The pseudonym of "The Scream Queen" is one of the most famous nicknames in modern film history. Held at the time by young Jamie Lee Curtis, her title was synonymous with many early entries into the slasher genre. Starting off with the highly influential Halloween and ending with its sequel, Jamie Lee found herself momentarily typecast in the roll of the innocent damsel in distress fending off a faceless killer. In between those two films, she was in two less remembered Canadian slashers, Terror Train and Prom Night. It is said that life repeats art, and when Jamie Lee is crowned near the end of Prom Night, it personifies society's recognition of Jamie Lee Curtis as the Queen of the horror genre. Anchor Bay has released Prom Night on DVD, so let's jump back 20 years to when slashers were still infantile in their development and Jamie Lee Curtis was merely a horror actress.
It is 1974 and a bunch of snotty kids are playing a deranged version of hide-and-go-seek in an abandoned, two-storied building. Little Robin Hammond and her brother Alex are on their way to school when Robin decides to join in on the fun. The game, involving the seeker yelling he is going to kill all the hiders, gets out of hand when the batch of kids gang up on Robin and she accidentally falls through a window, leading to her immediate death. The kids, in fear of being sent to prison, vow to never mention this event again and quickly disband. Mr. Hammond (Leslie Nielsen) suspects that it was a sexual assault of some kind, but the case is never solved.
Flash forward six years later into 1980, where Mr. Hammond, Alex (Michael Tough) and Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) place flowers on Robin's grave in mourning. Coincidentally, this year's prom night has fallen on the same day as Robin's death, and Kim and all of her friends who were involved in Robin's death are graduating and preparing for the big dance. As if the day could not get anymore hectic, a child molester has recently escaped an institution and is rumored to be heading for the prom as well.
A disco dance if there ever was one, the prom at Hamilton High ensues as Kim and her date, Nick, bust a groove to Alex's disco mixes. All is not well however, as a killer is on the prowl, offing all the graduates involved in Robin's death one by one. In traditional slasher fashion, all those slain were partaking in either drugs or sex. Meanwhile, at the dance, Nick and Kim are about to be crowned Prom King and Queen when things 'head' in a darker direction. The killer has raided the dance, and it is up to Jamie Lee Curtis to stop the madman before she herself becomes a victim.
Prom Night is one of the films that setup all the clichés that today's horror films like Scream lampoon. The traditional horrific death at the start, the pact never to tell, the concept of punishing all those involved with drugs or sexual intercourse, the innocent damsel in distress, the frightening phone calls, the multiple murder suspects and killer's revealing at the end concepts have all been included in all their formulaic glory. The plot is fairly by-the-numbers, and the killer is somewhat obvious, but what elevates Prom Night above the other slashers of its time is the films tone and presentation.
Director Paul Lynch (who also made the monster film Humongous) injects some style and fun into the film, balancing some unsettling scenes with much lighter toned material. In the scenes where the killer calls his victims by phone, he inserts some rapid editing, dark compositions and extreme close-ups, making the sequences very moody and atmospheric. The quick cut editing is made scarier by the killers shrill and raspy taunting over the phone. Such scenes are pivotal in setting up the killer's anger and motivation for the latter part of the film.
When the disco dance begins, Lynch has the funky beats accompany nearly the rest of the film, giving it sort of a rhythmic and psychedelic flair. The scenes with bright lights and big suits are bound to bring back nostalgia among viewers, for a time when things were fun and carefree. So many slashers are victim of becoming dull and lifeless during their middle act, but thanks to the disco gimmick, Prom Night is a film that keeps the energy up throughout its short 91 minute run time. Not since Saturday Night Fever has the disco fad been captured so nicely, and if anything, this film has the distinction of having the only 10 minute long dance sequence in slasher history. Whether or not such a credit sounds appealing to you should be an indication of your enjoyment of the film.
Despite the disco diversions throughout the final 40 minutes, the murder sequences remain fairly scary. There are a few good shocks, and the killer is presented in a very imposing manner. Jamie Lee Curtis is at her chaste and kindhearted best here, embodying all the characteristics of the prototypical good girl. As with all of her slasher performances, she brings forth enthusiasm and realism to compensate for her generally cardboard written roles. She really seems happy to be on the screen, and very few actresses can encapsulate the emotion and cheerfulness that Jamie Lee Curtis is able to project here and in the rest her films.
Despite my praises, this is not an excellent piece of cinema. As previously mentioned, there are some stylish bits of direction and editing, but this is a camp classic all the way, and that is what makes it withstand the test of time. The clothes, the music, the corny dialogue (Jamie Lee calling her dad "Principal by day, disco king by night!" is my favorite) and Leslie Nielsen's unintentionally hilarious straight arrowed performance make this one of the most enjoyable pieces of nostalgia that the slasher genre has to offer. If you miss a time when John Travolta was a teenage idol, teenagers smoked pot in vans with shag carpets, slashers films were the cup du jour, clichés were a thing of the future and Jamie Lee Curtis only did horror, then you are bound to get some enjoyment from this 1980 gem.
Presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, this isn't nearly up to par with the quality transfers Anchor Bay is known for. Mastered from the Elite laserdisc, this was one of Anchor Bay's first releases back in 1997. The colors are nicely saturated, if muted, and everything appears fairly washed out. There is some definite color bleeding, especially during the fleeting disco scenes, and there are a few anomalies of extreme high grain (during the killers first murder). Sharpness is lacking at times, and there are cases of digital artifacting as well. To Anchor Bay's benefit though, the print used is clean, with only a few blemishes popping up every once and awhile. Those who have grown up watching this film on late night TV or VHS will be pleased to know that this transfer is bright and clear, unlike the usual muddy and at times incomprehensible prints used in the past. Overall, this is a weak, but satisfying, transfer and a large improvement over its videocassette and television counterparts.
Dolby Digital Mono is the only audio track included on the disc, and it, like the video quality, is fairly lacking. There is little range to the print, and it sounds often flat and dull. It is for the most part clear and the music, despite its prominence, never really drowns out the voices. On my DVD player a second 6-channel audio track was selectable, giving me hopes that perhaps a full-fledged 5.1 remix was secretly included, but oddly the track is blank. Perhaps it is a fault of the disc, but it is still a notable peculiarity Prom Night features one of the best scores to grace a slasher flick, and it would have been great to hear it projected throughout my home theater, but alas, this mono track does not do the score justice.
The only extra is a nice widescreen theatrical trailer, very similar in presentation to the film. Included is some scary phone calls proceeded by some great disco music from the score. There are also two inclusions worth mentioning that differ from most Anchor Bay discs. The first is the full motion Chapter Selections menu. All the chapter stops, when highlighted, provide a full motion clip of the scene beside it, which is a whole lot better than the text only menu's that Anchor Bay usually produces. Instead of a solid double-sided insert with the poster art on it, this release has a two-page booklet with some cool artwork from the movie, but no poster art.
Prom Night is a fun, campy slasher with some great disco music and a strong performance by Jamie Lee Curtis. The audio and visual presentations are poor, and the supplements minimal, but this is still of high recommendation to nostalgic slasher fans. This disc has been out of print for nearly a year now but is still on many store shelves, and Anchor Bay has confirmed that they no longer own the rights to this title, so if you ever want to see this 80's timepiece on the digital medium, then this release is the only chance you are going to get.
Movie - B
Image Quality - C-
Sound - C
Supplements - C-
With so many lesser films getting such grand DVD treatment these days, I'm still amazed that PROM NIGHT has not gotten a "special DVD" release with all the extra stuff. I may be biased since it's my all-time favorite movie - I recently took a few trips to Toronto and went to the high school where it was filmed to take pics - but the movie was a huge box-office hit in 1980 and still remains memorable today.
PROM NIGHT definitely could use perhaps a director/producer commentary, as both Paul Lynch and Peter Simpson are both still very active in the film industry. Always a good sport, I am sure Jamie Lee Curtis would maybe consider a current interview - you never know. There's lots of stuff that could be added - including the scenes shot especially for PROM NIGHT's NBC debut in 1981, that have never been included on any of the VHS or DVD versions. The movie has an elaborate press kit with many great B&W photos as well as biographies and interviews with Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Stevens, Eddie (Anne-Marie Martin) Benton and Robert Silverman, as well as lots of information on behind-the-scenes trivia. A disco soundtrack was never officially released, but you can track them down - I believe a Japanese manufacturer produced a bunch and I bought mine on EBay years ago. It includes all of the disco songs, including a few that were never used in the film, and the haunting closing theme. The cast members, mostly all Canadian unknowns at the time, have all gone on to interesting careers as well. Eddie Benton, so wonderful and gorgeous as Wendy ("It's not who you go with, honey...it's who takes you home."), also faced horror peril in THE BOOGENS and SAVAGE HARVEST, became a soap starlet on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, and a cult comedy starlet on SLEDGE HAMMER! in the 1980s. She later retired from acting but co-wrote TWISTER with her husband, writer/director Michael Crichton. They've since divorced. Mary Beth (Mary Elizabeth) Rubens, who played Kelly, was nominated for a Genie Award (Canadian version of The Emmys) for her work on the hit Canadian drama series "E.N.G." Joy Thompson, who portrayed Jude, went on to teach acting and make a few more film & stage appearances. Sheldon Rybowski, who played Slick, became an accountant. Brock Simpson, who played young Nick, is the only actor to appear in all four PROM NIGHT films as a different character. Jeff Wincott, who played Drew, snared a lead on a long-running series, "Night Heat," and then made a name for himself in many direct-to-video action flicks in the 1990s. Sadly, some cast members are no longer with us, like Casey Stevens (Nick) and Beth Amos (Housekeeper). Still, this movie is a classic time capsule and even new viewers will notice how many ideas the makers of newer films like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER "borrowed" from PROM NIGHT.
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