Prom Night (1980)
As a horror reviewer, it is often difficult to maintain an objective, passive eye, due to the inherently emotional nature of the genre. Prom Night made my job easy, by being just average enough to be unengaging and just decent enough as to not be a total bore.
A cruel childhood prank accidentally killed young Robin Hammond and four kids formed a pact of secrecy. Now, six years later on Prom Night, the quartet are facing someone else who knows about the skeleton in their closet... someone who's not above creating a few of his own.
If you've seen the box art for this film, you'll note that Jamie Lee Curtis is very prominent on the front. She should be -- she's the star. However, her character, Kim, is so inconsequential to the plot (until the end, anyway) that I get the feeling that her part was beefed up a bit to capitalize on her Scream Queen status. Kim could have been a supporting player and the film would have been better for it.
More time spent on Jamie Lee means less time with the potential victims. As it is, we only really get to know two with any sort of detail. One's a bitch who I hoped would die and soon. The other one comes from the school of Don't-Kill-Me-I-Have-A-Heart characterization, frequently put into positions of Extreme Sympathy (a brutally cinematic sport where the viewer is forced to like, understand, and attempt to hug a character. Bonus points for developing a crush on him/her). The other two bits of homicidal fodder are defined by who they bring to the dance -- which, given some girls I knew in high school, is more realistic on second thought.
The killer is cut from standard stock; there's nothing especially new or even interesting here. We're often treated to oddly grainy shots of his feet or shaky, ineffective POV work. His modus operandi mixes the phone calls When A Stranger Calls with the stalk-and-slash of Halloween (though, truth be told, Prom Night is never as tense as either film). The filmmakers try hard to keep us guessing about the murderer's identity, but had it figured out exactly midway through.
A major qualm I had with the film was the soundtrack. I don't know about you, but I think disco is absolute swill. Here, we get treated to more than a human being can reasonably stand. Jamie Lee has a major dance number which is five minutes long -- roughly four minutes and 59 seconds too much. The only good part is that we get to see Leslie Nielsen (playing it straight as the school principal) boogie to that techno beat.
Another problem I had was that logic was seriously stretched at a couple of key points. For one thing, the killer calls each of the four teens...and all four are the ones who answer the phone. Now, standard common sense says that a parent would pick it up at one of the houses. Also, there's a prolonged chase scene where the killer is pursuing a girl who's clad in high heels. Now...walk through this with me...she's running in high heels, which are difficult to walk in, and the killer IS BARELY KEEPING UP. Obviously, he needs to get his homicidal butt in shape.
Prom Night borrows some tricks from Dario Argento, but lacks his visual verve. It steals shots and plot points from Carrie and Halloween, but never attains the memorable levels of shock and terror that those films are famous for. It isn't tense enough to be good horror, and it isn't sleazy enough to be good schlock. It is, in short, the very definition of mediocrity.