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Film / Prom Night (1980)

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"The killer is coming!"
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Released in 1980, Prom Night opens with an unfortunate death of a child, caused by a group of kids playing a variation of hide-and-seek in an abandoned building teasing a girl, leading her to fall from a window. The kids never told anyone what happened and the little girl's death was blamed on Leonard Murch, a psychopathic sex fiend who is caught shortly after.

Several years later, students of Hamilton High are preparing for prom. But unbeknownst to them, a masked killer looking for revenge has invited himself to it.

The film features Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen in starring roles, and has since become a cult classic, especially among slasher fans, even inspiring some elements of Scream (1996). It is also remembered for its disco soundtrack, which is sought out by collectors. It was also popular enough to receive three In Name Only sequels; Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987), Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990) and Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil (1992). A loose remake was also released in 2008.

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This film has the examples of:

  • The '70s: The prologue is set in 1974. The main events of the film are technically set in The '80s, but because it's only 1980, it still has strong 70's vibes, complete with a disco soundtrack. Heck, the theme for the prom is "Disco Madness". Notably, the movie was still filmed in late Summer 1979.
  • Actor Allusion: This wasn't the first Slasher Film starring Jamie Lee Curtis that involved an escaped homicidal maniac. In this film though, said homicidal maniac turns out to be a Red Herring.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Averted, as all the girls are repulsed by Lou. Good girl Kim and bad girl Wendy are in fact rivals for good boy Nick.
  • Alpha Bitch: Wendy was this right from childhood as she manipulated a group of other kids to keep the accidental death of Robin a secret. She grows up to be a very straight example of this, as she's openly jealous of Kim being voted Prom Queen and taking her boyfriend Nick. She then attempts to win her man back and sabotage the prom.
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  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Alex, whose anger over his twin Robin's death drives him to commit five murders over a single night.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Wendy and Lou, who conspire to ruin the prom crowning of Nick and Kim for their own ends.
    • Leonard Murch, the guy who was wrongfully charged with killing Robin. Although he was innocent of that particular crime, he's still a rapist.
  • Auto Erotica: Jude and Slick use the latter's van to have some good times by the bluffs.
  • An Axe to Grind: Killer's weapon of choice for killing his targets in the prom. And that's what's used to kill him.
  • Ballroom Blitz: The disco themed prom is ruined by the killer scaring everyone off by decapitating Lou, and then attacking the Prom King.
  • Bare Your Midriff: About halfway through the film, Wendy is shown lying on her bed while talking to Lou on the phone, with her shirt open and abdomen exposed.
  • Betty and Veronica: Nice Girl Kim and Alpha Bitch Wendy for Nick.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Easygoing Alex, who seems perfectly happy helping with the lighting at the prom and assisting the DJ rather than attending with a date. He's the killer.
  • Big Bad: The killer, who turns out to be Alex Hammond, who is seeking to avenge the death of his sister Robin.
  • Big "NO!": Kim gives one right before landing a fatal blow on the killer.
  • Big Ol' Unibrow: Lou, a Type I unibrow sporter due to being an asshole.
  • Black Spot: Alongside the Harassing Phone Calls, the killer leaves a yearbook photo of each target in their lockers, some with glass shards pointing at their throats.
  • Blind Without 'Em: When Jude comments about the amount of the stars in the night sky to Slick, he replies that he guessed about it, as he sees poorly without his glasses.
  • Book-Ends: The film begins and ends with the death of one of the Hammond siblings.
  • Book Safe: Slick keeps his joints in a hollowed history book.
  • Bound and Gagged: Nick tied up with tape and left hidden in a corner of a backstage after being attacked by Lou and his goons.
  • Broom Stick Quarterstaff: Wendy knocks the killer down with a broom (and lays on a couple of additional blows while he's done) when she escapes from the auto shop.
  • Camping a Crapper: The killer makes his first attempt to kill Wendy while she's in the bathroom applying mascara.
  • Canada, Eh?: Despite the middle American setting, the film's mostly Canadian cast makes little-to-no attempt to hide their native accents.
  • Cassandra Truth: Sykes tries to warn the party guests about the killer, but he is so drunk that he is taken away by the police.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Kim throws a chair at the killer during the climactic confrontation.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Lou's ski mask that Principal Hammond throws into a garbage bin later appears worn by the killer.
