Prom Night (1980)

© Copyright Norstar Entertainment

If you threw Halloween (1978), Carrie (1976), and Black Christmas (1974) into a blender and then dropped a great big bucket of tar into the mix, the resulting concoction would look something like Paul Lynch’s Prom Night. Here is a movie so concerned with emulating past hits that it never gets around to telling a story of its own. I cannot fathom how this cheap Canadian schlock fest ended up a cult classic in the slasher genre, let alone one that spawned three sequels and a remake.

Mind you, Prom Night starts off on a sufficiently creepy note as four grade school bullies harass young Robin Hammond (Tammy Bourne) until she throws herself out a window. The self-contained sequence has got all the markings of an effective campfire tale: a familiar but secluded setting, a benign childhood activity perverted by human cruelty, and, of course, a tragic end. Unfortunately, screenwriters William Gray and Robert Guza Jr shift gear almost immediately in favour of some recycled plot about a masked killer knocking off horny teens on their senior prom.

The transition proves somewhat awkward to boot, as the murderous brats make a pact of silence and Robin’s father decides, without a shred of evidence, that she must have fallen prey to a pedophile. Mr Hammond, by the way, is portrayed by Leslie Nielsen of Police Squad and Airplane! (1980) fame. Given the later half of his career, it’s easy to forget how much gravitas the man brought to his dramatic roles, and I like the stoic, introspective way he conveys his character’s grief in Prom Night.

Six years later, the Hammonds are still reeling from the tragedy. Dad’s grown distant and overprotective; Mom (Antoinette Bower) is an emotional wreck; and big sister Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) has developed an almost parental bond with her remaining sibling Alex (Michael Tough), who looks suspiciously like Kyle from South Park. Sadly, Prom Night only scratches the surface of these intriguing dynamics so as to give more screen time to Robin’s killers, who frankly deserve everything that’s coming to them.

© Copyright Norstar Entertainment
© Copyright Norstar Entertainment

I can’t decide whom I hate the most in Prom Night: Wendy (Anne-Marie Martin), who blames Kim for stealing her boyfriend, apparently forgetting that she stole her rival’s baby sister, or Jude (Joy Thompson) and Kelly (Marybeth Rubens), who’ve become best buds with the girl, laughing and joking around all the while knowing they destroyed her family. At least, Nick (Casey Stevens) has the good grace of debating whether to confess his crime whilst dating our heroine, though I’m curious as to his reasoning when he first asked her out: “ Maybe I’ll tell her what I did to Robin after we get to third base…”

In light of all this, you’d figure seeing these dirt bags get their just desserts (with lots of strawberry sauce) would feed at least our baser instincts, but Lynch robs us of even this perverse pleasure by shooting every set piece in total obscurity, making it somewhat difficult to spot the skinny axe murderer in a black jump suit. Even with your screen at its brightest setting, all you’ll muster from the last forty-five minutes of Prom Night are drawn-out chase sequences and a surreal disco number for which Jamie Lee Curtis might have liked to hide her own identity.

I don’t know why Prom Night bothers with the masked killer routine anyway. In the first act, our mysterious villain calls up each of his prey and scratches their names off a list, so we know he saw what truly happened to Robin. This leaves only one viable suspect, despite hackneyed red herrings like the escaped mental patient who burnt in a car accident. More to the point, why didn’t this witness come forward six years ago? Why wait until prom to exact his revenge? Granted, we wouldn’t have much a movie here otherwise, but then I’ve already seen Halloween, Carrie, and Black Christmas.

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Editor in Chief / Movie Critic: When he started this site, Dimitri never thought he'd be writing blurbs about himself in the third person. In his other life, he works as a writer, translator, and editor for various publications in print and online. His motto is, "Have pen, will travel."