I first saw Prom Night in my early teens, same period where I first saw Happy Birthday To Me, My Bloody Valentine and a bunch of other golden era slashers for the first time. But it didn't leave much of an impression; in fact when I revisited the film in 2007 for Horror Movie A Day, I couldn't even remember who the killer was. It didn't take long to see why I had such a poor memory of it - I found it to be a deathly dull film. Sure, the dated wardrobe, hair and music choices provided some amusement, but not nearly enough to make up for the snail's pace, the botched attempts at red herrings and the rather bland killer costume that canceled out too many suspects given the not very imposing build he or she (he) had. Plus, it was actually one of the very first Halloween wannabes - filming began a few weeks before Friday the 13th, in fact - so there's no excuse for being so sloppy, as the genre hadn't been worn thin yet. It technically had barely even begun.
But again, that was early in HMAD, and I certainly saw worse slashers along the way. Was I a bit too harsh on it then? Is it really as slow as I remember? Only one way to find out... let's go through it Minute by Minute!
NOTE - I do spoil the killer's identity a couple of times throughout the piece.
00:00 - The logo for Alliance Atlantis, which didn't even exist when the movie came out in 1980. Studios - it's bad enough you replace your logos on your library titles (looking at you, MGM), but don't stick this junk into the movie as part of the official runtime. Some of us have crippling OCD to deal with here.
01:00 - Empty hallway in the school.
02:00 - A closeup of two of our will-be heroes. One is Robin, who will be dead soon. The other might be the young Jamie Lee character, not sure.
03:00 - Robin looking at the school, accompanied by Eddie Benton's credit for playing Wendy.
04:00 - Robin glancing around during the hide and seek game.
05:00 - Robin being scared by Nick.
06:00 - All the kids chasing Robin. For the life of me I cannot remember why they begin to terrorize her. I also cannot remember what made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise.
07:00 - Wendy making the others promise not to ever tell anyone what they did (last summer).
08:00 - Our first (very wide) shot of Leslie Nielsen, who plays the father of the girl who just died (as well as Jamie Lee's character, Kim). This movie came out only two weeks after Airplane!, so while it seems odd to folks my age to see him in a dramatic role, at the time, Airplane! was the anomaly.
09:00 - Robin's body being loaded into an ambulance.
10:00 - Our first present day minute, with Kim and her brother Alex (who was Robin's twin) visiting the cemetery.
11:00 - Nielsen consoling his wife. If memory serves, this is the anniversary, hence the killing spree. Being prom-time was just a bonus.
12:00 - Closeup of someone using a hedge trimmer. This would be the groundskeeper, one of the most hilarious red herrings in whodunit slasher history.
13:00 - The killer calling Jude (Joy Thompson), doing his slasher on the phone thing. I like how they cut in shots of the younger version when introducing the present day actor, so we can sync up who's who. Not that it matters much for her or Kelly, since they're interchangeable in the past and present (and we can figure out the others pretty easily; i.e. Nick was the only guy anyway), but still, nice touch.
14:00 - Jude meets Slick! This guy's my favorite character; if the remake stuck to the original at all (it's the most "in name only" remake ever, I think) he probably would have been played by Jonah Hill.
15:00 - Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens) hanging up on the killer after she gets her phone call.
16:00 - Kelly talking to her boyfriend Drew, played by the smuggest looking dude on the planet.
17:00 - Alex walking down a hall after missing his phone call.
18:00 - Two doctors (or maybe one's a cop) talking about the movie's most obnoxious red herring, a sexual predator named Murch, who was a suspect in Robin's death. Even in this early stage in the whodunit slasher cycle (Prom Night was Jamie Lee's first slasher followup to Halloween; Terror Train and of course Halloween II came later), I can't see anyone being fooled by this stuff.
19:00 - Doctor on the phone. A lot of this stuff would be more or less remade in fellow Canadian production My Bloody Valentine with the real Harry Warden, and it was much more effective there. If this Murch guy was the killer, why would he have a mask? We've never seen him!
20:00 - Wendy walking to her car.
21:00 - The girls walking down the hall at school. You know someone was thinking "Let's do like they did in Halloween!" - they're even laid out the same - Jamie on the left, the brunette in the middle, and the blonde on the right.
22:00 - Kim confronting Nick after catching him talking to Wendy (his ex).
23:00 - The cops and doctor find a corpse, presumably killed by Murch. Gotta love a slasher that's almost at the end of its first act and the non-killer has racked up a higher body count than the actual killer.
24:00 - Shot of a very concerned/angry doctor. He's upset because he senses the audience is already getting sick of this nonsensical subplot.
25:00 - Kim walking through the gymnasium.
