After I recently discovered a much beloved film of my youth, Prom Night, has four titles in its franchise (does four make a franchise??), it became obvious that my next bottle of Kraken Rum be dedicated to reviewing all four movies. Starting with the OG and working our way to Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil, join me on a mostly entertaining ride that you wished had broken apart and crashed into the corn dog stand at (insert favorite amusement park here) halfway through.
Let’s begin with the 1980 initial offering of PROM NIGHT.
WARNING: This movie is 40+ years old. There will probably be spoilers. Get over it.
We begin the story with three siblings (Kim, the oldest, and Robin and Alex, the younger twins) coming across four fellow schoolmates playing a game of “Killer” in an abandoned and clearly neglected building (aka the Tetanus Motel). It’s basically tag but with psychotic undertones. Kim dips out because she left a book at school and Alex knows these older kids don’t want to play with them so he heads home.
Robin is too curious and passively inserts herself into the shenanigans. Unfortunately, this results in her becoming a target and accidentally killed by the group. And in what seems the most natural course of action, the kids swear secrecy and all run off as if it never happened. Too bad they didn’t hang out long enough to see a shadow darken the still form of Robin, telling us someone else is privy to their murderous secret.
Fast forward six years and what do you think starts happening? That’s right, kids. Someone starts to kill off the original quartet of now high school seniors as they prepare for the prom. Who will survive?
FILLER and RED HERRINGS A’HOY
While I do enjoy this early slasher quite a bit, I think that comes more from nostalgia and some genuine emotion than appreciation of quality cinema. 12-year old me loved the kills, the revenge, and the idea of past wrongs haunting the fuck out of you later in life – even if those wrongs happened when you were a dumb shit kid and, truly, didn’t know any better. 53-year old me, however, has many questions.
The first, and most important: was the game, “Killers,” a common one in the seventies? I mean, I grew up in that era and I remember Pickle, Ghosts in the Graveyard, Red Rover. Who the fuck thought playing serial killer was normal??
My second question is: how did I not pick up on all the damn filler this movie has? The game at the beginning goes on far too long; the most awkward and ass-dragging choreographed dance scene at the prom is BARELY hiding its stolen Saturday Night Fever roots; if you didn’t already want Wendy dead five minutes in, the extended cat and mouse chase between her and the killer will.
The third is: exactly how many red herrings did the film makers think were necessary? I don’t mind one. Two is kind of pushing it. I felt there were at least three, and the escaped criminal/mental patient trope being the obsessive focus of the detective just made me scream at the tv every time it came up. Which was a lot. The constant surety the detective had that this guy was responsible for Robin’s death, a recent missing nurse, and that he’s OBVIOUSLY headed for the prom because….reasons??
WHO DA FUQ?
One of the biggest flaws of this film, which didn’t really hit me until I rewatched it as an adult, is the ABSOLUTE FUCKING AUDACITY of those four kids remaining friends with Kim. You know, those four kids from the beginning? The ones responsible for Kim’s sister’s death?? THOSE KIDS????? And Nick takes it one step further by becoming Kim’s boyfriend. I can’t even with the giant cojones of hutzpah on this jackass.
Another flaw, in addition to the one I mentioned above with the detective, is his absolute lack of police work. When Robin is killed, he assumes she was the victim of a local sex criminal. And tells the father this! No autopsy, not even a basic examination from a doctor or coroner. Then in the present, he just guesses the same sex criminal, who is the escapee from the mental hospital, is dead set (no pun intended) on crashing the prom for revenge. He has no valid justification why the guy would come to town. Did…did he get his badge from the Keystone Cop Academy? I mean….
Despite the issues I’ve discovered now that I’m a self-aware logically thinking adult (mostly), there are still a lot of things to like about this movie.
Director Paul Lynch truly got the best from the actors at his disposal. Likable or despicable, each character is well rounded and developed, and each actor portrays them believably. We feel Kim and her family’s pain while still trying (and not succeeding) to move forward; each of the four murderers… I mean, friends… all have individual personalities, albeit tropes; even the minor characters bring so much fun to the table.
While we don’t really see the kills, it doesn’t hurt the story telling in any way. I enjoy Jude’s death simply because the camera angle tells us all we need to know. And Kelly conveys death through her expression. We know her killer is cutting her throat but the close up on her eyes, which go crossed at the moment her body begins to die, is fantastic.
I also enjoy how the killer fucks with his victims long before he kills them off. The phone calls, cutting out their pictures and marking them up, breaking shit off screen… he’s kind of a dick. And I’m here for it because, let’s be honest and petty, these assholes deserve it.
My favorite aspect of this film is the emotional connection between the Hammond family members. With Robin’s death, each member handles it differently. The mom falls apart; dad (Leslie Nielsen)shoulders the burden in a 1950’s manly way; Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) mourns but is also hopeful for her future. And Alex’s mood alternates between worn down by grief, brimming with anger, or existing like any other ‘normal’ high school junior.
My absolute favorite moment, though, is after fighting off the killer by smashing his head with an axe, Kim recognizes Alex just by the look conveyed in his eyes from behind the mask he wears. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and no matter how many times I watch it, I cry like a little bitch every time that scene plays out.
PROM NIGHT – SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
- Accidents happen, kids. TELL AN ADULT.
- Don’t be friends with the sibling of a child you accidentally MURDERED.
- Certainly don’t date the sibling of a child you accidentally MURDERED.
- The detective in charge is always an idiot.
- Be wary of the surviving twin.