BR: Prom Night (1980)

October 10, 2014 | By

 

PromNight1980_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label: Synapse Films

Region: A

Released:  September 9 ,2014

Genre:  Horror / Slasher / CanCon

Synopsis: A plot to murder teens on prom night is somehow connected to the death of a child years earlier, and an escaped maniac.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary with director Paul Lynch and screenwriter William Gray / Making-of featurette: “The Horrors of Hamilton High” (41:02) / Bonus Scenes from TV Broadcast Version (11:10) / Outtakes (23:14) – Blu-ray exclusive / Motion Stills Gallery (6:18) – Blu-ray exclsuive / 2 Original Radio Spots – Blu-ray exclusive / Original Theatrical Trailer & TV Spots (6) / Reversible Sleeve Art.

 


 

Review:

The success of Halloween (1978) can never be underestimated in the magnetic way it repulsed several critics before more than a few (such as Roger Ebert) reversed their assessment of John Carpenter’s virtually bloodless thriller. It also helped the genre in that Halloween became the top money-making indie film in its day, and a juggernaut to a lengthy wave of like-minded, oft-imitated entries which, on occasion, added a few new twists to the formulaic story where buried childhood traumas transform children into bloody PTSD killers.

The slasher film by its nature mandates a steady and creatively rendered flow of screen mayhem, and the roots of the bodycount tale go back to Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1945), but pivotal to the genre’s endurance during the eighties is Canada’s own efforts, which through imitation and innovation, transformed what could’ve been wholly derivative into something rather artistic amid the standard elements of blood, breasts, chases, and the lethal consequences of losing one’s virginity.

The roots of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s Scream (1996) also owes its fair share to Paul Lynch’s film, and the gradual genesis of Prom Night from idea to final film is itself a remarkable tale of success for its makers.

Wanting to switch genres, Lynch, who’d recently directed a wrestling drama Blood & Guts (1978), attended a Telefilm Canada meet & greet in Los Angeles where he met Simcom producer Peter Simpson, and the idea of turning Robert Guza’s short story into a film was met with high interest – enough that Simpson sealed the production deal within roughly a week.

Guza, then in U.S.C., based his tale on a childhood game where hide & seek is reworked into a shame game of kids playing ‘killers’ in abandoned locales, and Lynch hired established screenwriter William Gray to flesh out the story into a proper feature-length story in which the death of a child spawns a series of nasty revenge killings on the night of prom.

Simpson wanted Brady Bunch star Eve Plumb as heroine Kim, but Jamie Lee Curtis sought out the role – an interesting move considering Curtis had already played a screaming ‘teen’ in Carpenter’s Halloween. Curtis’ casting guaranteed the film’s success, but she also gave the role more subtext than it deserved, especially in a final scene in which Kim recognizes the killer through his / her black ski mask – a scene which Lynch rightly and repeatedly points out as being among the film and actress’ most important moments.

Filmed in local high schools in Hamilton and Don Mills (most of the hallways, neighbourhood plaza, and residential streets are in the environs of Don Mills Collegiate) and augmented by a pretty solid cast of then newcomers + veterans Leslie Nielsen (Forbidden Planet) and Antionette Bower (The Starlost, The Invaders, and Star Trek), Lynch pulled off a small miracle in crafting a really well-made thriller, and although no scenes really top the vicious emotional tone of the opening prologue (taken from Guza’s story) and the killer’s unmasking, Prom Night manages to hold its own in delivering enough deaths and genre fromage.

By contemporary standards, a few of the montages do run long – it’s more a case of over-extended school hallway chases – and the edginess from the prologue is replaced by material that more than echoes Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976): a jealous classmate (Anne-Marie Martin / aka Eddie Benton) enlists a thuggish jock (David Mucci) and his pals (including a young Jeff Wincott) to torment Kim prior to being crowned Prom Queen.

The soft-focus and colour palette is also very akin to the sleek, soft look De Palma applied to Carrie, but the echoes are nevertheless fun: instead of a bucket of pig’s blood, we get a spectacular decapitation, and the first kill – virgin Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens) – is slow and almost arty in Lynch’s approach to editing and under-cranked camera.

Lynch’s own background as a commercial art director gave the film a solid, slick look, but as he acknowledges in the Blu-ray’s excellent making-of doc, his crew of mostly ex-film students did wonders under the tutelage of cinematographer Robert C. New.

