Prom Night (1980 film)

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Prom Night
Prom night film poster.jpg
Original theatrical one-sided sheet, depicting the villain in a burglar mask
Directed byPaul Lynch
Produced byPeter R. Simpson
Richard Simpson
Written byWilliam Gray
Story byRobert Guza Jr.
StarringLeslie Nielsen
Jamie Lee Curtis
Music byPaul Zaza
Carl Zittrer
CinematographyRobert C. New
Edited byBrian Ravok
Distributed byAVCO Embassy Pictures
Release date
  • September 12, 1980 (1980-09-12) (Canada)
Running time
92 minutes
Budget$1.5 million CAD[1]
Box office$14.7 million USD[2]

Prom Night is a 1980 Canadian slasher film[3] directed by Paul Lynch, based on a story by Robert Guza Jr., and starring Jamie Lee Curtis and, in a supporting role, Leslie Nielsen. The story concerns a group of high school seniors who are targeted by a mysterious masked killer in revenge for their culpability in the accidental death of a young girl six years earlier. The anniversary of the incident falls on their high school's prom night, when the older sister of the dead girl is being crowned Prom Queen.

Filmed in Toronto in late 1979 on a budget of $1.5 million CAD and released in July 1980, Prom Night was a commercial success upon its release, especially within the drive-in theater circuit.[4] Despite receiving generally negative reviews from film critics as well as criticism from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert over its advertising campaign, the film went on to become Canada's highest-grossing horror film of 1980, earning nearly $15,000,000 in the United States. The film received Genie Award nominations for editing and for star Jamie Lee Curtis's performance, and would later accrue a following as a cult film,[5] not only for its horror status but also for its disco heavy soundtrack.


In 1974, 11-year-olds Wendy, Jude, Kelly, and Nick play hide-and-seek in an abandoned convent. When 10-year-old Robin tries to join them, the group starts teasing her by repeating "Kill! Kill! Kill!", leading to a scared Robin accidentally falling to her death through an open window. Instead of reporting the incident to the police, the children make a pact not to tell anyone what happened and keep the incident a secret. A shadow falls across Robin's body, revealing that someone else saw the whole thing. Later, a known rapist is mistakenly blamed for Robin's death and is arrested.

Six years later, in 1980, Robin's family attend her memorial on the anniversary of her death. Robin's teenage sister, Kim, and fraternal twin brother, Alex, are also preparing for the school prom to be held that evening. Their parents will also attend, as their father is the school principal. Kelly, Jude, and Wendy begin receiving anonymous obscene phone calls, while Nick ignores his ringing phone.

Kim and Nick are now dating and plan on attending prom together; Jude is asked by goofy jokester Seymour "Slick" Crane, who she meets by chance that morning; Kelly is going with her boyfriend, Drew (who is preoccupied with having sex with her despite objections); and mean girl Wendy, previously Nick's girlfriend, asks Lou, the school rebel, with the sole purpose of embarrassing Nick and her rival Kim at prom.

In the changing room after gym class, Kim and Kelly discover the locker room mirror severely cracked and a shard missing. The offender blamed for Robin's death has escaped and Lt. McBride, Nick's father, investigates. Wendy, Jude, and Kelly each find something disturbing in their lockers: their year book photos stabbed with a piece of glass. During the senior prom, Kim and Nick perform a dance number to impress Wendy who had insisted Nick would be getting back with her after the prom. Later, Kelly and Drew make out in the changing room, but Kelly refuses to continue to full sex, resulting in Drew angrily leaving. As Kelly gets dressed, an unidentified figure wearing a ski mask and all-black clothing stealthily approaches her and slits her throat with a mirror shard. Jude and Slick have sex and smoke marijuana in his van parked outside school grounds. Unbeknownst to them, they are being watched and are then attacked by the masked killer, who stabs Jude's throat. While attempting to drive away, Slick struggles with the killer, who jumps from the moving vehicle as Slick drives off a cliff to his death. McBride, staking out the prom, is informed that the sex offender blamed for Robin's death has been caught. He is relieved and ends his scrutiny of the event.

The killer, now wielding an ax, confronts and chases Wendy through the school. Evading the killer several times, she screams when she discovers Kelly's body in a storage room. This alerts the killer to her location, and she is killed. Kim and Nick prepare to be crowned prom king and queen, but Wendy's plan is put into action by Lou and his lackeys; they tie up Nick, and Lou takes his crown and assumes his position backstage. Mistaking him for Nick, the killer approaches Lou from behind and decapitates him. Lou's severed head rolls down the runway and onto the dance floor, sending the prom-goers fleeing in horror.