  • Children Are Cruel: Robin dies due to the teasing of the other kids in the opening.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Wendy to Nick.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: All the girls wear a different color dress to the prom.
    • Kim: Pink
    • Wendy: Red
    • Kelly: White
    • Jude: Light Blue
    • Vicky: Dark Blue
  • Cool Big Sis: Kim to Alex. She's the only person who can get him to lighten up.
  • Covers Always Lie: Echo Bridge's DVD cover has Jamie Lee Curtis staring devilishly at the camera and holding an ax, falsely implying that she's the killer. Another cover recycled her face from the Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later poster.
  • Cradling Your Kill: Kim holds Alex in her arms after striking him down.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Mr. Sykes, the janitor of Hamilton High is a weird guy who stares at the girls creepily.
  • Cute Bookworm: Jude.
  • Daddy's Girl: Kim.
  • Dark Secret: The children who accidentally kill Robin vow to tell no one. They don't realize someone else figured out what happened, but who?
  • Deadpan Snarker: Wendy at times.
  • Death by Sex: Averted with Kelly, who is killed just after she chickens out on going through with the deed with her boyfriend Drew. Played straight with Jude and Slick, whose first time turns out to be their last.
  • Death of a Child: The film opens with the accidental death of Robin Hammond.
  • Destination Defenestration: Robin dies as she accidentally falls through a window in the opening.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Over an hour is used to build up the characters before the killer offs his first victim.
  • Downer Ending: All but one of the secret keepers die, the surviving target's secret is exposed, destroying his reputation, and the killer gets an Alas, Poor Villain sendoff as he dies in his sister's arms while sobbing about his other sister's death and the injustice of her killers covering it up. Not to mention the prom is completely ruined.
  • Dramatic Unmask: The killer is unmasked as he lays dying on the ground in the ending.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Wendy tells Lou she doesn't want their prank to ruin the prom crowning to seriously hurt anyone.
  • Event Title
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Slick's van explodes immediately after it rides over the edge of the bluffs.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: The killer was introduced via a shadow standing over Robin Hammond's body, so someone found the body and knows who killed her, but who?
  • Evil Plan: The killer is picking off a group of teens who accidentally killed a little girl as children.
  • Evil Wears Black: For the climax, the killer wears a black sweater, matching slacks, black shoes, and a ski mask.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film takes place over the course of two days that are six years apart.
  • Failed a Spot Check: As Drew leaves the locker room, he apparently didn't notice the masked killer sneaking in behind him to cut Kelly's throat.
  • Famous Last Words: "Saw it, saw it all. They did it, they killed her. They killed Robin! Robin!" Alex Hammond
  • Final Girl: Kim is built up to be one, but it is then subverted when it's revealed that she wasn't a target at all.
    • The film does, however, feature a final boy with Nick, the only target to live. All three female targets die.
  • Flashback: The Harassing Phone Call scene where the killer calls each target is intercut with a flashback to each child the day Robin died, to remind the audience which one is being called.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Nick is the only one of the four targets who doesn’t answer the phone and doesn't find his photo in his locker. He winds up being the only survivor.
    • Kelly and Jude receive their yearbook photos with glass pointing at their throats. Both receive deaths via glass to their throats.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The four targets: bubbly Cute Bookworm Jude (sanguine), domineering Alpha Bitch Wendy (choleric), jumpy and nervous Kelly (melancholic) and level-headed and reflective Nick (phlegmatic).
  • Girlish Pigtails: Kelly has her hair in ponytails in the gym class and locker room scenes.
  • Glass Cannon: Alex can deck a person with a single punch, but a similar blow is enough to floor him, as shown in the cafeteria fight with Lou's cronies.
  • Grave-Marking Scene: The first scene after the Time Skip is the Hammond family visiting Robin's grave.
  • Harassing Phone Call: The killer makes threatening phone calls to his soon-to-be victims. The only one who doesn't answer their phone call is Nick, who becomes the sole survivor.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The killer is struck down with his own axe when Kim slashes the side of his head.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The killer plots to carry out their massacre on the night of the senior prom. And because it marks six years since Robin's death.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy:
    • Robin was killed by glass shards entering her throat.
