaths, there’s really nothing here to keep your attention. Even the presence of so-called “Scream Queen” Curtis (who garnered the reputation due to Halloween, Terror Train, The Fog, and this) doesn’t add anything as most of the characters are woefully underdeveloped – this says nothing of the fact screen veteran Leslie Nielsen getting top-billing and appearing barely at all.
Remember I mentioned the god-awful disco sequence? It’s still here and it grinds things to a halt. If I wanted to see a lengthy dance number set to the fad music of the day, I’ll watch Saturday Night Fever. Apart from that, there are a few decently staged moments by director Paul Lynch (as well as a few unintentionally humorous ones like when a van driven off the side of a cliff explodes BEFORE hitting the ground) with an extended chase sequence that ends in the school’s auto shop working relatively well before a badly staged final showdown between Kim and our killer. Lynch would follow this up with a few memorable, if not exactly good, Canadian-lensed b-flicks like Humongous, Bullies, and No Contest with all of them (okay, maybe not Humongous) being better than this without gathering the cult following.
Curtis would follow this up with the decent Halloween II before moving away from the genre and she turns in an okay performance here, even if her character never feels quite like the heroine that scripter William Gray intended. As mentioned, Nielsen, who at this point had been acting for thirty years gets minimal screen-time as the school principal (and Kim‘s father) but would manage to have a career reemergence upon the success of the Naked Gun series. The only other cast member who really makes any sort of impression is Marybeth Rubens as the virginal Kelly.
It’s quite evident by now that my return visit to Hamilton High wasn’t an enjoyable one. Which is too bad, since I wanted to try and see what’s made this mediocre slasher endure all these years later. I’m still at a loss. I honestly can’t recommend it – unless, of course, you’re determined to see all the slasher flicks that glutted the market in the 80’s. Me, I’ll stick to slow dancing with Mary Lou. (Chris Hartley, 4/5/12)
Directed By: Paul Lynch.
Written By: William Gray.
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Stevens, Eddie Benton.