26:00 - Kim and Wendy having a bit of a bitch-off regarding Nick. Why can't Wendy just date Alex? I have trouble telling them apart, I'm sure she wouldn't even notice the difference. Also I believe this is where the "It's not who you go with, it's who takes you home" line is introduced. It would be pretty much the only thing connecting the four movies as someone always said it; in fact, in the fourth the characters toast Jamie Lee Curtis (the actress, not her character) on their way to prom, which suggests it takes place in a world where Prom Night is a movie.
27:00 - Nick's highly unflattering yearbook photo. Why they have a yearbook before prom, I don't know.
28:00 - A guy in the same ski mask that the killer will wear gives Kim a kiss in the cafeteria.
29:00 - Ski mask guy (Lou) and Alex huffing and puffing after a fight.
30:00 - Nielsen in his office, talking to Lou and Alex.
31:00 - Nielsen looking out his window. They just made a point of showing him throwing away the ski mask in his own trash - this movie has more attempts at suspects than Scream, I think.
32:00 - Establishing shot of a cliff.
33:00 - Nick and Kim embrace.
34:00 - Wendy and Lou in her car, scheming. There's a minor lift from Carrie in all this stuff; not sure if they felt they had to acknowledge their predecessor or were just that lazy.
35:00 - Wendy and Lou having a spat. Can't remember why. Just general frustration that nothing's happened yet, I suppose.
36:00 - Sykes, doing his red herring thing (with Chang tongue for good measure). See, a good thing to do in any whodunit slasher is ask yourself "Would I be satisfied if this guy turned out to be the killer?" And if the answer is no, then he's not the best red herring. Scream, for example - just about any of those red herrings would have made suitable killers (Dewey, Randy, etc). But this guy, not only do they go overboard trying to make him seem like a creep, but he never actually has a character! He's just lurking around in the background.
37:00 - Wendy, angry after finding her yearbook photo taped to the wall.
38:00 - Kim and Kelly investigating a broken mirror.
39:00 - Kim and Kelly looking around the locker room.
40:00 - A lady explaining to Kim and Nick how proms work.
41:00 - Wendy and Lou, scheming.
42:00 - Sykes, cleaning up the broken mirror glass.
43:00 - Kim, who may or may not be in danger as she walks down a hall. Kinda weird that it wasn't until Halloween Goddamn Resurrection (complete title) that Jamie Lee got to pay homage to her mother and get killed off early as a surprise. Until then, scenes like this are just go-nowhere padding. All of her other slashers were wise enough to have her friends (or the nurses taking care of her) be the ones that got chased around this long before the climax.
44:00 - Kim and Kelly walking down another hallway. It's their "thing".
45:00 - Wendy hanging up her phone. I should note that we're now past the halfway point of Prom Night and they're still not at the prom. And people give Jason Takes Manhattan shit? At least he was doing SOMETHING until he got there.
46:00 - Night! We've got half the title in the bag! This might be a killer POV shot, not sure.
47:00 - Alex showing Kim his awesome suspenders as they get ready for prom. Wait, why's it already dark if they're not even at prom yet? What season is this? I distinctly remember arriving at mine when it was still light out.
48:00 - Nick and Kim, all dressed up and ready to go.
49:00 -Wendy getting into Lou's car, which has two of his pals in the backseat. Every girl's prom night dream.
50:00 - The killer's phone, a torn yearbook, and the phone book. Also his notepad, where he wrote down the four names of the people he was after. Just in case he forgot who the targets of his ten year plan to avenge the death of his sister were.
51:00 - The prom!!!! They've finally arrived!
52:00 - Jude, whom we haven't seen for a half hour, arrives at prom with the man-god that is Slick. I mean, look at this guy. He's magnificent.
53:00 - Leslie Nielsen dancing with Jamie Lee Curtis. The stuff dreams are made of, if you make GIFs (I'd do it but I don't know how). Also, it's a hard G.
54:00 - Wendy and Lou looking around the dance floor. Find the killer! Tell him to do something!
55:00 - Kim and Nick dancing.
56:00 - Same as 54:00, but it's a closer shot.
57:00 - Uh, same as 55:00, but closer. What's happening???
58:00 - Some of the girls in the bathroom, fixing makeup and what not. Is it technically a spoiler to describe this movie as a slasher? There's only 30 minutes left (including end credits) and no one has died yet. And I've even been poking around in between the minutes to make sure I wasn't missing anything!
59:00 - Lou dancing.
60:00 - Kelly and her boyfriend in a closet or something, making out. If nothing else, this assures us that something is finally, mercifully, going to happen.
61:00 - Kelly's boyfriend exiting. They're finished already? Is that another Halloween reference?
62:00 - Kelly's rather endless death scene. 62 minutes in exactly, we have our first legit slashing in this slasher movie.
63:00 - The killer's POV of who I think is the doctor (back is turned to camera).
64:00 - Slick leaving his van (where he's "parking" with Jude). He's got an awesome ruffled shirt.
