Hamilton High School’s principal, Mr. Hammond, played by two time Emmy nominee Leslie Nielsen (The Naked Gun), is concerned for his wife’s (Antoinette Bower) welfare. It’s the anniversary of their ten year old daughter Robin’s (Tammy Bourne) death. The Hammond’s two other children: Kim portrayed by two time Golden Globe winner Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies); and Alex (Michael Tough), are also saddened by thoughts of their sister’s passing. (As an aside: Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch) auditioned for the role of Kim Hammond. She was set to play the part, but once Jamie Lee Curtis agreed to take the role, Plumb was released.)
Unbeknownst to the Hammond family, the perpetrators of the crime were four children, now high school seniors: Wendy (Anne-Marie Martin); Nick (Casey Stevens); Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens); and Jude (Joy Thompson). At the start of the film, the four children are playing a game of ‘the killer is coming’ a take-off on ‘hide and go seek.’ The setting is an abandoned psychiatric hospital. When Robin is discovered in the building, the other children repeatedly chant ‘kill,’ their voices getting louder with each passing second. Robin is very frightened, and she backs up toward an open second floor window, and falls to her death. The friends swear themselves to secrecy. The only problem is that someone witnessed what happened to Robin.
Six years later, the anniversary of Robin’s death coincides with the prom. The theme is ‘disco madness,’ a prophetic choice considering what’s to transpire later that evening. The four friends begin receiving cryptic phone calls. As the film progresses, the mysterious phone calls escalate to murder. Making matters worse, a sex offender, the person the authorities prosecuted, and who was wrongly convicted for Robin’s death, has escaped from the mental hospital. Lt. McBride (George Touliatos), has been alerted. He stakes himself out at the high school, and has his officers searching everywhere for the escaped man.
One of the aspects of “Prom Night” that comes across well, is that it keeps viewers guessing as to who the killer is. The killer could be any of the following: The grieving parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hammond; Mr. Sykes (Robert A. Silverman), the high school’s groundskeeper, who seems to be misunderstood and harmless, but perhaps there is more to him than he’s letting on; In addition, it could be the escaped mental patient, seeking revenge for being falsely accused and incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. There are also Robin’s siblings Alex and Kim, either of them might feel justified in killing those who were responsible for their sister’s death. Perhaps it is none of the above. Is the mysterious caller responsible? Will he or she turn out to be someone no one would suspect? The killer’s identity and more will be revealed by the film’s conclusion.
“Prom Night” was directed by Paul Lynch (RoboCop). The screenplay for the film was written by William Gray (The Philadelphia Experiment) and eight time Emmy winner Robert Gaza Jr. (Loving). Parts horror, mystery, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 92 minutes. The film was released in U.S. theaters on July 18, 1980. “Prom Night” was followed by three sequels “Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II; Prom Night III: The Last Kiss; and Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil. (As an aside: Hamilton High School is the only setting that appears in all four films. Furthermore, Paul Lynch had difficulty securing the financing for the film until Jamie Lee Curtis signed on).
Leaving aside Robin’s death at the start of the movie, “Prom Night” takes its time in terms of its horror aspect. The last half hour of the film is when the killer, attired in all black and wearing a ski mask, attempts to exact their revenge. The soundtrack is disco infused, which led to the only part of the film that grew a bit tedious, an almost four minute disco dance scene during the prom. I am always amused at movies that take place in a high school setting, where as soon as the music begins, seemingly everyone becomes a wonderful dancer. When I would attend a high school dance, it seemed that one third of the students would sit on the bleachers, another third, more often than not the group I was in, would stand and talk in small groups, and another third would attempt to dance, in most instances, poorly at that. Overall, “Prom Night” is a good 1980’s slasher film, that rises above many of its competitors from the time period, in terms of the plot where the killer’s motivation is more than just mindless mayhem.