Prom Night (1980) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 28

by Jovial Jay

If you’re not home by midnight, you’re not coming home.

Prom Night was an early attempt to copy the success of John Carpenter’ Halloween. Why didn’t this film do better?

Before Viewing

The trailer for Prom Night could be for a typical  teenage party movie from the time. But it ‘s soon made clear that someone else is coming to the prom to kill a list of people. A shadowy figure stalks a number of female classmates and there’s some screaming (probably because they’re getting killed!) This early slasher film is dying to be seen.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

Prom Night

Prom Night title card.

After Viewing

Inside an old, run-down school building in Columbus, OH, a group of tweens play a game of hide and seek, shouting “killer is coming!” When young Robin Hammonds (Tammy Bourne) enters to see what is being played, she is immediately targeted by the four other children and accidentally falls out a window and dies. Wendy (Leslie Scott), the alpha child, swears Jude (Karen Forbes), Kelly (Joyce Kite), and Nick (Brock Simpson) to silence about the accident.

Six years later on the day of her death her older sister Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) and twin brother Alex (Michael Tough) ready for the senior prom. The film introduces older versions of the youngsters from the flashback as they each receive a call from an anonymous individual. Kim is dating Nick (Casey Stevens), who broke up with Wendy (Anne-Marie Martin) just before Prom. Jude (Joy Thompson) gets picked up by a student in a van, who calls himself Slick (Sheldon Rybowski), and decides to take him to the dance. Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens) is planning to go with her steady Drew (Jeff Wincott).

School tough guy Lou (David Mucci) attacks Kim in the cafeteria wearing a ski mask, but Alex defends her. They are both sent to the Principal (Leslie Nielsen), who happens to be Kim and Alex’s father. He suspends Lou, but Wendy recruits him to be her date to get back at Kim and Nick. Meanwhile Lt. Mc Bride (George Touliatos), Nick’s father, is investigating an escaped lunatic named Murch, who is believed to have killed Robin six years ago.

Prom Night

Kim, Jude and Vicki ignore Nick as they walk down the hallway of their school.

At the Prom, which is themed as ‘Disco Madness,’ Nick and Kim perform a choreographed routine when Wendy arrives, just to show her how much they are meant to be together. Kelly and Drew are making out in the locker room, but she stops him before he can take it further and he storms off. A black clad figure sneaks up behind her and slits her throat. Elsewhere in Slick’s van, Jude and Seymour, as he is also known, “do it.” They enjoy a joint afterwards when the back doors are opened and Jude is stabbed repeatedly in the throat. Slick tries to flee in the van but the killer forces him to swerve and he drives off  a cliff and dies.

Wendy is primping in the ladies room when the killer enters with an axe. She runs and hides in numerous places, finally hiding in the storage closet, where she finds Kelly’s body and screams alerting the killer to her location. She is killed off-screen. As the King and Queen are about to be presented (Nick and Kim, ‘natch) Lou knocks Nick out and takes his crown. The killer, thinking it is his final victim, cuts the brute’s head off so it rolls out the catwalk in front of the audience.

Nick fights the masked thug, with Kim landing a couple of blows. The crowd flees outside as Nick is nearly stabbed, but Kim manages to smack the masked stalker in the head with the back of the axe. She becomes shocked when she catches sight of the eyes of the masked individual. The killer stumbles outside and is almost shot by Lt. McBride before Kim cradles the murderer, removing his mask to reveal her brother Alex.

It’s not who you go with, honey. It’s who takes you home.” – Wendy

Prom Night

Kelly and Kim wonder who just broke the mirror in the bathroom and took a large shard of glass away.

Prom Night attempts to duplicate the success of previous slasher films like Halloween but not following the formula exactly. This film came out two months after Friday the 13th, another slasher film featuring teenage protagonists against a mysterious killer. But unlike that film, Prom Night attempted to create more confusion and create numerous red herrings leading the audience down many dead alleys. Obviously with release dates so close to one another, Prom Night was not directly influenced by the success of the previous film, but it’s interesting to see that 40 years later, one became a successful franchise while the other is still a relatively small footnote in the history of slasher films.

