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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Prom Night Paul Lynch 1980

Disco Bloodbath

Although it is ostensibly a slasher knockoff of Carrie based on a thin premise and punctuated with improbable plot points and boasting a forgettable lead male and some of the worst photography in the history of horror films, Prom Night is nonetheless an undeniable classic for one reason: Jamie Lee Curtis does disco.

It’s hard to imagine how this film must have played upon its initial release, considered independently of the myriad of ripoffs and outright parodies that followed it (the classic Scary Movie predecessor Student Bodies features entire scenes that mimic this film). My first encounter was actually a film still (not actually found in the film, oddly) from a big movie picture book my mother had called America Goes to the Movies, or some shit – you know, one of those Time-Life coffee table monstrosities that likely came free with my subscription to the Enchanted World book series. The pic showed a pigtailed girl in a striped sweater falling out of a broken window backwards, and for some reason it scared the living shit out of me, even though I lived in a ranch-style house and didn't wear pigtails until college. I didn’t see the actual movie until years later, and it was such a horrible video transfer that the entire film looked like it was conducted as a water ballet in a swamp.

So imagine my slight dismay when, years later, having finally seen a decent print of the film on DVD, it still looks like crap – maybe not shot in a swamp, like the VHS transfer, but at least in a sauna. For some reason, the filmmakers decided to employ every fog filter in Saskatchewan to shoot this fucker, resulting in one of the most mind-bogglingly soft-focused films ever created (one must wonder if this was the same army of filters later dispatched to smooth out Vera Miles in The Initiation). Add to this the fact that the film is utterly without humor and that not one of the characters is entirely likeable -- Jamie Lee Curtis as Kim Hammond is certainly better than the rest, but even she can be quite a prissy little bitch when she wants to, and the only other character worth identifying with is a fat pothead slut (translation: not the best odds for survival).

Still, the movie’s strong point is not its good heart, but rather its unleavened nastiness, which is consistent with its story: the death of a child at the hands of a group of other kids leads to horrible retribution for the killers in the future. A strange and ominous caller (yesss!) is phoning the grown-up little murderers and letting them know that they’re in for trouble at the prom dance (the caller’s hissy-breathy voice is fabulous). We think that the night simply has murder in store for the kiddies, in the form of strangulations, beheadings, and stabbing... but the filmmakers have something far more horrifying in store for the victims: Jamie Lee doing high-kicks on a light-up dancefloor.

Were it not for the gloriously cheesy and instantly dated centerpiece of the film (namely, prom night), this would truthfully be a mediocre and uneventful slasher on par with dozens of others. But in the turn of one glittered heel, we are suddenly in the realm of the magical – a place where lipgloss is king, lights twinkle like stars, and Kim Hammond and Nick McBride are the hottest kids in school (*cough!*). At this point the nastiness that has been brewing thus far comes to a head like a boil ready for lancing, and a good lancing is exactly what it gets – the killer dispatches the murderous teens one by one with shards of glass, an axe, and whatever else he can get his hands on, and lets forth with a hissy “Now!” when he kills, which is delightfully creepy.

It’s odd, though – it seems like the marginally bad kids (the reluctantly lapsing virgin, the aforementioned husky pothead tramp, the random Jewish kid with the van, who actually has nothing to do with anything but gets killed anyway) get killed off with much greater ease than the Alpha Bitch, Wendy Richards (played by Anne-Marie Martin), who manages to evade the killer in a prolonged hallway-chase through the darkened high school that has been imitated since in everything from The Faculty to the “I Know What You Did Last Spring Break” episode of Popular (quite well, I may add). Although she finally gets it, the point is clear: either be the Final Girl or the Alpha Bitch – anything else in-between is decidedly unglamorous.

The ending is where things really fall apart – the big “trick” that Wendy and her thug buttboy were going to play on Nick and Kim (by walking out on stage in their place as king and queen… which would accomplish what, exactly? Not exactly a bucket of pig’s blood.) serves no purpose other than to roll someone’s head down the light-up catwalk – which is admittedly fabulous – but then when the killer stumbles out in front of a crowd of policemen and is unmasked, it’s not really a surprise even though he’s wearing lipstick (a potentially queer bent that is sadly underexplored), and things end abruptly after that with the white-hot love theme, “Fade to Black”, re-telling the events of the story over the end credits.

You may have noticed that I haven’t spent much time on our Final Girl here. Well, that’s because in this film, Jamie Lee literally shows up, mouths off to Wendy, does an extended dance sequence, and leaves. We don’t get “cowering in a cage in the back of a speeding train” Jamie Lee, nor do we get “trapped in a closet, stabbing a masked killer with a wire hanger” Jamie Lee. Heck – we don’t even get “getting fucked black and blue by Kevin Kline” Jamie Lee – no, here she struts in, pulls a few Soul Train moves, and politely fades away. Alpha Bitch really gets the good Final Girl moments, actually – her school chase is classic Final Girl material transferred to another character, which is odd, but at least the scene is there at all.

In all, Prom Night is an interesting watch with a few delicious elements (the disco dance sequence with the second unit camera clearly visible in the background; plenty of hot Candian disco fashion; Leslie Nielsen, who literally disappears for an hour of the movie and looks exactly the same as he does in every film from 1968-2000; the adorable Michael Tough as Kim’s hot-tempered little brother Alex; “Noooow!”, etc.), but sadly the photography is so distracting that it’s literally hard to focus on the film closely enough to get pulled in. Paul Lynch would go on to direct Humongous before settling into a long career directing genre television, and Anne-Marie Martin (aka Eddie Benton) would prove the most successful of the bunch for both appearing in the underrated series Sledge Hammer! and scoring a massive divorce settlement from Michael Crichton. A fitting reward for an Alpha Bitch well-played.

Rating (out of 5):