As a die-hard metal fan and vocal detractor of the Disco movement during the 70s/80s (yeah, I was eight years old, but I made my opinions known, dammit!), I had a hard time with Prom Night when I first saw the film on cable in the early 80s. On the one hand, I loved me a good slasher flick, and Prom Night starred Jamie Lee Curtis who not only featured in my favorite slasher film of all time, but, in my opinion looked the hottest she’s ever looked on film.
On the other hand, however…disco.
Lots and lots of disco.
And I don’t mean Bee Gees/Andy Gibb/Donna Summers disco (which, oddly enough, I kind of like now in a totally “I wish I was still a little kid and not an adult with bills and children and responsibilities and…” sort of way), but faceless, tuneless Canadian disco. This, paired with the terrible dancing (yes, even Jamie Lee, whose hotness is nearly nullified by the “moves” of the period) turned me off immensely as a kid. You have to remember that, around the time the flick made it to cable, disco was still a “thing”, even if it was in its death throes, so, as a “metal kid”, Prom Night “sucked” to me, just as disco did.
Time passed, and, nearly a decade later, I finally got around to revisiting the film, this time on VHS. As was often the case, I watched it stoned out of my mind with my friends. As we laughed our collective asses off, I came to the admittedly pot-fueled realization that, as ridiculous as it was, Prom Night was also a competently-made little shocker, and it soon joined my growing collection of badly abused VHS tapes, and became part of my regular rotation.
Prom Night opens with “popular” kids Nick, Wendy, Jude, and Kelly playing an alarmingly sociopathic game called “Killer” (basically hide and seek, with the seeker given the role of “the killer”) in an abandoned building. During the game, Robin Hammond sneaks in to see if she can play with the older kids, but accidentally falls to her death. Rather than go for help, ringleader Wendy convinces the other to vacate the premises and hope this somehow goes away. Ultimately, Robin’s death is pinned on a local sex offender, and the little delinquents get off Scott-free. Or so they think.
Flash forward six years later. Our pre-teen psychopaths are now well-adjusted twenty-something high school students preparing for senior prom. Everyone’s ready to boogie down to some bad Canadian disco, but it’s also a bittersweet time for the Hammond family – Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis), Alex (Michael Tough), and their dad/principal (Leslie Nielsen), as it’s the anniversary of Robin’s death. Kim is also now dating a very conflicted Nick (Casey Stevens), who has recently split from the controlling and mean-spirited Wendy (Anne-Marie Martin). Nick wants to tell Kim about how her sister really died, but he can’t quite find the words. Someone else, however, knows, and that someone has been tormenting Nick, Wendy, Jude (Joy Thompson), and Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens) with threatening phone calls and notes.
Who among the sea of red herrings could be responsible? Is it the grieving father? Could it be the creepy new janitor? Or is it the man who was falsely accused of Robin’s death (and has now conveniently escaped from prison)?
A “north of the border” cheapie, Prom Night was the brainchild of director, Paul Lynch who approached Halloween producer Irwin Yablans with a horror concept that Yablans ultimately passed on. However, Yablans did offer a piece of advice, telling Lynch to come up with something set on a holiday or an event (in keeping with the trend set forth by Halloween, of course), and to get back to him. From there, Prom Night was born, and, once Jamie Lee Curtis was locked in to star, the film was a go.
As with the bulk of slasher flicks from the period, Prom Night’s somewhat threadbare plot and laughable script and surprisingly long setup serve as little more than a means to get us to the titular event, where the deserving get their comeuppance, and our killer is unmasked Scooby Doo style. It’s all terribly silly stuff, but it’s also irresistibly entertaining thanks mostly to Curtis’ enthusiastic take on the role (and that bra scene…oh mercy), as well as Lynch’s sure handed direction and Robert C. New’s atmospheric cinematography.
I’ve owned three versions of Prom Night, and, up until now, the best copy I’ve had was a collector’s edition VHS from Anchor Bay released way back in the pre-DVD days (Anchor Bay’s own reportedly solid DVD went out of print almost immediately, and I never lucked into finding a copy for a reasonable price). Other releases came and went, but almost all seemed to be sourced from the same lousy VHS print and were either presented in the wrong aspect ratio or worse.
Synapse Films, of course, set out to remedy this situation when they acquired Prom Night for release, and have made no secret of the immense amount of work they’ve put into whipping this one into shape for the HD generation.
Working from a 2K scan of the original 35mm negative of the film, Don May and his magical elves have managed to take a nearly thirty-five year old film and make it look downright new, soaping up and scrubbing away any semblance of print damage and artifacting while being careful not to rinse out the detail as well. The result is a gorgeous, near-pristine image that boasts an impressive amount of fine detail, brilliant colors, and rock-solid blacks.
(Note: Synapse-Films wants to be sure that our readers know that there was no actual scrubbing involved - digital or otherwise, nor was it washed or soaped up in any way! It may, however, have received a gentle shampooing, but I've no confirmation of that. I just sort of like the idea of it is all.)
Here’s something I really love about Synapse Films. They don’t release a ton of movies, but, when they do release something, you can rest assured it’s going to be of the highest quality. When you look at this release, as well as their recent release of Curtains, it’s obvious that they take an enormous amount of pride in restoring these films to their fullest potential. Followers of Synapse on Facebook have been treated to frequent updates showing us the highs and the lows of the restoration process of these films (among others) and it’s just a joy to see their hard work come to fruition.
Of course a monumental release like this wouldn’t be complete without a host of quality bonus features, and Synapse doesn’t disappoint. We get a lengthy retrospective documentary entitled The Horrors of Hamilton High: The Making of Prom Night, which features interviews with director, Lynch, as well as assorted cast and crew, each offering insight into the making of the film and its enduring popularity among slasher fans. We also get a collection of footage shot specifically for the network television broadcast of the film (HD), a surprisingly large collection of outtakes (HD), and a feature-length commentary track with Lynch and writer William Gray. Rounding out the bonus goodies are the film’s theatrical trailer and TV spots (HD).
While Prom Night isn’t the best the slasher genre has to offer, it’s still an important part of the genre’s history, and a goofily entertaining and technically proficient film. The real star here, however, is Synapse’s amazing treatment of the property, which features an absolutely gorgeous transfer and a wonderful collection of interesting extras. This is quite obviously the definitive version of the film on any format, and comes highly recommended, so put on your boogie shoes and go out and grab this one!