Friday the 13th set itself up as a murder mystery, with an unseen killer venting revenge on a large group of teenagers at a summer camp. Prom Night has a similar premise, except that the inciting incident in the past (in this case the death of Robin Hammond) is the opening of the film. The killer’s identity is still a mystery, but the film provides at least four red herrings of possible suspects it could be before revealing the true killer in the last minutes. The first, most obvious choice is Murch, the escaped lunatic. He is never seen, but is a continued B-plotline with Lt. McBride ensuring that the school is kept safe from his potential return. The stolen VW bug from the murder scene is seen driving past the school early on. His motivation is supposedly that he killed Robin six years previous and he’s out to kill more kids (he was in a mental institution of course). The second suspect is the school janitor Mr. Sykes. He is characterized as awkward and possibly mentally challenged, leering after some of the female students in different shots. Kim calls him a pervert, but the stories she relates are hearsay. He has the proximity to the kids to be responsible, plus he has his many gardening weapons. The more likely killer is Lou, the unibrow thug of Alexander Hamilton High School. He is a jerk and likes beating people up. He has a ski mask that is just like the killer, and is doing the bidding of Wendy to get even with Kim for stealing her boyfriend. However he loses the ski mask when he is suspended in the principal’s trash can, and the whole losing his head in Act Three reveals that he’s not responsible. Finally there’s the potential that it’s Leslie Nielsen’s principal. He has access to the ski mask, and a motive of being a grieving father. Supposedly there was also a cut scene (edited into the television version) where he is seen using an axe to chop wood. That’s a lot of potential killers. Yet the true killer is never really explored in the film.

Prom Night

Kim and Nick look at the Disco Madness Prom, a night they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

As mentioned earlier, Prom Night takes its cues from the success of slasher film Halloween. The most obvious similarity is the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis as Kim in the lead role. Her star power at this time and her brimming notoriety as a scream queen (cemented with her appearance in October 1980 film Terror Train, which is nearly the same plot as Prom Night, except on New Year’s Eve on a train) should have made this film more popular than it was. It also aped the elements of two other popular films from the late 70s, Carrie and Saturday Night Fever. Wendy sets up an elaborate plan to embarrass Kim at the prom much like in Carrie, but maybe not as messy, while Kim and Nick perform an elaborate disco dance on a lighted floor much like in Saturday Night Fever. On second thought, maybe it’s the extensive disco-ness of the film that works against it. Prom Night does go against type for slasher films (then or now) by creating a sympathetic killer. Most people probably feel some justification for Alex’s actions, having seen his twin sister teased and killed is so callous a fashion.

Probably the biggest complaint for the film is its lack of tension. There’s a lot of build up to the prom, but very little happens in that time. The film opens with the four teens getting creepy calls from the killer (Nick declines to answer the phone and is spared in the end), but the middle of the film has much teen drama and red herring revelations, but no scary moments. The culmination happens in rapid succession as each girl is attacked and killed, each in more detailed and excessive fashion. The editing of the killing scenes and the setup is all done very well, with many shots trying to lead the audience into believing something is going to happen, but it never does. Once the dance starts, and the disco fever dies down, the horror aspect gets moving promptly.

While Halloween and Friday the 13th had (and still have) successful franchises, Prom Night never took off. It had three sequels, Prom Night II (1987), Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990), and Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil (1991), that never were quite as popular and a 2008 remake that was ill received. In an alternate universe, maybe Prom Night was the film that audiences flocked to instead of Friday the 13th and the adventures of Alex, who wears lipstick during his unmasking possibly intimating some deviance in his nature, would have continued when he was resurrected by his family using a satanic ritual.

Prom Night

Wendy screams her head off…before she loses it to an axe!

Assorted Musings

  • Anne-Marie Martin may be known to some as Dori Doreau, the partner of Detective Sledgehammer, on the show of the same name. She was also married to author, director and writer Michael Crichton.
  • Watch closely for the moment I call Checkov’s Garbage Can. Lou’s car tears out of a driveway past a very visible garbage can, missing it. But when he accelerates to leave he sends it flying.
  • For someone knowing Leslie Nielsen for his comedic roles in Airplane and the Naked Gun series, seeing his name before the credits as the primary billed actor makes you wonder if this is really a horror film.

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