Paul Zaza’s generally orchestral score has more than a few homages to Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho (1960) – mostly in the use of low strings – but it’s a solid original score, of which portions are isolated in the BR’s outtakes & trims gallery. (The faux disco songs, though, are something else, and Lynch and Zaza recount the amusing issue where the composer had to write soundalike versions of top disco hits used in the temp track when Simpson balked at paying a fortune in licensing fees for then hit disco songs.)

Synapse’s BR is the tribute genre fans and CanCon fans have been waiting for since the movie’s meandering DVD releases included both grainy widescreen and noxious panned & scanned versions. In addition to a lengthy making-of doc which gathers Lynch and actors Michael Tough (playing Kim’s brother), Joy Thompson, and Rubens, there’s a steady commentary track with Lynch and screenwriter Gray, stills and promo trailers for theatres, TV, and radio.

Also included are the deleted scenes which were added to the TV version to replace shorn boobs and blood, although none add anything new to the film. The temp secretary with whom the school principle (Nielsen) converses is a dolt; extra scenes where Kim’s mother is depressed over the memory of dead daughter Robin (Tammy Bourne) is just more filler material of what’s essentially a silent role for the actress; and an additional scene with psychiatrist Dr. Fairchild (David Gardner) is redundant, adding little to the ‘escaped lunatic’ storyline borrowed from Halloween that’s dispensed with in the film’s final third.

The BR’s large wad of outtakes and trims are set to Zaza’s score and faux disco hits, and the footage encompasses both dialogue, chase, and gore material. (This special feature, alongside original radio spots and a motion stills gallery are exclusive to Synapse’s BR release.)

Only qualms with this special edition (and this is solely from a purist stance): an isolated score track would’ve been great; offering the outtakes with the original / surviving raw production audio; a tour of the film’s original locations (somewhat similar to Critical Mass / Anchor Bay’s Black Christmas); and a bonus disc featuring the full TV cut. (The deleted scenes were mastered from a surprisingly sharp widescreen print, and similar to Anchor Bay’s periodic reissue of the Halloween TV cut, the bonus of the alternate ‘soft’ Prom Night would’ve made this set complete.)

Like Synapse’s BR of Curtains (1983) – another Simcom production – there’s a shared talent pool, making this the second half of the label’s unofficial two-part tribute to Simpson (whom Lynch characterizes, rather amusingly, as ‘Canada’s Sam Spiegel’), as well as the ingenious and highly successful horror films made during the country’s film boom, largely the result of a generous tax shelter program designed to spawn a native film industry.

Whereas most CanCon films were derivative and rarely enjoyed theatrical runs, Prom Night made a fortune for U.S. partner Avco Embassy Pictures, and evolved into a genre classic and cult film on home video and multiple TV airings. It also helped local talent, several of whom managed to parlay long careers.

 

Wrap-Up

Lynch, staunchly proud of the Canadian industry, also directed multiple TV series (including Darkroom and The Twilight Zone), but he’s also best remembered for the goofy horror film Humungous (1982).

Star Jamie Lee Curtis also starred in the classic CanCon slasher Terror Train (1980) and horror films Roadgames (1981) and Halloween II (1981) before tacking dramas in TV and later film, whereas Prom Night is notable for having one of the last straight dramatic film roles for Leslie Nielsen before he began a new career as a comedy star with Airplane! (1980).

Michael Tough (The Starlost, Virus) became a prolific location manager, and Kim’s nemesis, Anne-Marie Martin, appeared in The Boogens (1981) and the CanCon stinker H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come, plus several TV series, including daytime soap Days of Our Lives (1982-1985), and Sledge Hammer (1986-1988).

Other familiar CanCon faces include the ever-reliable George Touliatos (Agency, Virus, The Last Chase) as the lead detective, and future action film headliner Jeff Wincott in an early role as a gang member. David Mucci also appeared with Leslie Nielsen in the TV movie Nightstick (1987).

Writer Robert Guza also wrote the Simpson-produced Melanie (1982) and Curtains (1983) before becoming a prolific writer in daytime soaps, and Simpson produced three sequels in the Prom Night franchise, directing the straight-to-video Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990) himself. Although Lynch had no hand in the 2008 Prom Night remake, he directed several B-films for Simpson, including Bullies (1986), the rather dull Blindside (1987), and the ridiculous beauty contest Die Hard riffs No Contest (1995) and No Contest II (1997).

 

 

© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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