Prom Night (1980) – Paul Lynch

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Every so often, a movie comes along that changes our lives forever. Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Schindler’s List. These movies have changed American cinema and the American movie audience forever, leaving an indelible echo of splendor, brilliance, and truth that can never be taken away. There is a film that has, time and time again, been inexplicably left off this list. I think you all know that I’m talking about Paul Lynch’s 1980 slasher masterpiece, Prom Night.

It’s hard to choose what to cite first as the most awesomely dreadful and terrifying part of this intricate cornucopia of modern horror. Let’s start out with the casting. Why cast awkward hormone-and-acne-ridden teenagers to play the high school students? There are perfectly mediocre 27-35 year old actors to play the 16-18 year old characters. These veteran thespians are sure to deliver the tour-de-force performance necessary to propel this film into cinematic history books. And let’s not forget about the score. Lynch makes the avant-garde choice to go against the classic use of minor chords and creepy tonality expected in horror movies and replaces it with up-beat synth-heavy late 70’s disco music. Oh, except for the scenes where the killer is stalking the victims. These scenes are magnificently devoid of any music at all, leaving the audience to hear nothing but poorly-delivered sound effects. Truly haunting.

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Anyway, let’s back up. The movie starts out with a group of white suburban school children playing in a horrible and dilapidated ancient school building. They’re playing some sick and twisted version of hide and seek where the person who’s “it” runs around screaming that “the killer” is coming to get you. One of the sweet little girls gets “accidentally” shoved out the upstairs window and falls to her death. Then, 6 years later, purely to sell movie tickets, Leslie Nielson and Jamie Lee Curtis show up. He’s a school principal and she’s his daughter who attends the school and they’re about to have the Prom.

Soon we find out that somebody knows about the dead girl and they’re stalking the guilty parties as they ask each other out and put on slutty make-up for the Prom. Remember, this movie takes place in 1980. This is a magical time for modern horror movies. The rules about “don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or have sex” have already been established, and they’re firm in our minds in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th. So you basically know when everyone is going to die. Everyone basically breaks these rules and they are slowly chopped up in beautiful, pastel polyester dresses.

These “kids” run around drinking and smoking and banging each other as the killer slowly leads them away from the heard and slices them up with an axe or a jagged piece of broken glass. There are a couple of collateral-damage-deaths, but for the most part, everybody who bites it had it coming.

I’m not going to lie; the ending of the movie is actually kind of intense. Being the modern and sophisticated horror audience that we are, we know that the killer is someone we’ve met. There’s a short list of suspects, but when it comes to the unmasking at the end, we’re all shouting at the screen. And we’re all wrong.

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I don’t want to give you the impression that this movie was terrible. It’s a classic for a reason. Okay, let’s be fair. This thing sucked balls in a big way. But it had some good points too. There are actually some pretty cool camera shots here and if Lynch had lit them properly, there could actually have been some extra scares in here. I don’t even blame him 100% on that. In the 70’s and early 80’s that was the style. They thought that if it was dark in the scene for the character, it should be dark for the audience. It wasn’t till later that we realized that it’s scarier if we can see what’s happening. Also, I think Prom Night was more a victim of its time. It wasn’t as good as Friday the 13t, but for its time, it actually wasn’t bad. Let’s face it. This thing was made for $1,600,000 CANADIAN dollars. That’s like 240 bucks American. Let’s give them a little break. Also, I think they just tried too hard with the plot. Sometimes less is more. Remember Halloween: Babysitters, butcher knives. That’s the whole plot. Keep it simple.

Now how does the classic hold up to the rating system?

  1. Is it scary: 4- I don’t think I can give any big points here. There were some suspenseful moments. And the ending did get me.
  2. Originality: 4- This was really just derivative of the slasher movies of the late 70’s. I’m pretty sure Jamie Lee Curtis just showed up because she could sell movie tickets back then. This was back when she could poop without downing a pint of yogurt.
  3. Blood: 3- For a slasher, this was pretty tame. There was a moment when we weren’t sure if what we were looking at was supposed to be paint or blood. This is a bad sign.
  4. Believably: 2- Because I’m kind of drunk and I’m being generous. This movie is utterly flawed in any logical or realistic universe. Also SHE RAN UP THE GODDAMN STAIRS. Minus 1 point.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 6- I’ll give props here because of the time this movie was made. The style of the time was to shoot movies in that dark and hard to see style. Nowadays, we want to see what’s coming for us.

Final Score: 19/50

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