Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Prom Night (1980)

Despite watching almost every horror film good, bad, and indifferent made, I somehow missed the 1980 slasher flick Prom Night. Since I’m about to get around to last year’s remake, I thought I’d give it a look. That way, if I can’t think of anything else to say about the new version, I can spend the entire review bitching about how the remake has ruined a beloved film of my childhood that I never actually saw.

Prom Night was the fourth of five horror movies Jamie Leigh Curtis made over a two year period*, cementing her status as the first of the modern Scream Queens.** It was a Canadian production at a time when that wasn’t as common as it is today, and was shot back-to-back with the other Curtis slasher film Terror Train.

The film opens with four children playing in an abandoned building. A fifth little girl wants to join them, so they terrorize her by pretending to be killers and chasing her. Despite her pleas to stop, they keep after her until she falls to her death through a window. Instead of trying to help her, the little rat bastards kids decide to make a pact to keep their part in it a secret. This is gonna have consequences, I bet. Although it is confusingly not told until much later in a flashback, an innocent man is accused of the crime, badly burned during his arrest and incarcerated. All this seems important, but at best, it is a red herring.

We move forward a few years, and the sister of the dead girl has grown up to be Jamie Leigh Curtis. She and her brother haven’t gotten over the death of their sister, but they are going to the prom anyway. In a dose of irony, Jamie’s boyfriend is one of the kids responsible for her sister’s death. For some reason, the people behind the movie cast two very similar looking actors, with the same hairstyle, to play Jamie’s boyfriend and her brother, which introduces a feeling of incest into the film. Then again, since Jamie and bro kiss twice in the flick and have one scene in which they playfully discuss bro leering at her body, maybe it was on purpose.

On the day of the prom, the four conspirators get phone calls from a mystery voice that tells them things like “It’s your turn” “You like to play games, don’t you?” and “save money on your car insurance”. Sumpin’s gonna happen, I betcha. There is a subplot of the ringleader of the four evil kids, Wendy, being jilted by Jamie’s now-boyfriend, and swearing revenge on our star. She teams up with high school thug Unibrow, who has been expelled from school for assaulting Curtis in the lunchroom while he was wearing a ski mask. He didn’t win Most Likely to Succeed. Wendy and Unibrow plan to have bloody revenge on Jamie and her boyfriend at the moment the two are crowned king and queen, an idea they got while watching Carrie. They probably left before the last reel.

Comes the prom, and we see true horror: a lengthy disco scene where Curtis dances on a lighted floor a la Saturday Night Fever. This goes one forever, since the producers paid through the nose for the floor and the mirror ball, and by God, they are going to get their money’s worth. The scene is either unintentionally funny or sickening, if you actually remember disco. Also, a slasher starts killing the kids involved in the original death, and occasionally their dates. Can Jamie stop this? Why should she?

The director of the film seems completely unable to stage an action sequence. He has a real problem of establishing spatial relationships and then ignoring them, most obvious in the scene with the killer and a van, where the killer seems to be teleporting all over the place. He also can’t develop any real amount of suspense. Even when the killer is stalking a victim, you don’t feel anything, you just keep checking the time counter to see how much longer you’ve got.

This is the wimpiest slasher killer in the history of the genre. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and the like seem powerful and unstoppable. Despite having the element of surprise and an axe, it’s all the killer can do to keep his ass from being kicked by one small-framed girl after another. Not exactly the type you build a franchise around, although there were three sequels.

A usual complaint is the supposed teenagers in a movie set in high school are really in their twenties. That’s not much of a problem, since half the kids look more in their thirties. They make up for it with uniformly bad acting.

I don’t usually bitch about technical details of the DVDs I watch, but the transfer here is terrible, public domain quality. Everything is hazy, grainy, and slightly out of focus, and whenever anyone walks in front of a window, the sunlight blows out the entire scene.

Somehow, I don’t think the remake will have a lot to live up to.

* Five of six if you count Road Games

** We try not to do too much in the way of Brushes with Celebrity here, but I feel it is only fair to warn you if you happen to meet the lovely and talented Ms. Curtis, do not mention anything about horror movies. Ms. Curtis has a reputation in general as being one of the less pleasant celebrities to meet in person anyway, and any mention that she was in Halloween or the like will make her ballistic. She’ll even deny she appeared in The Fog. You’ve been warned.



John Hornor Jacobs said...

So, there was run of films starring JLC where she took her top off, regularly. Was this one?

KentAllard said...

Sorry. there is a little gratuitous nudity, but Ms. Curtis keeps her kit on, and would do so until Trading Places. She does take a shower, but remains artfully covered.

This movie was not her best look. at the time, her face was very thin, and they framed it with hair that looked like a mutant ferret was trying to eat her head.

The Doctor said...

I also somehow missed the original, and was looking forward to rediscovering a slasher "classic". Oh well.

Also, re: "looked like a mutant ferret was trying to eat her head"

I'd pay to see that ;)
Attack of the Mutant Ferrets. Has a good ring to it.

KentAllard said...

Some feel that the "mutant ferret" sub-genre of horror film has played out; I think there's plenty of life left in it.