Sunday, March 20, 2016

PROM NIGHT (1980)

Rated R
Running time: 92 min.

Do you remember that time you went to prom and someone showed up and started killing everybody? Fun times. So begins our back-to-back look at the first two films of the Prom Night series, the first of which was released to theatres July 18, 1980. It gives Leslie Nielsen top billing even though he has about five total minutes in the movie and then disappears without explanation. Jamie Lee Curtis also stars, having been, at this point, well-entrenched in the horror film genre as the girl who survives all the crazy maniacs. It started with Halloween, then The Fog and then Terror Train not long after this one. Hence, the reason why she was given the unofficial title of "Scream Queen".

The premise of the movie is thus: six years ago, four young children were responsible for the accidental death of Robin Hammond. They promised each other to keep it quiet and split, but unbeknownst to the kids, there was a witness. The police blamed it on a local psycho, arrested him and closed the case. Now, the kids are facing their prom but at the same time, someone has crafted a list of their names on a piece of paper, and is making some crank calls. I find it quite odd that someone went to the trouble to print these names to paper and then scratch them off when the crank call is completed. Meanwhile, we're told that the guy arrested for the little girl's death six years ago has escaped the psych hospital we was held at and that he may be headed back to town for revenge, in a plot device taken directly from Halloween. The problem is that the device in this instance is never fleshed out on-screen.

Kim (Curtis) and Nick (Casey Stevens) are going to prom together; as are Kelly (Marybeth Rubens) and Drew (Jeff Wincott); Drew just wants to get laid and doesn't care if it's Kelly or someone else; Kelly doesn't want to put out. Jude (Joy Thompson) is going with Seymour aka "Slick" (Sheldon Rybowski) and his 1980 custom-made Chevy van. One of the best lines in the film comes after Jude and Slick have sex in the van, when Jude says "I can hardly believe it. This morning I didn't even know you!". Meanwhile, Kim has a rival for Nick in the form of Wendy (Eddie Benton), who is determined to steal him away. So much so that she plots a scheme with the lughead Lou (David Mucci). Lou was my favorite character in the entire film. He's so cool that he smokes in the school hallway, with the top three buttons of his shirt undone. He even has goons! They show up to prom in their tuxedo shirts and it's a beautiful thing to behold.

Nick, Kelly, Jude and Wendy were the four children that kept the secret about young Robin's death. Robin was the sister of Kim and Alex, just so I can tie this thing together for you. Not only are they receiving crank calls, but their high school photos have been taped to the inside of their lockers with menacing-looking shards of glass stuck to them in a threatening manner. At this point, as the viewer, you start to try and piece things together in order to be smarter than the movie. Some of the suspects include our escaped mental patient, as well as the school janitor, Mr. Sykes (Robert Silverman). Sykes is considered creepy by the kids, and I can't really say that I blame them. I mean, check this out:

"Something about the smell of a juice box just makes me crazy."

This movie was all set-up. Nothing really happened during the first hour other than some teen angst and amateur-hour death threats, and the movie has a 90-minute running time! The killer finally kills someone with 30 minutes left. We did get a suspenseful chase scene involving the killer and Wendy, and we laughed at Lou being a meathead. We also wondered how many years these "kids" have been in that school because they all appeared to be much too old for prom. A check of the cast shows us that Jamie Lee Curtis was 22, Eddie Benton was 23 and Jeff Wincott was 24, so there was quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to be held while watching. For a small spoiler alert (this movie is thirty six years old, so get over it), the plot also gave us a few red herrings as I found it strange that Leslie Nielsen's character just disappeared from the movie without any explanation.

The slasher genre can really be clichèd and this one hits them all. A film in this genre can usually escape it's trappings by offering up new twists on the plot, or filling it with humor and moments of self-awareness. Prom Night does not completely succeed at doing this. Whereas I was entertained briefly by the sights and sounds of the setting, the main plot did not really lure me in to the point where I felt entertained throughout. There were some moments of humor, and a couple of tense scenes, but the big reveal at the end was underwhelming because one of the characters involved was not developed on-screen in any significant way.

If you're a slasher film completist, you might find something to enjoy here. If you're looking for a good b-movie, this one hits a few of the tropes, especially with some dialogue and bad acting.

Score: 2.5/5

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