October Horrorshow: Prom Night

Here it is. Prom Night. The film that gave rise to one of the best horror titles of all time — Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. That’s very clever. But, the October Horrorshow won’t be covering that flick, just yet. First, we have to go over the progenitor.

Prom Night, written by William Gray and Robert Guza, Jr., and directed by Paul Lynch, is another of the batch of films Jamie Lee Curtis starred in that cemented her reputation in the late ’70s and early ’80s as a scream queen. Of the five, she screams the least in this one, but that’s because, for once, no one seems to be trying to kill her. It’s very weird, in fact, to see Jamie Lee Curtis in a horror flick and she’s not the protagonist. Or, wait, she is. But only because no one else fits the bill. She survives until the very end, sure, but she’s not in any danger.

This time around, it’s a quartet of other teens who are up shit creek. Back in 1974, in prologue, six years before both this movie was released and the year in which it takes place, four kids are playing a twisted version of hide and seek in an abandoned building. This is big time fun for eleven and twelve-year olds, if I remember what it was like to be a kid. Another kid wanders in to play, only the original four don’t like this girl, and scare her into falling out a second story window. She falls to her death and the four little perps swear to keep what happened a secret, then they’re in the wind. Fast-forward to 1980, and we learn that Jamie Lee Curtis was the girl’s older sister, Kim. Both her and her brother, Alex (Michael Tough) are in high school now, as, unbeknownst to them, are their sister’s killers. But, someone in town knows the four’s dark secret, because during the prom, that person starts hunting them down and killing them. Is it Kim, Alex, the ghost of their dead sister? Or, is it their father, Mr. Hammond (Leslie Nielsen), who also happens to be the principal of the high school everyone attends? Who knows?! That convoluted nonsense is one of the things that makes this flick awesome!

Prom Night isn’t like any other slasher flick from the era that I’ve seen. It takes about two-thirds of the film for the first of the teens to get their comeuppance. During that time, this film actually told a story instead of just tossing bodies at the audience. It’s kind of refreshing, in a way, but also feels a little dated. Before the horror in this horror film starts, we are treated to teenage drama. Oh, joy. Kim, you see, is dating one of her sister’s killers, who broke up with another of the killers, and that killer is out for revenge on Kim for stealing her boyfriend. The jilted killer uses the school’s resident lunkhead, Lou (David Mucci), in her scheme. Lou, although not one of the killers, wants revenge on Kim because she won’t reciprocate his very aggressive sexual advances. Got it? Because there’s a quiz at the end.

This flick goes back and forth between being shitty and being decent, which is why it won’t be getting an Alien: Resurrection rating at the end, but it sure has moments. Among them is Leslie Nielsen’s entire performance as Mr. Hammond. This flick was released only a few weeks after Airplane!, when both audiences and Nielsen discovered the man had impeccable comic timing. But in this isn’t a comedy. Hammond is very, very serious. A man with Principal Hammond’s temperament in real life would have a stroke by age forty-five. But his seriousness, combined with the teen drama material, make for a few wonderful moments. Most precious is a short scene at the prom where Hammond dances with Kim. Jamie Lee Curtis can dance. She was pulling some moves in front of Nielsen, and I’m not sure the look on his face was an act. I have not seen anyone look that uncomfortable in a scene since the mother in a live birth film I saw in health class about twenty-odd years ago. Curtis must have loved every minute of it. She wasn’t done there, though. Not too further on, she and her date bust out a five minute disco dancing routine that would have been more at home in a completely different movie. It was impressive, but head-scratchingly out of place. Thank goodness, then, that someone brought an axe to this dance, because by this point, I was beginning to worry no one else was going to die in this movie.

Prom Night is a neat little relic of the heyday of slasher movies. It had the most popular scream queen of the time in a starring role, and the proper amount of silliness a film with this much murder needs. There’s not much gore, though. I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but a little more bloody violence would have done wonders for this flick.