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Prom Night (1980)

by on 2014/10/14

Prom Night (1980)“For a guy so fast on the disco floor, you sure are the slowest.”

* * / * * *

This original Prom Night was a bit of a surprise. I had no idea it was filmed in Don Mills, where I’ve lived the majority of my life. Perhaps it comes of not being a fan of horror, or at least slasher flicks.

A stretched effort of uneven pacing, there’s not even much slashing in it. Its deadliest weapon might actually be the boredom. For most of its duration, I amused myself by imagining its headline stars — Leslie Nielsen and Jamie Lee Curtis — gallivanting around my neighbourhood.

It begins with a tragic incident in the lives of seven children, establishing the tone of an afterschool TV special. Then it jumps ahead to check on the group in their final high school years. (I say “final high school years” because it would seem ridiculous to say “late teens” with the vintage of the actors cast.)

Nielsen, here being serious, presides over Ohio’s “Hamilton High” as its principal, and also as a parent of two of its students, one played by Jamie Lee Curtis. She in turn is an older version of a child who escaped the incident and is thus appropriately always around but generally uninvolved. She may be intended as an avatar for the audience, but she feels like the wingman in a Gordon Korman story.

Alexander Hamilton Senior High School has planned its final prom on the night of the incident’s anniversary. (Let’s all forget our haunted pasts with an evening of boogying down.) There’s bound to be a lot of death amidst the disco.

But for all the drama, the dancing and killing, this feature is oddly flaccid, with a twist that surprised me, but an equally odd, abrupt ending. The killer is supposed to be threatening but, in practice, is too often clumsy: getting hung up on the phone, not being taken seriously, making mistakes, overlooking obvious hiding spots, getting overwhelmed and outpaced.

There’s no lack of effort in the filmmaking, particularly on its shoestring budget. You can see the editing working overtime to cover any shortfalls and, while it can get visually tiring, it succeeds more often than not. Fleeting flashes connect the children to their elder forms. Murders occur showing nothing but the eyes. A pool of blood dissolves to a bowl of punch. A climactic effect even struck me as stronger than a similar one in Alien.

No discussion of this dance-heavy affair can be made without mentioning music. Several times I exclaimed to Gru how certain songs reminded me of others. For example, one character’s evasion is backed by a “Born to Be Alive” soundalike, and a later scene is clearly influenced by the hit “I Will Survive”.

I had no idea until later the production was successfully (and unsurprisingly) sued for its soundtrack. If you want a Canadian disco experience, and are all played out on Claudja Barry and Nicolette Larson . . . well, this one is for you.

On balance Prom Night is not overly interesting, involving, or as thrilling as I had hoped. Nearly every aspect of its performances and production suggests other more compelling entertainments. When the scariest moments boil down to the dancing, watch it for home-town nostalgia, not horror.

* * * (for children of Don Mills) / * * (for everyone else)

Rated R for nudity

93 minutes

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