Dir. Paul Lynch (1980)
A masked killer is after four teenagers who were responsible for the death of a classmate six years earlier.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Fresh off the heels of her career-defining role in Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis stars in Prom Night, another slasher film that became a cult classic in its own right. Also starring funnyman Leslie Nielsen in a decidedly not funny role, Prom Night is about a killer who is seeking revenge for the accidental death of an elementary school student six years prior to the events of the film. The girl died during a game of "Killers," in which four of her friends chased her to an upper floor of an abandoned warehouse, falling to her death through a glass window. This just goes to prove the old adage, kids are fucking stupid.
A local sex criminal is blamed for the girl's death and gets badly burned in a car crash while running from the police. He escapes from the hospital on the eve of the prom makes his way back to the town. He, of course, is the obvious suspect when things start to go awry, but there's also a bizarre handyman for the school (which was lampooned particularly well by Student Bodies) who seems like he's a bit too interested in the students. Oh, and a local hoodlum who just got suspended indefinitely from school. So many suspects, so little plot.
There are a few highly stylized shots that don't fit particularly well in a film that is still clinging hard to the lighting style and cinematography of the 70's. It's a ham-handed revenge plot, a poorly told story that would nevertheless be echoed through countless imitators. Countless voiceovers providing the thoughts of characters are a lazy way to tell the story, a weird choice that makes it feel like a combination between reading the scene in a book and putting it onto the screen. The movie also moves dreadfully slowly, dragging along at a snail's pace and barely managing to hold your attention. If it weren't for Jamie Lee and her fame, there's no telling how this movie would've fared or whether it would still be worth attention at all.
It's a decent portrayal of high school, and the actors do a fine job in their roles, but the main draw of this film is nostalgia rather than entertainment. It's a curious tribute to disco fever even more than its a slasher movie, a shortsighted attempt to wring as much money as they could by jamming Jamie Lee Curtis in as many movies as possible within a two year period (John Carpenter's The Fog would serve as the adequate followup where this one fails).
Prom Night does not stand the test of time, feeling more like a period piece than a relevant or valuable addition to the horror genre. It's contrived, overly dependent upon a boring score and a terrible disco soundtrack, and is bleached out like a 70's fever dream more often than not. Sure, Jamie Lee is good (but not great), the late Leslie Nielsen is a sight for sore eyes (despite limited screentime), and there's a little bit of blood and tits. But there are far better things to do with an hour and a half and far better slashers movies made the same year, including the surprisingly-disappointing-on-rewatch Friday the 13th.
Who this movie is for: Classic horror lovers, Slasher stans, Groovy cats with a taste for disco
Bottom line: It's just ok. It doesn't stand up forty years later, and there's very little of interest happening through 90% of its runtime. The killer is weak and unmemorable, the revenge plot is unnuanced and bulky, and not even the best Scream Queen of All Time can save it. It's worth a watch just to brush up on your horror history, but don't expect to be wildly entertained while doing so. It's easy to see why they diverged so crazily for the sequel.