This film should be a grade-A turkey, but for some strange reason it isn’t. Director Paul Lynch, who subsequently directed an even worse slasher- HUMONGOUS (1981), exploits cliché after cliché; to the point of near parody. Practically every element of the burgeoning teens-in-peril subgenre is here; elements re-used form many (usually better) films; here’s just a few: the threatening phone calls are flinched from WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), by way of BLACK CHRISTMAS (1975); the escaped lunatic from an asylum has always been a cliché, but here it owes more than a nod to Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978)- something which is even more apparent by the inclusion of Jamie Lee Curtis; and the past sin, for which the perpetrators must be punished is lifted from TERROR TRAIN (1979) (Curtis again). Perhaps I’m being unfair- afterall, many post-PROM NIGHT slasher movies continued to exploit these elements; and sometimes stretch them to dizzingly preposterous extremes. But in PROM NIGHT Lynch just takes all the most obvious details from earlier films and by doing so seems to hope that a collage of those elements will result in a terrifying, cohesive whole- they don’t.
PROM NIGHT doesn’t have a suspenseful bone in its garish, disco bunny body- the closest in gets to it, is a stalking sequence in the school, during the prom, which is woefully let down by the fact that it is, for the most part, pretty difficult to see what is going on. The fact that it looks pretty cheap doesn’t do it any favours either- especially not when you compare it to the films it clearly wants to emulate; HALLOWEEN and TERROR TRAIN, which both looked great; courtesy of crisp cinematography by Dean Cundey and John Alcott respectively.
So, why won’t I consign PROM NIGHT to the slasher scrap-heap? Well, despite all the things the movie has going against it, it has two largely redeeming features: the first being a top-notch performance from Jamie Lee Curtis who, like the true trooper she is, gives a bravura performance in the face of ineptitude and indifference- in-fact giving much more than the movie deserves; the second redeeming feature is a delightful overabundance of cheese. And, it is when these two elements meet- Ms. Curtis + Cheese, that the film reaches heights that make it all worthwhile- when she tries on the Prom Queen’s crown you know she has no shame; and I can’t help liking her all the more for it.
Other choice cheesy morsels include the scene where a couple make out in what looks like a SCOOBY DOO ‘Mystery Machine’- this scene has everything. The girl is a wise-crackin’ good time gal and the guy is a porky lard ball in a tux. Not only do they have sweaty sex, but they also indulge in a little weed; and it comes as no surprise, especially to this viewer, that when she coos, "I’ll remember this night for the rest of my life!", the van doors burst open and she is offed by the balaclava helmet wearing murderer! The film also boasts some fun, hokey gore effects, which although nowhere in the same league as the same year’s FRIDAY THE 13TH, are still pretty effective; most notable being that supreme moment in bad cinema, when a decapitated head rolls along the prom catwalk- serenaded by the screams of hyperventilating Bee Gees fans. And, lets not forget, Leslie Nielson making one of his last forays into... ahem... serious drama, before he found stardom in spoof comedies; which makes almost any scene he’s in almost unbearable with the anticipation that he’ll turn and surreptitiously gurn at the camera!
Yep, if you are in the right mood, PROM NIGHT’s smorgasbord of cheesy delights can outweigh everything that’s wrong with the picture- and God knows there’s a lot!
It really comes as no surprise that Jamie Lee Curtis bowed (not exactly gracefully) out of slasher movies with this Canadian cheeseball of a slasher -(with the exception of her return to Haddonfield in HALLOWEEN II (1981); and her next movie, the Australian lensed ROAD GAMES (1981), although appearing to be of a similar ilk, is in-fact more of a psychological thriller); before she semi returned to the genre with MOTHER’S BOYS (1993); before doing full circle with HALLOWEEN: H20 (1998).
BODYCOUNT 8 female:5 / male:3
1) Young girl falls to her death after prank backfires
2) Female found dead- stabbed to death with broken glass (off-screen)
3) Female has throat slit with shard of glass
4) Female stabbed to death with shard of glass
5) Male dies when van goes over a cliff and explodes
6) Female killed with axe
7) Male decapitated with axe
8) Male dies from head wound inflicted with axe
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