Released by: Synapse Films
Released on: September 9th, 2014.
Director: Paul Lynch
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Eddie Benton
Year: 1980 Purchase From Amazon
“It isn't who you go with it's who takes you home.”
Directed by Paul Lynch, 1980’s Prom Night begins with an eerie and unsettling prologue in which a quartet of young primary school aged children are playing in an old abandoned building. When a girl named Robin Hammond tries to join in on the game, they walk towards her chanting ‘KILL, KILL, KILL.’ Understandably freaked out by this, she backs away and winds up falling to her death through a rickety old glass window. The four kids - Wendy Richards, Jude Cunningham, Kelly Lynch, and Nick McBride – decide to keep the cause of Robin’s death a secret and sweat to never tell anyone. They figure no one has seen them and they flee the scene and the cops blame the murder on an escaped mental patient.
Fast forward a few years later and Robin’s older sister, Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis), and brother Alex (Michael Tough), are students enrolled at Hamilton High School where their father (Leslie Nielson) resides as the principal. Everyone at the school is getting ready for the prom, which just so happens to fall on the anniversary of Robin’s murder, and the mood is celebratory for the most part. There are exceptions, however. Wendy (Anne-Marie Martin) is upset that her boyfriend Nick (Casey Stephens) has dumped her for Kim and that the two of them are going to be King and Queen of the prom! On top of that, there’s a dimwitted thug of a student named Leo (David Mucci) hell bent on making Kim his girlfriend whether she likes it or not. On top of that, Kelly, Jude and Wendy have all received strange, menacing phone calls. At least Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens) has found herself a date in the form of a van driving nerd named Slick (Sheldon Rybowski). As the prom gets closer and reports of an escaped lunatic once again circulate in the area, tensions rise. The town’s top cop, Lieutenant McBride (George Touliatos), puts his men on the case and they give chase when it turns out a nurse was murdered during the escape, but something is going on at Hamilton High, something far more dangerous and it isn’t the ‘Disco Madness’ theme either…
Prom Night is dated, Prom Night is kind of corny and Prom Night is, by modern standards in which we’ve become jaded by slasher film stereotypes, more than a little predictable but none of those issues really tarnish the film’s entertainment factor. In fact, it may be because Prom Night hits all of those notes when we want them that it has remained a cult classic all these years. When you factor in the self-awareness that would become part and parcel with the genre in a post-Scream horror universe and how that would shape the countless films that would follow in its wake, Prom Night seems in many ways a charmingly naïve and simple film.
At the same time, while it may have been made to take advantage of the success of pictures like Black Christmas (the creepy phone calls would seem to have been inspired by Bob Clark’s picture) and Halloween (Curtis’ casting, obviously) it does enough in its own way to stand apart. A big part of what makes it as memorable as it is? Well, there are some great kill scenes and although the film is a little slow to start the last twenty-minute or so definitely make up for that, but you can levy that same observation about a lot of slashers. No, what really makes Prom Night stand out in a big way is its unabashed celebration of disco! Sure the kids all get in on it, you’d expect that given that this is their night and all, but not to be outdone Leslie Nielsen’s Mr. Hammond gets in on it too. Obviously these scenes date the movie but a lot of what makes Prom Night fun is just that – it’s very much a product of its time. From the fashions to the van with the shag interior to the KISS posters in the cafeteria to the music it flaunts the era in which it was made in your face from start to finish and it does it all with a completely straight face. To some of us, that’s a great thing indeed. The fact that it’s actually quite nicely shot and lit helps in this regard too.
The performances here are fine, even if the characters do tend to play to stereotypes. Nielsen is underused but fun to watch while George Touliatos as the increasingly frantic cop does fine in his part. This one revolves a lot more around the younger ‘high schoolers’ than the adult cast, however. Top billed Jamie Lee Curtis, still riding high from playing Laurie Strode in the aforementioned John Carpenter film, looks great here. Her smile is charming, she plays the part well and while she and everybody else in the cast all look a little older than their characters are supposed to be, so be it. Anne-Marie Martin is really good as the typical ‘rich bitch’ character, complete with the fancy sports car and spoiled brat mean streak while David Mucci is fun as the misogynist ‘ape’ Leo – he even smokes in the hallways of the school! Casey Stephens is kind of generic as Nick but Mary Beth Rubens and Sheldon Rybowski are fun as Kelly and Slick.
All of this makes it easy to look past Prom Night’s shortcomings and enjoy it for what it is. It’s not the scariest horror movie ever made though it does have some solid tension in the big finish. The whole thing does tend to deal in clichés but at the same time the movie is actually bold enough to ask us to sympathize with the killer in spots (even going so far as to literally force us to look into the killer’s eyes, some very humanizing moments these are). The disco aspect of it, which does run pretty deep in the movie, is really goofy but so too is it a lot of fun – and evidently it was influential enough to go on to spawn three sequels (why isn’t Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II on Blu-ray???) and a lousy 2008 remake!