    • The killer stabs Jude in the throat.
  • Improvised Weapon: The killer breaks a mirror in the girls' changing room, and uses one of its shards to kill Kelly and Jude.
  • In Medias Res: An example that doesn't become apparent until The Reveal, but after Alex is seen at the school, the phone calls are made to each of the targets. Then he tears their yearbook photos out and makes more threats.
  • In the Back: Lou takes Alex down in the cafeteria brawl with a punch to the kidneys.
  • Karma Houdini: While Lou gets killed for upstaging Nick by knocking him out, his cronies get no comeuppance.
  • Karmic Death: Lou's attempt to upstage Nick by knocking him out and taking his place backstage ends up backfiring when the killer mistakes him for Nick and takes his head off.
  • Lady in Red: Wendy's outfit for the prom is a glittery red dress.
  • Little "No": Kim lets out one when she realizes that the killer is her brother Alex.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: The film closes with a melancholy piano line as Kim cradles Alex as he dies from his wounds.
  • Love Triangle: Wendy loves Nick, but Nick loves Kim and Wendy isn't happy about it.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Jude and Slick go to have sex on the edge of the bluffs, but are spooked by the killer, so they return to Slick's van. Where they're murdered.
  • Male Gaze: We get two gratuitous shots of camera following a female character's behind, including a Mooning.
  • Man on Fire: Leonard Murch in McBride's flashbacks is shown leaving his crashed and flaming car while on fire.
  • Match Cut: The shot of Kelly's slashed throat is immediately followed by one of a bowl of red punch.
  • Misplaced Accent: Apparently, people from suburban Ohio sound exactly like Canadians.
  • Mooning: One of Kim's friends moons Sykes when she sees him picking up trash next to the tennis court.
  • Murder by Mistake: The slasher accidentally beheads Lou instead of Nick because Lou is standing in the darkness backstage wearing Nick's Prom King crown.
  • My Greatest Failure: Nick is racked with guilt over his role in Robin's death six years earlier.
  • Nature Tinkling: Slick leaves the van to relieve himself and is nearly killed by the slasher before Jude drags him off to have sex on the bluffs.
  • Neutral Female: Averted. When the killer goes after Nick, Kim does everything in her power to stop him, which ultimately leads to his death.
  • Off with His Head!: Lou's head is knocked off with an axe as he waits behind the curtains to become the prom king. His head then rolls to the view of the prom attendants, who promptly panic and leave the premises in a hurry.
  • Once Is Not Enough: Wendy makes a run out of the auto shop and knocks out the killer with a broom in the process, and keeps going when he falls to the floor in pain.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: When the children leave after Robin is killed, a shadow appears over Robin's body, indicating that they know what those kids did and that they are the killer. At the very end of the film, this shot is shown again but the camera moves up to reveal that the person who found Robin was Alex.
  • Oral Fixation: Lou is constantly chewing gum.
  • Outside Ride: When Slick attempts to escape by driving away, the killer clings to the outside of his van.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Wendy gives out her location to the killer when she is startled by Kelly's corpse dropping from a shelf in the closet that she is hiding in.
  • Police Are Useless: Lt. McBride is present at the prom obsessing over the wrong suspect while the real killer is offing prom attenders practically under his nose.
  • Prom Wrecker: Being a Slasher Movie in which a masked killer hacks up teenagers at their senior prom, this trope is naturally at play.
  • Prone to Tears: Kelly, as shown when she starts to cry right after Robin is killed. In her last scene when Drew leaves her, she’s about to start crying but doesn’t get very far before the killer comes up behind her and cuts her throat.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Principal Hammond tells Lou that he's a disgrace to the school and the community before suspending him "indefinitely."
  • Redemption Equals Life: Nick, the only one of Robin's tormentors who seems to feel any guilt about her death is the only one who survives the film.
  • Red Herring: There are quite a few suspects in the film.
    • The escaped psychopath Leonard Murch, who got the blame for Robin's death six years ago, has a possible motive as the killer—getting revenge against the kids who let him take the fall for a crime he didn't commit.
