in Shocktober

Prom Night (1980)

It’s hard to say what possessed me to choose the 1980 slasher flick Prom Night as one of my Shocktober picks. In fact, I don’t think I put really any thought into choosing it. I just saw Prom Night on Shudder, and saw that it starred a post-Halloween Jamie Lee Curtis and thought, “yeah, maybe that’ll be fun”. And was it fun? Well, it has its moments. Though it probably could’ve benefitted from a little more camp, and a little less trying to be a legitimately scary movie, which despite a few effective scenes, it isn’t.

One of these (relatively) effective scenes is what opens the film, where we see a bunch of kids playing hide-and-seek in an abandoned school. After finding the last kid in their little posse, they corner her, shouting “Kill! Kill! Kill!” as they slowly move closer in on the girl, and she then falls out a window and dies. We then cut to ten years later, where we see that each of the kids that were involved in that gruesome game of hide-and-seek are now teens on the verge of prom. We also learn that Robin, the girl who died, was the sister of Jamie Lee Curtis and the daughter of a (barely) post-Airplane! Leslie Nielson.

The other two girls (and one guy) who were there the day of Robin’s death begin getting creepy calls from some unknown stranger asking them to prom. Instead, Jude, the more bookish of the girls ends up going to prom with Slick, the school’s overconfident nerd. Meanwhile, Wendy ends up going with Lou, the unibrowed lunkhead who is clearly just trying to nut before the night is through. And then we have Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis), who is prom queen, while her prom king, Nick, is another one of the kids who was there the day of her sister’s death.

I suppose there is something kind of fun about Prom Night‘s borderline stereotypical look at high school. Though it probably doesn’t reflect well on the movie that Slick and Lou and far more memorable characters than the rest of the otherwise predominantly female ensemble. Still, watching this along with The Fog, it did make it apparent why Jamie Lee Curtis became such a break-out “scream queen”, since she has a kind of snarky girl-next-door charm that’s hard to deny. It’s just unfortunate that both of these films underutilize her.

Mostly, Prom Night just suffers from falling into too many of your typical slasher tropes, with little variation. The creepy phone call device that opens the film feels like something played out, probably due to its use in the trope deconstructing Scream. Meanwhile, each of the teens are almost universally killed while engaging in some sort of sex act, because sure, killers are puritanical or something. Though unfortunately, none of the kills are particularly memorable, except for a beheading that happens at the climax of the big dance. The killer isn’t even particularly memorable aesthetic-wise, since he’s just dressed in the stereotypical all-black cat burglar garb, which you only ever see bad guys wearing in movies and TV.

Prom Night also feels derivative for the simple fact that it feels fairly similar to a few other films from its era. Well, mainly just two. Obviously, it’s hard not to think of Halloween, considering it stars Jamie Lee Curtis, takes place mostly over one night, and is steeped in childhood trauma. Carrie also comes to mind, considering it all culminates in a prom, while also milking the awkwardness of being a teenage girl for all it’s worth. Though I suppose those movies didn’t have nearly as much disco music as this one, so there’s one way it was able to improve on the movies it apes. Which along with the abundance of perms, makes this very much a product of the late ’70s, while also embodying the kind of cheap slasher thrills that would only grow more abundant in the coming decade.

In case you didn’t believe me on the abundance of disco in Prom Night‘s soundtrack: