17 April 2014

(1980)

How much fun is Prom Night!? In addition to being a distinguished slasher, the film had one of the all-time great theatrical trailers from the era. While a disco beat plays, we hear a voiceover:

There's a special night in the lives of all of us. A night to be beautiful...to be desirable. A night we can break all the rules and make our own - Prom Night. Everyone at Hamilton High is getting ready for Prom Night. It's a day of rehearsals, arrangements, final preparations, and last minute phone calls... They're too old for games, but someone still wants to play.

Tonight, someone has come to the Prom...alone. Someone who watches in the silent corridors. Someone who waits until no one can help. PROM NIGHT. If you're not back by midnight, you won't be coming home!

The movie lived up to the trailer. As directed by Paul Lynch, Prom Night featured the usual first-rate performance by favorite scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. As in Halloween, the gore content is tame...but the combination of high school angst, a group of (mostly) likeable characters, and a pulsating disco soundtrack make this one memorable.

A couple of kids are playing a charming game: a mix of "tag" and "hide-and-seek" in which they chant, "The killer is coming!" Young Nick (Brock Simpson), Wendy (Leslie Scott), Jude (Karen Forbes) and Kelly (Joyce Kite) have the run of an old abandoned convent.

Alex (Dean Bosacki) and his sisters Robin (Tammy Bourne) and Kim (Debbie Greenfield) pass by on their way to school that morning and see the game in action. Kim has left one of her books at home and tells her siblings to go on.

Robin wants to stay and play with the others. Alex tells her that the other kids don't want her around. However, he leaves her behind.

The girl enters the building and searches for her friends. She finds Nick hiding and he calls out for the others to come after Robin. The three girls join Nick and begin taunting the frightened girl, yelling "kill, kill" and "the killers are coming!"

Robin tries to get away and runs through the convent - but the kids are relentless. Robin walks backwards up a hallway as they're teasing her...and climbs onto a window sill. The window breaks and she falls to her death below.

The children are startled...and although Nick wants to get help, Wendy convinces her friends to make a pact that they never tell anyone. They ride away on their bicycles - but someone unseen views the dead girl. Robin's body is found by the authorities later that night.

Her father Mr. Hammond (Leslie Nielson) tries to comfort Mrs. Hammond (Antoinette Bower) at the scene. The police believe the girl was the victim of a sexual attack and that she resisted. They inform Mr. Hammond they have picked up a suspect for questioning.

Six years later on the anniversary of her death, Robin's family visits her grave. Mr. and Mrs. Hammond and their now teenage children Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Alex (Michael Tough), are still consumed with grief.

At breakfast, Alex and Kim discuss the prom that is to be held that evening. Kim tells her brother to ask Jude to go with him. Alex isn't interested and reminds Kim that he is in charge of the sound system for the dance.

Their dad is the principal at Alexander Hamilton High and he drives them to the school. Sykes (Robert Silverman) is cutting the hedges on the lawn. Alex refers to him as a "wacko" and Kim says the man is always watching the female students. Mr. Hammond doesn't believe the employee is a threat because he's been checked out.

Jude (Joy Thompson) gets a phone call from someone who asks, "Can you come out to play tonight? I'll see you at the prom." It's the first of a series of calls several students will get that morning. Each time, the person crosses off the name on a list.

Jude thinks it is some sort of obscene caller and ignores it to head to school. While walking, Seymour "Slick" Crane (Sheldon Rybowski) offers her a ride in his van and she accepts.

Next to receive an ominous call is Kelly (Marybeth Rubens). She's told, "It's been a long time. Tonight it's my turn." Kelly believes it is her boyfriend Drew (Jeff Wincott) playing a prank and goes outside to look for him.

When she returns, Drew has entered the house through the back door and is ready to take her to Hamilton. She tells him she's shaken by the voice she heard on the phone.

