Friday, May 17, 2024

Don't Forget the Bloody Corsage

Film: Prom Night (1980)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Jamie Lee Curtis got her break in Halloween, which was the first movie she ever did. Now, certainly there was some nepotism involved in her landing the role, and evidently John Carpenter considered hiring her to play Laurie Strode was an homage to her mother’s role in Psycho. Nepotism or not, Curtis definitely has the goods, but her early career is littered with low-budget slashers, making her one of the premiere late-‘70s/early-‘80s scream queens. There are some gems in the mix, but Prom Night isn’t one of them.

We start with young kids playing a version of hide-and-seek in an abandoned building. When another kid joins, the four playing the game essentially turn on her and scare her, which leads to her falling out of a window to her death. The four kids—Wendy, Jude, Kelly, and Nick—make a pact not to ever tell anyone. Flash forward six years and those kids are now seniors in high school, getting ready for their prom. Wendy (Eddie Benton), Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens), and Jude (Joy Thompson) are figuring out their dates, while Nick (Casey Stevens) is dating Kim Hammond (Jamie Lee Curtis). To tie all of this together, Kim’s father (Leslie Nielsen!) is the principal of the high school. It also turns out that the girl who died in the open sequence was Kim’s younger sister. Also worth noting that Kim has a twin brother named Alex (Michael Tough).

Okay, now that we’ve got the set up and most of the characters in play, the rest of the first act and the second act essentially set up the prom and the killings that will be the focus of the third act of the film. Jude gets asked to prom by chubby goofball Seymour (Sheldon Rybowski), while Kelly is going with her boyfriend Drew (Jeff Wincott), and is trying to decide if she’s going to have sex with him. Wendy used to date Nick and is upset that he is now with Kim, so she makes plans with high school tough guy and troublemaker Lou (David Mucci). So that we are aware that bad things will happen, all of the girls involved in the opening scene get obscene phone calls and find their yearbook pictures slashed. We’re also told that the person accused of the girl’s death has escaped from an asylum and has already killed “again.”

Unsurprisingly, the third act is going to consist of our masked killer hunting down the people who is responsible for the death in the opening scene. Is it the escaped lunatic? Is it Kim’s mother (Antoinette Bower), still distraught after all of these years? Is it someone else?

To be blunt, slashers are probably my least favorite form of horror movie. They seem like the subgenre that takes the least imagination and the least amount of skill. If you can come up with a few good ways to kill people off, you’ll have the audience you want. The actual plot of the movie is far less important. Does the killer need to be supernatural? No, but they can be. Give them a gimmick or an iconic mask, and you’re done.

There are certainly some slashers that transcend the genre, Halloween being the best example. The genre is certainly capable of greatness, and this has been demonstrated over and over. The problem is not that slashers can’t be good, but that they can easily become a genre that rewards laziness, and Prom Night is lazy. Deaths come from glass shards and axes and while there’s a fine sequence of the killer stalking Wendy for a bit, there’s not a great deal here that you probably haven’t seen before. The killer’s mask is literally a ski mask and nothing more. Genre films often feel derivative and if they are made for the easiest and broadest demographic, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be this depressingly formulaic.

In fact, the one thing that seems surprising in Prom Night is the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis, who is very much the draw here as the veteran of both Halloween and The Fog, is never really in that much danger. After all, the killer is going for the four people who were responsible for the death of the young girl at the start, and Kim wasn’t one of them. In fact, up to the very end, she’s almost a bystander.

What’s arguably worse is that the prom itself and the scenes at the end feature a surprising amount of disco music and a disco dancefloor. It’s rough.

Prom Night was successful enough that it spawned a sequel or two, but not successful enough that it stuck with the basic plot; in future incarnations, the series shifts to a supernatural killer, at least for the next couple of movies. Okay, Friday the 13th did the same thing, kind of, but this feels like a complete break, as if the only thing this first movie and the two sequels have in common is the dance they take place at.

You could certainly do worse than Prom Night, but there’s plenty better out there.

Why to watch Prom Night: It’s all a part of Jamie Lee Curtis’s career as a scream queen.
Why not to watch: As slashers go, it exists.


  1. Jamie Lee Curtis is awesome. I don't remember if I saw this but I'm sure there's worse. Plus, Jamie has done worse films like Christmas with the Kranks and ugh... Virus which she fucking hated.

    1. Oh, she's absolutely done worse. I would venture that Terror Train from the same year is probably worse.

  2. I remember when Halloween hit big and then for what seemed an eternity but was probably only half a decade (until she escaped via Trading Places to a better grade of films) Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in one crappy horror movie after another most of which I never bothered with since that genre isn't my thing and the few I did see, including this one were garbage. Funny you mentioned Terror Train, that was the one that completely turned me off her films for years. I love train movies but it is a low point in the careers of everyone who appeared in it.

    1. Interestingly, the film she did in 1980 the predated both Prom Night and Terror Train was The Fog, which is a solid spook number. Perhaps she would have done better to stay connected with Carpenter in those early years.