Prom Night (1980)

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*. Can we be serious? This is a terrible film. Terrible. It’s a very cheap rip-off of Halloween (with a splash of Carrie at the end), dialed up by the producer of Halloween. But Halloween itself was a very cheap exploitation film (done on a budget of around $300,000 to this film’s $1.5 million) and it is orders of magnitude better than this piece of shit.
*. That’s a point that’s worth stressing. Many of the most influential, if not always best, horror films have been done on a shoestring: from Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to The Blair Witch Project, Saw, and Paranormal Activity. And lots of horror films from this period (the gusher years of slasher in the early 1980s) were made on extremely low budgets but overcame this with intelligence and originality. They also looked better than this movie does. In some ways slasher films are a genre curiosity, starting out low and then drifting downward while continuing to enjoy box office success.
*. There are various places where Prom Night falls down, especially in comparison to Halloween. For starters, Carpenter at least had the good sense to throw the audience a bone or two in the early going, beginning with the opening POV murder sequence. Here we begin with a long, somewhat baffling introduction (how culpable are the children in Robin’s death? why are they so worried about being found out?) and then nothing at all happens until the killer strikes at the prom.
*. Compounding the negative is the fact that this is not a suspenseful or scary film. In fact I’m not even sure they were trying for suspense. And it is also light on the gore. True, they didn’t have Tom Savini on site, but here we don’t see anyone being killed until the final murder, a spectacular decapitation that is the film’s sole highlight. For the other victims we just see “after” shots of dead bodies. A slasher film can’t cheat its audience out of what is its very raison d’être .
*. The only thing I can think to say in its defence is that they were going for more of a giallo-style slasher mystery than the usual hackathon, an impression aided by the complex back story, multiple red herrings, and blurry film (a dismal effect whose “milky brume” is listed as one of the essential components of “Canuck-O-Vision” in Caelum Vatnsdal’s book They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema). But even this hopeful interpretation was undercut by the confusion I felt over who the different characters were, their relationships to one another, and the improbability of the story. How could the killer be in so many places at once? Why was he wearing lipstick at the end?
*. Another interesting tidbit from Vatnsdal is this quote from Jamie Lee Curtis: “all that psychopathic killer stuff was not in the original script, not in the script I agreed to do. They added that after they cut the movie. I’m very angry about that, and I’ll always be angry about that because I feel I wouldn’t have made the movie had it been a remake of Halloween — which is exactly what they were trying to do.”
*. Huh? If “all that psychopathic killer stuff was not in the original script” then what the hell was? And of course this movie was a remake of Halloween. This is, as Curtis notes, exactly what they (and every other horror filmmaker at the time) were trying to do. She could not possibly have been unaware of any of this. What was she upset at?
*. This is so very bad a film that there are some who consider it to be an early satire of the genre. I think this is going too far. It is not a satire. It is Canadian. There’s a difference. Though from Cannibal Girls on down the boundaries have been blurred.
*. There are perhaps a couple of scenes of comic relief, but I think most of what we have here is unintentionally funny. In particular, I had to laugh at the killer’s complete ineptness in doing away with the surprisingly resilient Slick and his prolonged chase of Wendy, which leads him through every room in the school except the one where the dance is being held. I also love how he had to go back and retrieve his axe at one point. Can’t forget that!
*. But criticism is really pointless. The film did great box office, becoming Canada’s highest-grossing horror film of 1980 and receiving Genie Award nominations for editing and for Jamie Lee Curtis’s performance. Oh, Canada!

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