Nick (Casey Stevens) is getting ready for class. His father, Mr. McBride (George Touliatos), is a lieutenant with the police department. As they leave together, Nick tells his dad that he plans to take Kim to the prom. The phone rings but he decides not to answer it.

At the station house, Lt. McBride thinks back to the day little Robin was murdered. He remembers how overzealous the cops had been in trying to apprehend a local sex offender they thought was the perpetrator.

During a high-speed chase, the suspect's car overturned and he was set on fire. The man was taken to a hospital...where he has been ever since. That is, until now. He's escaped and taken a nurse with him.

McBride calls in Dr. Fairchild (David Gardner), the physician who treated the guy after the accident to try and get some insight into the guy. The lieutenant is worried that the suspect might be headed back for revenge. Just then, he gets a call informing him that the nurse has been found in the same building Robin met her death.

Lt. McBride and Dr. Fairchild examine the body...which has been mutilated. Fairchild talks McBride into not telling anyone that the same person they think killed Robin is on the loose. He believes that because the convict is disfigured from his burns, he won't get very far and will be picked up quickly.

There's one more threatening call to be made. Wendy (Eddie Benton) picks up the phone and hears, "Do you still like to play games?" With wit and style, she answers, "Get lost Lou!" and drives off in her Corvette to school. Note to the uninitiated: (Attitude + Corvette = BITCH!)

At Hamilton High, we're treated to the usual classy teen behavior...Kelly telling Drew to "save it" when he tries to kiss her, Jude excitedly telling Kim and Vicki (Pita Oliver) that she has a date to the prom, Lou's jealousy over Nick taking Kim to the dance, Wendy trying to win Nick back and kissing him in front of the others, etc.

As Kim studiously attempts to practice her disco dance moves (in vain), Wendy tells her the only reason Nick is her date is because they're king and queen of the prom. Wendy leaves her ex-friend with these sage words of advice:

"It's not who you go with honey, it's who takes you home."

Lou approaches Kim in the cafeteria wearing a ski mask and tries to kiss her. Alex intervenes on behalf of his sister and punches Lou in the face. The two guys are taken to Principal Hammond's office. Lou is suspended and the black skimask is confiscated.

Kim goes for a walk with Nick and confides that she and her family are upset because it's the anniversary of Robin's death.

Nick recalls the events of that day, and just as he's about to confess, the schoolbell rings.

Wendy is having lunch with Lou at a local drive-in diner. She convinces him to do something at the Prom to get back at Kim and the school. (Carrie anyone?)

After the break, some of the girls are at tennis practice. Vicki is feeling frisky and moons Sykes the weirdo.

Later, Wendy finds her yearbook picture in her locker with a tear in it. And Kim and and Kelly are talking about losing their virginity when they hear the sound of breaking glass. They go to see what happened and discover that someone has shattered a mirror and taken a large shard.

Peeking out at the parking lot, they don't see anyone in the vicinity. As she's about to go home, Kim thinks she is being followed in the hallway.

Sykes is nearby, cleaning up the broken glass in the locker room...and Jude and Kelly also find their yearbook photos torn in their lockers.

Kim prepares for the big night. Mrs. Hammond is nervous because of the day's significance - and she can't find her lipstick on top of it. She and Mr. Hammond leave to the prom together, while Kim waits for Nick to pick her up. Wendy gets a lift from Lou and three of his loser friends, much to her annoyance.

Hamilton High is eerily dark and deserted that night, except for the gym. That's where the action is and the disco is cranked high. (Apparently, the school had a big enough budget to install the dance floor from Saturday Night Fever)

Standing nearby and keeping a watchful eye is Lt. McBride. Kim is dancing with her father when Wendy shows up. Wanting to one-up her nemesis, she grabs Nick and they engage in a full three-minute disco marathon while the title song plays.

Afterwards, Kim, Jude, and Vicki go into the ladies room to freshen up. Kelly joins them and is anxious because Drew wants to get up her skirt. To which Jude gives this advice: "It's really no big deal Kelly. It's like getting, uh,...a shot!" Shakespeare coined love not better...

