With yesterday’s review of “Terror Train” (click here to read it), I’ll stick on the Jamie Lee Curtis theme today with her other horror flick from 1980, “Prom Night.” The plot has the basic, similar component of high schoolers targeted by a killer, but “Prom Night” stands out like “Terror Train” in that it has: a creative plot, some character development and an expected twist to the killer’s identity (but done well). If you can take some blood – but not the gut-wrenching gore of today’s horror films – you’ll like “Prom Night” if you haven’t seen it. I caught it on a cable movie channel recently and it’s a blast from the past you should consider experiencing.
(1980; 92 minutes; rated R; directed by Paul Lynch and starring Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis and Casey Stevens)
REVENGE IS AT THE HEART OF THE BEST HORROR FLICKS
(NOTE: I expanded with review with some additional opinion, additional trivia and the updating of links on Aug. 20, 2016.)
From 1978 through 1980, Jamie Lee Curtis was crowned the “Scream Queen” for her work in four films: the ultimate horror classic “Halloween” (click here for my review) as well as “The Fog,” “Terror Train,” and “Prom Night.” All were good, although I’d rank “The Fog” last, but “Prom Night” holds its own with “Terror Train” and is a pretty solid horror flick by any yardstick.
Curtis was coming off five appearances on TV when she made “Halloween.” After that she did two more TV stints (including a great episode of “The Love Boat” – click here for my opinion about that series – with her real-life mother Janet Leigh) before the three other horror flicks came out. Curtis set the standard as the vulnerable but tough and tough-minded heroine who can take on any savage killer.
“Prom Night” opens with a group of 10-year-olds playing in an abandoned building. They’re playing a hide-and-go-seek game called “killer.” One little girl, who was left to play by her brother, gets frightened as the other four kids come at her and she falls through a window and is killed. A shadow falls over her body and soon the film is six years later on prom night.
Curtis is the dead girl’s sister and she and her brother are the children of their high school’s principal (played by veteran actor Leslie Nielsen). The unknown killer begins phoning the four now nearly adult kids responsible the girl’s death (I never realized until I watched this one again how much more dramatic dialing a rotary phone is over punching out some numbers on a digital one) and things are just beginning to wind up.
Next up for everyone is the film tossing out the red herrings: the creepy new school maintenance man; the boy-girl courtship gone awry; tough high school dude gets a reason for revenge; and a sex maniac arrested the night of the little girl’s death (oh, by the way, he was disfigured by a fire in his arrest) has returned to town and killed once already. Who is it? Well, you’ll figure it out long before the ending if you’ve seen any more than three of this genre.
Here’s a look at some of the principal cast:
- Two-time Golden Globe winner (not for this one) Curtis plays “Kim Hammond” here and is basically herself as the tough heroine here. She’s the good person who is loyal and has the spine to stand up to anyone. You just know that she’s in command and will be in the right place at the right time at the end. Jamie Lee graduated from horror with some steamy scenes in “Love Letters” and “Grandview, U.S.A.” and has also been in “Freaky Friday” and “Christmas with the Kranks” as well as blockbusters such as “Trading Places” (click here for my review) and she got her film Globe for the action great “True Lies” with Arnold Schwarzenegger (click here for my review).
- The character that gives the killer as good a run for his money as Jamie Lee is “Wendy Richards,” who is played by Anne-Marie Martin (she was using her real name of Eddie Benton – yes, her real name is Edmona ‘Eddie’ Benton – in the credits for this one). Martin, while vengeful and shallow, is one tough individual but falls victim because … well, because the movie couldn’t have her take out the homicidal maniac even though her character earned that honor. Martin has also been in a string of TV shows and a film called “The Boogens.”
- Two-time Primetime Emmy nominee Nielsen plays the school principal “Mr. Hammond” and is the father here of Curtis and Michael Tough as “Alex Hammond” (quite an apropos name … his real one, that is). Don’t expect Nielsen to crack off any “don’t call me Shirley jokes” in this one and he’s marginally good and has been much better in the “Naked Gun” franchise as well as his iconic “Dr. Rumack” in “Airplane!” (also from 1980). He’s also been in “Scary Movie 3” as well as “Spy Hard” and “Creepshow.” Nielsen passed at 84 in 2010 of complications from pneumonia.
- Casey Stevens plays “Nick McBride” and is the love interest of Curtis here. In this film it’s the boy who is not much but the window dressing as he plays in Curtis’ shadow. Stevens was also in “In Praise of Older Women” in his short career of just five roles. He reportedly passed away in the mid-1980s of AIDS-related issues, but there is no confirmation on the IMDb.com website.
- David Mucci plays the tough-guy bully “Lou Farmer” and does a good job until the killer mistakes him for one of the intended victims, takes a swing with an ax and “Lou’s” head rolls down center stage during the prom crowning of the king and queen (in the most silly line in a horror film, a school officials tells running students not to panic). Mucci has also been in “Half Baked” and Clint Eastwood’s Oscar winning “Unforgiven.”
All of the rest of the kids who were responsible for the child’s death at the beginning aren’t worth mentioning and they’re just filling out screen time here.
The film is quite a throwback to 34 years ago. The high-school students act more like today’s middle school students and while the rotary telephone dialing is cool, the décor of the day and fashion isn’t all that exciting. Still, it stands the test better than some of its era.
“Prom Night” isn’t an easy one to find (unless you shop online) but if you enjoy horror films without all of today’s sickening gore, then check this one out if you ever see it on your television grid of listings. You won’t regret it.
“Prom Night” was the 49th ranked film at the U.S. box office in 1980 with $14.7 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. It was made on a budget of $1.5 million and therefore was good to the investors, according to Wiki. “Prom Night” wasn’t the biggest ticket selling horror flick at the box office in 1980 as that goes to “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson and its $44 million. The No. 1 film of the year was “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back” with $209.3 million. Films from 1980 that I’ve reviewed for my blog are:
- “Any Which Way You Can” (so-so Clint) – click here for my review
- “Battle Creek Brawl” (mediocre) – click here for my review
- “The Big Red One” (not very good war) – click here for my review
- “The Final Countdown” (OK) – click here for my review
- “Friday the 13th” (classic horror) – click here for my review
- “The Hollywood Knights” (excellent comedy) – click here for my review
- “The Long Riders” (superior western) – click here for my review
- “Rough Cut” (nice Burt) – click here for my review
- “Seems Like Old Times” (solid comedy) – click here for my review
- “Terror Train” (Jamie Lee horror) – click here for my review
- “Used Cars” (tremendous comedy) – click here for my review
Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):
- “The Brady Bunch” veteran Eve Plumb auditioned for the role that went to Curtis.
- Martin’s career stopped in 1988 after just 27 credits following her divorce from writer/director Michael Crichton. She was awarded a hefty divorce settlement sum and stopped acting to pursue her love of horses. She has also ridden competitively for a U.S. team in international competition.
- The film was shot in 24 days.
- Robert A. Silverman does a neat job of being the creepy janitor. He just oozes creepiness here and the costume department deserves a nod for his glasses – they just make the character. Silverman was also an artist who gets shotgunned to death in another horror classic, “Scanners” (click here for my review) and has also been in “Waterworld.”
- In addition to Curtis, the only other actor in the primary cast who did episodes of “The Love Boat” (yes, I love “The Love Boat”) is Nielsen and he did three of them.
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