    • The weird Mr. Sykes is rumored to be a Peeping Tom who spies on the female students in the gym lockers. There is also a scene in which Mr. Sykes cleans up the broken glass, which the killer sent to each of the victims.
    • The principal, Mr. Hammond, has a strong motive since the deceased Robin was his child, not to mention that Hammond confiscated the ski mask worn earlier by Lou Farmer. Later, Mr. Hammond also conveniently disappears once the masked killer begins murdering students around the school grounds.
    • The bad boy Lou is a notably violent character and owns a ski mask that the killer wears. Wendy also believes that he is behind the Harassing Phone Call she received.
  • The Reveal: The killer is Kim's brother Alex, who sought to avenge their sister's death by killing those responsible.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • Alex's reluctance to go to the prom with Jude. Why would he want to go with someone he knows killed his sister?
    • Alex taking a job as the secondary DJ. The DJ’s box is the highest point in the dance room, meaning that Alex has a vantage point where he can keep tabs on everyone.
    • Alex attacking Lou in the cafeteria seems like My Sister Is Off-Limits! played for excessiveness. However it's Foreshadowing that Alex is not as runty as he seems, and that he has a violent side...
    • Alex's complaint that he smells like a girl's locker room. While treated as a "not liking girly stuff" moment, we learn that Alex 'was in the girl's locker room since he smashed all the mirrors and took one of the shards to use as a weapon.
    • Alex throws a dirty look when Lou and Wendy enter the prom. On the first watch we think he's glaring at Lou, for their fight earlier. But on the second, it's clear he's actually glaring at Wendy because he plans on killing her.
  • Rich Bitch: Wendy, as evident by the huge house she lives in, her nice car and offhand remarks of buying things.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: It's abundantly clear, what with the killer's talk that it's "[their] turn", that they want to take revenge on the four children (now grown) who killed Robin Hammond. The question is: whose revenge?
  • Sarcastic Clapping: Wendy gives one to Kim after witnessing her practicing her moves on the dance floor, followed by her threatening to take Nick away from her.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Robin's photo accompanied by flowers and her teddy bear are displayed on the mantelpiece in the Hammonds' living room.
  • Slashed Throat: Kelly meets her death by getting her throat cut with a mirror shard.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: As the killer chases Wendy through the school, the viewer can hear the upbeat music from the prom echoing through the hallway.
  • Speech Impediment: Robin's stammer—possibly why she is ostracized by the other children.
  • Staring Through the Sword: The theatrical poster shows the killer looking past a mirror shard he’s holding, with a dead woman reflected in it.
  • The Stoner: Slick. He may not have the looks, but he makes up for it with weed.
  • Supporting Protagonist: The film is mostly told from Kim Hammond's perspective, despite not being much involved in the main conflict, and wasn't even a target for the killer. This is most likely because she was played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Better (and more interesting) choices for protagonists would've been her boyfriend Nick (basically the Final Boy), Wendy (the surprisingly complex Alpha Bitch), and her brother Alex (the killer).
  • There Are No Therapists: Zigzagged depending on the cut. The theatrical cut plays it straight while the director's cut averts it since the second scene after the Time Skip shows Mr. Hammond visiting a family therapist.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The film was among the first Slasher Movies released in the eighties, and it contains some of the typical cliches (the title, death by decapitation, a masked killer etc.) of the era. However, the Unbuiltness is evident by its killer, who isn't silent, slow-walking or a heavy damage shrugging monstrosity. Instead, he's some guy in a ski mask who makes mistakes like any other person would (at one point he rushes after his victim, and in the hurry forgets his axe) and is ultimately defeated by a blow to the head with a blunt instrument.
  • Villain Song: The end credits song "Fade to Black." Listen closely to the lyrics.
  • Virgin in a White Dress: Kelly wears a white dress to the prom and intended to have sex with her boyfriend only to get cold feet.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We are not told where Kim's dad has disappeared to at the end of the movie. There are photos of him arriving right at the end, but these were left on the cutting room floor.
  • Where It All Began: The film's end credits play over a shot of the abandoned building where Robin was killed.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Alex.
  • You Killed My Father: Alex's motivation is built around the fact that Nick, Wendy, Kelly, and Jude killed his sister.

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