For some reason, this makes Kelly feel better about the situation - and she and her boyfriend go off to the locker room to make out.

However, Kelly gets cold feet about going too far and Drew blows her off. In tears and trying to compose herself, Kelly buttons up her blouse. A killer in a ski mask comes up from behind and slices her neck.

Jude is making out with Seymour in his van. He steps out to relieve himself, while the psycho is lurking in the bushes. Jude joins Seymour and they continue kissing on the grass. They hear someone nearby and go back to the van to smoke some pot.

While Jude is leaning against the doors, they're suddenly swung open and Jude is stabbed in the neck. Seymour tries to drive away but the masked guy grabs onto the vehicle...making it swerve and go over a cliff. It explodes and the killer jumps out in time.

Wendy is next. While in the ladies room reapplying her make-up, the lights go out. The killer strikes at her with the ax and barely misses.

She manages to escape and runs down the darkened corriders. She hides in a classroom and then in a car in the school autoshop, before the killer finds her.

Wendy hits him with a broom and seeks refuge in a storage closet. She's temporarily safe until she sees blood dripping on the floor near her, whereby she looks up to see Kelly's body and screams. The killer opens the door and repeatedly strikes Wendy with the ax.

Lt. McBride gets what he thinks is good news: his suspect was apprehended fifty miles away from the school. He decides the building is clear of danger...but just as he's about to go home, Sykes appears and starts yelling that a killer is loose. Lt. McBride quickly whisks him away.

The prom ceremony is about to begin so Kim and Nick go backstage. They're at different positions and Kim isn't able to see Lou in action. His two friends knock Nick out and Lou puts the crown on his head. The music stops and as the "king and queen" are about to go onstage, the killer strikes Lou.

Lou's decapitated head rolls out onto the walkway. The students and faculty are horrified and there's a stampede to get out of the school. Kim finds Nick and she attempts to get him to safety, the killer confronts them.

He attacks Nick and they struggle on the ground. Kim grabs the ax and when she's sure her boyfriend is out of the way, she hits the killer in the head. When the still masked attacker turns around, she is able to get a good look at his eyes. They're quite familiar to Kim...and she gets a sick feeling as she realizes she has just struck her own brother Alex.

Alex stumbles outside of the school and Lt. McBride points a gun at him. Kim runs out and pleads with the officer not to shoot.

Kim bends down, takes the mask off her brother and cradles his head in her arms. He's wearing smeared lipstick on his face. Before he dies, Alex cries out that he saw what happened six years ago. "They did it," he says. In a flashback, we see the young boy standing over his sister's broken body.

Prom Night is noteworthy because the killer actually has a reasonable motive...one that most of us can relate to. Revenge against those responsible for his little sister's death makes him more sympathetic than most "villains" in this subgenre.

Although in some ways, the movie is a slasher-by-the-numbers, it is redeemed by solid acting and slick production values. Among the leads, Eddie Benton as the teen Wendy is a real find. She's mean (even to her mother), malevolent, jealous, incorrigible and...sexy.

Like Nancy Allen in Carrie, Benton lights up the screen whenever she's around. There are some genuinely good suspense sequences in Prom Night, - and Wendy's chase scene and murder is one of the best.

Her temporary hideout in a car in the high school's auto department really encapsulates the general mood and rhythm that makes these early '80s slashers so energetic and appealing.

Of course, this movie is yet another Jamie Lee Curtis star vehicle. She's terrific, especially in the final scene. The point in which she looks into her brother's eyes is actually significantly poignant for a horror movie.

It's a well-timed and symbiotic moment, a potent combination of editing, acting and music placement. In fact, Paul Zaza's energetic disco songs, as well as his moody, creepy instrumental score, are a major reason that Prom Night works so well.

A fine cast, Paul Lynch's confident direction, and an effective plot device of having the killer make threatening phone calls to his victims...assure that this is one prom you won't want to miss.


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