This 80s Movie: Prom Night (1980)


(spoilers ahead)

Prom Night is a terribly formulaic and terrible slasher movie. It sets up everything it needs for a by-the-numbers slasher concept and follows it through without even the slightest hint of surprise. It starts out with a wrongdoing in the past, makes a time jump of six years (in which all the characters age by about 15 years), just so that a killer can take revenge on them for what they did as kids. It’s amateurishly filmed and acted, the dialogue is boring and even the murders are uninventive. Actually, the murders astonished me the most, since there is no attempt made to graphically show them at all, although movies like this are all about showing grisly murders. A lot of them happen off-screen and it takes the movie over an hour to even get there. Considering this is one of the first examples of slasher movies, it should have been clear to anyone seeing it in 1980 that there wouldn’t be another gem like Halloween anytime soon.

I picked the movie out of the pool of unseen 1980s movies to take a look at the archetypes of slasher movies and what makes them so problematic in most cases. I thought this is fitting, since together with Friday the 13th (which is by no means a good movie, but better than this crap), 1980 really started the slasher movie craze and its tendency for sequelizing itself to death.

The opening sequence of the movie already prepares you for the nonsense that’s about to come. A group of kids play a game of hide and seek in a “The killer is going to get you”-version. Establishing the idea that children are terrible monsters, they all act as nasty as possible and eventually make a little girl fall out of a window (which more looks like she jumps), which kills her. So they make a pact not to tell anyone, bla bla bla, six years later. The whole set-up is very silly and extremely over the top. There’s no reason established for the accident to happen, beside the fact that kids are evil and shouldn’t be trusted. Again, the Grimms would have been happy.

Prom Night - Past

Once we enter the flash forward and see all the kids at their High School (and seriously, they’re all at least 25 now), the movie is only about one thing: sex! It’s the day of their prom night, so maybe that makes them think more of sex than usual, but we get the sense that the men cannot think of anything else and most of the women neither. And if the women don’t, they are portrayed as prude and anxious. Jude (Joy Thompson) shows a tolerant attitude towards sex and men. When Slick (Sheldon Rybowski) picks her up, she doesn’t mind that he is not very attractive and the two of them remain the most likeable people in the movie (but more on that in a second). Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens) has an idiot boyfriend who wants nothing but sex from her. Nick (Casey Stevens) is also a nice guy and Wendy (Eddie Benton), the leader of the group and personified evil back then, is still bitchy. All the men want to have sex, all the women talk about who they should pick to have sex with, although they don’t seem to want it, but feel obliged to it.

Prom Night - Slick

The movie, though, enjoys having his women sexualized too. When Wendy and Lou (David Mucci) plot revenge against the others, they go to a drive-in, solely so the movie can show the bikini waitresses there. It pretends to be disgusted by Lou to lure at them, but the movie does the same. In another scene the retarded gardener (is he the killer?!?!? – it’s a terrible red herring that can never be taken seriously), is mocked by some girl who shows off her naked butt to him. Again, the movie uses this for two things, to show the girl as mean and stupid, but also to show her behind. The next scene shows all the girls in the shower. Followed by another scene in which Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Kelly are stalked by the killer for the first time, so they can run around in their bras for two minutes. The movie knows how to be creepy.

Prom Night - Waitress
Prom Night - Tennis

Then, finally, after a whole hour, prom night happens and we have to suffer through minutes of disco dance sequences (that’s the 80s for you). Kelly makes out with her stupid boyfriend and as he goes too far she tells him to stop, so he dumps her to find another girl to fuck. Throughout that painful scene, he is fully dressed and she is bare breasted. Then she is killed as the first victim. Is she punished for rejecting her boyfriend? Or does the movie just want to make her suffer out of principle?

Prom Night - Jude

We get to Jude and Slick having sex in his car. Again, they’re relaxed and have fun, they are enjoying themselves and their attitude never fits into this mean-spirited movie. Apart from the fact that they are both killed post-sex, following the “Death by Sex” trope and the spirit of the movie to destroy the slightest bit of fun and emotions. Her death is awfully nasty, out of nowhere; she has no chance to fight and is just stabbed repeatedly, while the killer jumps up and down like a little troll. Slick gets the chance to fight of course and dies a more “honorable” death by falling down a cliff in one of those cars that explode once they look at the ground. It’s the only enjoyable moment in the movie.

Prom Night - Kelly
Prom Night - Car

In the end, as they reveal that it’s the brother of the killed girl from the beginning (gasp!), he seems to wear lipstick, which was even set up to be stolen from his mother in a whole scene. But why? It’s not like it was his 10-year-old sister’s favorite lipstick. Or that he had to change his gender to kill everyone. But again, femininity is connected to evil. Which leaves us with a movie that’s slightly misogynist, reinforcing (or co-creating) the standard of the female slasher victim and focusing heavily on sex, while exploiting that sexuality for its own purpose. It’s a cold, mean movie with no real purpose or meaning, but still with the morals from 200 years ago. But maybe that represents the spirit of the 80s (or 1980) quite well.

Prom Night - Lipstick