For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: Prom Night, directed by Paul Lynch, 1979 The Film
A group of four kids playing a completely warped breed of hide-and-seek succeed in accidentally offing one of their classmates. They flee the scene and swear never to speak of it again. A known child-molester is blamed for the crime and, while being pursued by police, gets into a car accident that incapacitates him for six years. The kids meanwhile grow to red-blooded high school teenagers preparing for...you guessed it, prom. But someone is stalking the four original tykes; harassing with phone calls and stalking in the shadows. Who is this mysterious madman and how does he know what really happened that fateful day? Will they make it to prom alive? Will they have dates?!!
Prom Night's status as a classic is debatable only in as much as the nature of the word itself. Is it a classic example of top-notch filmmaking? Not even a little bit! Is it a classic early 80's slasher that helped define some of the rules while the genre was still young? Absolutely! It is monumentally cheesy and has that hazy, otherworldly tint to it that only the early 80's could produce which only augments the entertainment value. It succeeded in creeping out a much younger version of me so it cannot be touted as a complete failure. Plus, it's Canadian! I tend to like early 80's, Canadian horror films and though this holds no candle whatsoever to My Bloody Valentine, it definitely has its moments.
Prom Night is one of several Jamie Lee Curtis horror vehicles of this time period and I have to say, as much as she looks like the mother of the other students instead of a student herself, I really like her in this. I find her quirky, funny, and even vulnerable. When the proverbial excrement begins hitting the fan, she doesn't know exactly what to do; similar in that respect to her Laurie from Halloween. But I also like that they don't introduce her to the bloodshed until just before the end because it allows the film to be just as much about the killer as it is about the flagship actress they were able to pull. And you have to love Leslie Nielsen (also in Terror Tuesday alum Day of the Animals) as the principal with the most serious face in the world considering where his career would take him just a few years later.
The really interesting thing to me about Prom Night is that I get the impression that the director borrowed heavily from giallo with regard to how he approached the killer. The killer's menacing phone calls and they way they are filmed seem partially influenced by Italian horror, but it's more the camera work used as he is stalking his prey in person that smacks of giallo. There are beaucoup de frames of the light gleaming lavishly across the various blades as the killer roams the halls and just as many shots of his gloved hands. The blades are filmed almost as fetishistic as the nudity which also seemed reminiscent of giallo. Apart from the killer, the similarities abruptly end but it was still very interesting to me and prompted discussions about Lynch's inspirations.
I don't know a soul who would propane the perfection of Prom Night. This thing is chock full of flawed characterizations of teenagers that suggest an ancient screenwriter's hand. My favorite part is the homelier than homely kid that ends up hooking up with one of the very hot members of the teen quartet. I would be quick to play the b.s. card except that moment is so loaded with inspiring geek hope that I dare not shatter that fragile dream. Jamie Lee is not the only 30 year-old-looking teen at this high school but that is really more a bizarre byproduct of the time that I've never fully understood. The thing that makes Prom Night uniquely bad among slashers is that the time we spend with these characters is far more interesting than the kills. I know it sounds backwards, and that's because it is, but apart from a shocking decapitation there isn't much to sing about when deconstructing the homicidal aspects of the film.
Overall I really like Prom Night, but that may be due in large part to my personal connection to it. When I started watching horror movies as a kid, I was a bit of an obsessive completionist. I was raised to love Carpenter and saw Halloween every year, so I ran through all the sequels systematically. When I discovered Psycho and Friday the 13th, I followed suit by running through all their various rehashes. Prom Night was the first slasher film I saw that was sort of apart from the big guys and I have still yet to see any of the sequels. I didn't know any sequels existed at the time so I thought I was viewing the sole entry. In my mind, at the time. this was avant-garde. It was something different while still feeling very familiar and though my understanding of its quality has evolved, I still have a soft spot in my black heart for it.
Not to sound like a broken record, or someone with no grasp of the actual audience base for the event, but this week's show was populated by many people who are strangers to Terror Tuesday. There were gaggles of college girls out on the town and their counterpart frat boys enjoying as much Red Bull as they did beer. I in no way mean this to sound derogatory, nor do I wish to generalize, but sufficed to say these are not faces frequently in attendance. I think the "slasher classic" distinction instilled a bit more bravery into those who may not otherwise consider Terror Tuesday a worthy venue for an evening out. But as rowdy as these newbies were prior to the film, they demonstrated a marked level of respect during the film and never made a sound. My surprise at this may appear prejudiced, but it made me realize that true movie geekdom is not a faction, but a collective understanding of why the film-going experience deserves reverence.