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September 09, 2014

Prom Night

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Paul Lynch - 1980
Synapse Films Region 1 DVD

In it's own idiosyncratic way, Prom Night is more interesting as a time capsule than as a horror movie. The film takes place in a time when the people communicated by rotary phones, which plays a major part in the story. One of the side character drives a van, a reminder of that very brief moment when being a "vanner" had status among young adults. As a slasher movie, this is pretty mild compared to the Halloween movies, but it does offer the spectacle of watching Jamie Lee Curtis dance.

The film begins with a group of ten year old kids playing in an old, decrepit building. Their game involves chanting, "the killer is coming". Essentially, they scare one girl who accidentally falls out a window. Somehow, the kids manage to keep their promise to each other not to reveal their part in the accident. The death of the girl is blamed on the neighborhood "catatonic schizophrenic" who has terrorized the community. Forward six years later, and the kids are about to go to the big prom at Disco Alexander Hamilton High School, the crazed killer has escaped from the local loony bin, and someone is making threatening phone calls to those guilty kids.

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Truthfully, and without giving too much away, the film is based on a premise that really makes no sense. Why would the person who knows knows who was responsible for the accidental death, bother to wait six years, and then chase everyone involved with an ax while wearing a mask, when it would have been a whole lot easier to just call a cop or some authority figure? I would guess there's something to taking revenge in your own hands, and of course, without it, there wouldn't have been much of a story here.

There is some use of frames within frames, shots using windows and mirrors, as well as reflecting surfaces, that give the film some visual interest. Leslie Nielsen, as both the high school principal and father to Curtis, doesn't do much here, although it is fun to watch him awkwardly on bust a move on the dance floor while Curtis vigorously dances up a storm.

The DVD comes with a supplement with Lynch and several cast members sharing their memories, as well as a commentary track by Lynch and screenwriter William Gray. One revelation, if you will, is that one of the subplots, one of a couple MacGuffins, was contributed by uncredited writer John Hunter. Lynch mentions how he wanted to use the song, "Born to be Alive", although some might argue that "I Will Survive" might have been more fitting. The filmmakers got away with using a song that sounds very similar to the Gloria Gaynor hit, appropriate for a film that liberally reflects and barrows from, if not always intentionally, the zeitgeist of a very specific time.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 9, 2014 07:15 AM