Synapse presents Prom Night in a 1.78.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition scanned in 2K from the original negative and it looks excellent. The film has been released on DVD previously by Anchor Bay in a dull non-anamorphic transfer. After that it came out by way of a crummy looking Platinum Entertainment DVD and then later by Echo Bridge in an open matter version and then a (surprisingly) better anamorphic version but this Blu-ray, not surprisingly, mops the floor with those releases. You get exactly the sort of upgrade you’d want from a properly authored Blu-ray here in terms of image depth, clarity, detail and texture and as such you can notice all sorts of things previously obscured or just sort of washed out. Pay close attention and notice some pictures of KISS hung up in a locker or check out the peeling paint and noticeable dirt build up in the abandoned buildings in the opening scene with the kids for example. Just as importantly and really even more obvious, however, is the amazing improvement in color reproduction. Those past DVDs were pretty lacking in that regard but this new transfer pops in every way imaginable. The red shag interior of Slick’s van look amazing and the disco sequences with their kooky fashions and swirling lights look fantastic. Black levels are pretty much reference quality here and aside from a few white specks the pop up once in a while, the picture is damn near pristine. Some grain is apparent, as it should be, and there are no obvious issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement. Compression artifacts never once pop up and skin tones look lifelike and realistic. It might sound corny to say, but it’s absolutely true – this is Prom Night like you’ve never seen it before and it’s really a sight to behold.
Audio options are provided in English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono and DTS-HD 5.1 options with removable subtitles provided in English only. Both tracks are rock solid, with the Mono option sure to suit purists and the surround mix really opening things up in those disco scenes. There’s some solid directionality in the remix as well that you’ll definitely pick up on. Regardless of which option you prefer, both tracks are clean and clear and properly balanced with no hiss or distortion related issues. The music really pumps during the prom but never to the point where it sounds boosted or buries things it shouldn’t bury… like dialogue and what not. No complains here, the audio quality is great.
The extras start off with an audio commentary from Director Paul Lynch, Screenwriter William Gray and moderator Paul Jankiewicz. This is a pretty screen specific track that starts off with Lynch talking about how story writer Robert Gouza played the game the kids play in that scene as a child himself, which is where the inspiration came from. They talk up the locations, how they wound up with them and how that scene sets everything up. From there they discuss Leslie Nielsen’s involvement, the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis and the importance of that move and lots more. There’s discussion here about how Anne-Marie Martin went on to write the blockbuster Twister, the importance of luck when it comes to filmmaking, and yes, the important role that ‘Disco Madness’ plays in that movie. Lynch dominates this track, he has a relentless energy here and he is never once at a loss for words when it comes to discussing this picture. Gray and Jankiewicz chime in here and there and keep him on track when he occasionally goes off topic a bit and the end result is a very fast paced track with a lot of good information but that’s relayed in a pretty laid back, casual and sometimes very funny way.
From there, check out the all new forty-one minute long featurette The Horrors Of Hamilton High: The Making Of Prom Night featurette. The featurettes starts off with an interview with Lynch who talks about the involvement of producer Peter Simpson, the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis, his relationship with Charles B. Pierce and quite a bit more. Mary Beth Rubens talks about working with the great cast on the picture and what an experience it was for her and Joy Thompson talks about the camaraderie that some of the cast members shared on set. Michael Tough discusses the audition process and how he was told he reminded Paul Lynch of himself when he was a teenager and art director Rueben Freed talks about how he went straight to an old abandoned mental hospital in Toronto because he had seen it for years and knew it was perfect. Jeff Wincott shows up and shares some stories about his work in front of the camera on the picture, Lynch waxes nostalgic about shooting the dance scenes and there’s a fair bit of discussion of the ending and the way that the movie unfolds. As the piece comes towards its finish prosthetics creator Warren Keillor talks about how he had to make the head for the movie, which is also quite interesting. Composer Paul Zaza talks about the soundtrack and how Peter Simpson originally figured he could buy the rights to some disco hits before finding how much it was all going to cost, after which he tasked Zaza with coming up with six disco songs in five days time. It’s a thorough, interesting and well put together piece and while Lynch’s thoughts echo some of what he covers in the commentary ,the involvement of the other cast and crew members really rounds it out quite nicely as do the behind the scenes and promotional images used throughout. No involvement from Ms. Curtis, but otherwise this is great stuff.
The disc also includes about eleven minutes’ worth of scenes that were added for the movie when it was shown on television that are introduced by Editor Michael MacLaverty (who also worked on Curtains). As most readers will realize, when movies played on television in years past often times the stronger content would need to be taken out but to keep the running time feature length, additional material would be included, and that’s just what happened with Prom Night. The scenes included here are entitled Dr. Fairchild (a scene where the Hammond parents talk to a psychiatrist), Temporary Secretary (a scene where Mr. Hammond meets his unexpected new secretary), Passing Notes (a scene shot in a classroom where some of the female students pass notes to each other), Looking For Dad (Curtis’ character heads into her dad’s office and meets the secretary), Working Out (that same secretary exercises on the floor and reads a fashion magazine and has a talk with Curtis) and Family Time (a scene at the Hammond home where Nielsen chops wood and talks to Curtis followed by a scene with Curtis’ character and her mother).
Exclusive to the Blu-ray release and quite interesting to see are approximately twenty-there minutes of Outtakes From Prom Night. These have never been seen before and are presented without audio so some music from the film has been put over top. Seen here is a fair bit more footage shot in the abandoned building, more from the school, lots of excess disco dancing footage, some scenes of the killer stalking his prey and some outtakes from some of the kill scenes as well. Interesting stuff, presented complete with clapboards and all! Rounding out the extras is an extensive motion still gallery of promotional materials, the film’s original theatrical trailer, a few television and radio spots, animated menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
Prom Night might be dated and it might be a little slow in spots but it remains a classic slasher film, an iconic horror picture with some really memorable kill scenes, some fun performances and an infectiously catchy soundtrack! Synapse has finally done right by the film, providing it the special edition treatment that its fans have wanted for years now and presenting it in an absolutely fantastic transfer.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!