Thursday, February 11, 2016

In short: Prom Night (1980)

A few years before the start of the film, and therefore pre-DISCO, a quartet of children kinda-sorta accidentally murdered one of their own. Being kids and all, they just run and pretend it didn’t happen, even when an innocent man is blamed for their crime and is horribly injured in a car chase. The supposed murderer has spent the last six years in a mental institution, but now he’s broken out, and he may or may not be out for vengeance.

He’s just in time for the anniversary of the death, too. Well, that and for prom night in the high school the now older kids go to. And look at that, someone wearing a glittering ski mask is carving a violent path through the kids and a couple of innocent bystanders! But is it truly that guy or someone else the film hasn’t spent more than a minute on before doing the deeds? And will the dead girl’s sister Kim – who didn’t have anything to do with the death – do what characters played by Jamie Lee Curtis in slasher movies do?

To be frank, no, she won’t exactly, for Paul Lynch’s Prom Night might want to drink from the money well of the slasher (there is such a thing, yes), yet is only beholden to parts of the more traditional slasher tropes. It’s a bit of a shame the film does eschew an actual final girl scene while keeping the obsession with the virginity of its characters (even though virgins die here too), but what can you do? In other regards, it’s a pretty typical slasher in form and function, though one that doesn’t go for much gore. One is nearly tempted to call the film classy, but then the next virginity discussion comes around, and I’m more tempted to call it fluctuating between squeamish and exploitative. So, it is a typical slasher.

Despite that, and the expected at times sloppy writing, the film still belongs in the upper third of films of the early slasher boom, mostly on the strength of some decent acting, a cast of characters you don’t necessarily want to see die in horrible ways, and first and foremost some damn good stalking scenes that make it a double shame the film doesn’t have a true final girl fight in the end. Lynch – assisted by Robert C. New’s cinematography and a string-heavy score by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer – shows himself highly adept at the classical suspense notions these scenes live on. The movement of characters into ever more tight and threatening spaces can hardly be done more effective than in the scene where Anne-Marie Martin kicks the bucket.

If that’s just not enough for a discerning viewer, Prom Night also recommends itself with a mind-blowing scene of disco dancing Mithun Chakraborty would be proud of, yet no words could describe appropriately, and a little finale between axe murderer and victims also set to the oh so appropriate tones of DISCO!

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