65:00 - Slick and Jude heading further into the woods. Like they'll find something more comfortable than a sweet '70s van?
66:00 - And now they're walking back. Even Kelly's boyfriend lasted longer.
67:00 - Killer POV of Slick's van.
68:00 - The movie's most amusing death scene, with the killer trying to get at Slick as he (slowly) drives around the field. Kind of like the nurse at the beginning of Halloween, but with a pop song!
69:00 - Yet another interminably long shot of people dancing.
70:00 - Wendy applying makeup in the bathroom.
71:00 - The killer chasing Wendy. It's a decent chase scene, if memory serves.
72:00 - Closeup of the killer's feet as he continues to stalk Wendy.
73:00 - Wendy walking backwards, which means she's about 2 seconds away from bumping into something innocuous. The remake would pretty much write the book on such scares, with everything from doors to coat racks providing 15 year olds with a reason to jump. Yet, still a (slightly) better movie than this.
74:00 - Wendy hiding in a car.
75:00 - The killer approaching on said car. If 76:00 is him opening the door I'm quitting.
76:00 - Wendy (out of the car!) hiding/crying. For all the shit I give this movie, this has been a solid five or six minute chase for a character who isn't a guaranteed goner - as she is a rival with Jamie Lee's character, there's a strong chance she'll survive to make amends with her old friend. THAT'S how you do it. Dragging out the heroine chase, while not without value, is kind of pointless when we know she'll survive. You get more suspense out of doing the same for someone whose survival isn't definitive.
77:00 - Kind of a creepy shot of the killer, completely obscured by shadow.
78:00 - Kim talking to someone off camera. This is the first time we've seen her in 20 minutes!
79:00 - I have no idea what I'm looking at here. I think that's a chair?
80:00 - Nick being "kidnapped" by one of Lou's buddies as part of the prank. Wait, there are 9 minutes left in this thing and they're still on the filler? Soon we will realize why he's not trying to kill Jamie Lee too, but this is just painful. And also, this is why you don't make the killer the heroine's brother (yes, I'm referring to two movies there).
81:00 - Some folks dancing. 7 minutes to go with credits and 99% of its characters aren't even aware that there's a killer on the loose. This fucking movie, I swear...
82:00 - OK, any "slasher at an event" movie like this needs to clear out all the extras, and I'll give Prom Night this much - doing so because they all panicked at the sight of a guy's head on the stage when they were expecting a prom king is kind of awesome. It's at least better than Scream's "Let's go look at the corpse of our principal!" excuse.
83:00 - The killer advancing on Kim and Nick.
84:00 - Nick and the killer wrestling around on the floor.
85:00 -Shot of the killer, in a daze, wandering outside. It's one of the weirdest ways to do a reveal in a slasher, if nothing else. And since the mask will (I assume!) be off by the next one, I gotta say, the movie did a piss-poor job of keeping its red herrings around throughout the movie. Given how slow it moves, it's safe to assume I wasn't missing any full scenes between minute marks, which means it's very possible Alex hasn't been seen since their house before the prom, with Leslie Nielsen only once since. And Sykes hasn't been seen at all!
86:00 - Heh, it actually took a full minute to get to the mask being removed.
87:00 - Cast credits. Not much interesting besides Jeff Wincott, playing someone named "Drew" (I assume one of Lou's buddies?). Also, not on-screen here but whatever - Nielsen actually got top billing! He's in like four scenes! Not that Jamie Lee was exactly hogging the camera here either, but jeez.
88:00 - Crew credits, none of the names jump out at me. Though I like that there's a credit for "Story Board," singular. Wonder which shot it was?
89:00 - The last bit of legal credits as they scroll off the top of the frame, never to be seen again.
And that's it; final run time is 89:07.
So, no. I've given this movie three tries and if anything I like it less each time. You can get away with not racking up a body count too early if there's some feeling of dread or danger, but the movie's half-assed attempts at such (like the mirror) are botched, and once they get to prom everything is too disjointed to make that much padding worth your while. Plus, the mystery is botched; I can appreciate the attempts at something a little more tragic, but Alex's character was minimized throughout the film and thus his reveal doesn't have nearly as much impact as it should. I was bummed that the Prom Night remake opted for a straight up killer (no mystery or whodunit angle), but even that's better than a reveal that means next to nothing. And some of our protagonists are dead before the 62 minute mark, that's for sure (and it's a PG-13 slasher to boot!).
Silver lining - this was successful enough to spawn a franchise of three sequels, all of which are more entertaining than this. As I mentioned, there's no real relation between any of them beyond that line of dialogue (and actor Brock Simpson, who appeared in all four films as different characters), but you can't blame the first (Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, the only theatrically released sequel in the US at least) for wanting to distance itself from this chore, inadvertently setting a precedent that was probably for the best.