Originally released in 1980, Prom Night capitalized on the success of slasher movies like John Carpenter’s Halloween, as well as movies released during the same year like Friday the 13th. The movie’s strong point is its casting, with Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis (who also starred in Carpenter’s The Fog in 1980) center stage, supported by Leslie Nielsen and Robert Silverman (a veteran of the films of David Cronenberg). The movie borrows various plot elements from Halloween, but the end result remains a lackluster film of interest only to B-movie horror fans.
The movie opens with a trio of 11-year-old kids playing a game of hide-and-seek, which they call “killer,” in an abandoned two-story house. Ten-year-old Robin Hammond and her little brother Alex are going home from school when they spot the shenanigans going on. Alex tries to get his sister to move on, but Robin wants very much to play. Although the kids agree to let her play, they quickly turn on her, screaming “Kill! Kill! Kill!” as they corner her in of the house’s rooms upstairs. Things go too far when the kids accidently push Robin toward a window, from which she falls to her death.
The kids make a pact never to tell anyone what happened that day. Detective McBride (George Touliatos) is soon on the scene, but sadly he believes that a known rapist is the culprit. The rapist is blamed for the murder and is sentenced to life in prison.
Six years later, the real killers of Robin Hammond are now high school seniors preparing for their prom—it so happens that prom night is the anniversary day of Robin’s death. Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Alex (Michael Tough) have grown up without their sister and attend the high school where their dad (Leslie Nielsen) is the principal. As the kids go through the typical motions of high-school life, Lieutenant McBride learns that the rapist has escaped from prison and is now supposedly making his way back to town.
As prom night looms, strange things begin to happen around the school, namely to the kids who killed Robin six years ago. It so happens that poor Kim is friends with all the murderers, and so she is caught up in the strange events. The film’s climax has the killer systematically killing off the murderers and their associates, leading to a final confrontation with police—and prom queen Kim in the mix—where the killer’s identity is finally revealed. Suffice to say that the killer is not the rapist escapee—this plot element turns out to be a red herring.
Director Paul Lynch does a good job of directing Prom Night, which also benefits from a strong cast. The inherent problem with the movie is the script by William Gray and Robert Guza, Jr. The story simply borrows too much from the movie Halloween, but the end result is a lackluster storyline, one in which the identity of the killer comes as an anti-climax. Prom Night is a relatively bloodless affair, with only a decapitation at the movie’s end for gorehounds to enjoy. There is very little tension throughout the film, as sequences rely on typical cliché moments to evoke “horror.”
Despite its lackluster story, Prom Night remains an easy-to-watch horror film (a cult classic) thanks to Lynch’s apt direction and the fun, earnest performances of the entire cast, particularly the young people. Prom Night did well enough in the drive-in circuit to spawn three sequels, as well as a “reimagining” in 2008.