Kim finds Nick and frees him. As they prepare to escape, they are confronted by the killer who attacks Nick but not Kim. Eventually in the ensuing brawl, Kim bluntly strikes the killer's head with his own axe. She and the killer then stare at each other for a moment and Kim realizes who he really is. He runs outside where the police have arrived. As guns are raised, Kim screams for Lt. McBride not to shoot him. Although he obeys, the killer collapses, as he is already dying from his head wound. The killer is then revealed to be Alex, who explains to Kim that he witnessed his sister's death, and that Jude, Kelly, Wendy, and Nick were responsible. He cries Robin's name and dies in Kim's arms. Kim cries at the death of another sibling.




Director Paul Lynch developed Prom Night after a meeting with producer Irwin Yablans, who had previously produced Halloween (1978). Lynch had wanted to work on a horror film, and, in response to Yablan's suggestion that he utilize a holiday as a basis for the film, Lynch decided on building the premise around the event of the high school prom.[1] Writer Robert Guza Jr., of whom Lynch was an acquaintance, had written a story about a group of teenagers whose involvement in a tragic event as children came back to haunt them. Guza's story was then adapted and incorporated into the film as the central premise and motive for the film's villain.[1] After approaching producer Peter Simpson with the idea, Lynch and Simpson signed an agreement within a matter of four days.[1]

In the documentary Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006), Lynch stated he was having difficulty securing financing for the film until Jamie Lee Curtis signed onto the project; she received a salary of $30,000 (equivalent to $89,249 in 2017) for her appearance in the film.[6] According to the producer of Prom Night, Eve Plumb (from television's The Brady Bunch) originally auditioned for the role of Kim Hammond,[7] but was passed over after Jamie Lee Curtis' manager contacted Paul Lynch about doing the film.[1] A great deal of the actors and actresses playing the students were stage actors and recent theater graduates from the University of Toronto.[1]


Prom Night was filmed over twenty-four days in Toronto, Ontario, Canada from August 7 to September 13, 1979.[1] The Don Mills Collegiate Institute served as the main school location, while the Langstaff Jail Farm in Richmond Hill was used for the abandoned building featured prominently in the beginning of the film.[1]


After production wrapped, Paramount Pictures expressed interest in distributing the movie. However, they only wanted to open it in 300 theaters whereas AVCO Embassy Pictures offered to release it in 1,200 theaters. AVCO purchased the film at the Cannes film market in May 1980 (Paramount, instead, released another independent slasher film, Friday the 13th, which premiered two months before Prom Night).[8] The company subsequently developed an extensive marketing campaign to promote the film.[1] A theatrical trailer was released for the film in June 1980, described by Richard Nowell in Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle, as an "exact replica of [the trailer] for Carrie (1976)."[9]

Given a limited release in the United States on July 18, 1980,[10] Prom Night was a financial success. Its theatrical run expanded on August 15, 1980, and included midnight screenings in New York City.[11] The film went on to gross $14,796,236 at the U.S. box office.[2] It earned an addition $6 million in rentals during its home video release.[12]

Critical response[edit]

Upon release in 1980, Prom Night received mostly unfavorable reviews from critics, with frequent comparisons to Halloween (1978) and Carrie (1976).[13] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune referred to the film as a "watered-down cross between Carrie and Halloween," though he noted that the film was "not as violent as one might expect, based on those frightening ads of a masked man holding a phallic knife... You would think that Prom Night was another one of those hideous attacks-on-promiscuous-women pictures. It's not. Gender makes no difference in this routine revenge film."[14] Variety noted that the film "[borrows] shamelessly from Carrie and any number of gruesome exploitationers pic [from a story by Robert Gunza (sic) Jr.] manages to score a few horrific points amid a number of sagging moments."[15] Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave the film a middling review, writing: "Prom Night, the Canadian film that opened yesterday at the Loews State 2 and other theaters, is a comparatively genteel hybrid, part shock melodrama, like Halloween, and part mystery, though it's less a whodunit than a who's-doing-it."[16] He also praised the film's restrained violence, writing that director Lynch "chooses to underplay the bloody spectacle. This isn't to say that there aren't some sticky moments, including one not especially convincing decapitation, but that more often than not the camera cuts away, or the screen goes discreetly gray, before the audience is drenched in gore. This may or may not be the reason that the audience with which I saw the film yesterday booed at the end."[16] Jack Mathews of the Detroit Free Press also drew comparisons to Halloween and Carrie, though deeming it "not as effective as either."[17]

Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times deemed the film "an efficient rather than stylish Canadian-made horror picture that mercifully lets you complete its grislier moments in your imagination. Even so, its various jolts should be sufficient to satisfy scare-show fans."[18] The Atlanta Constitution reviewed the film favorably, deeming it a "surprisingly good scare film. At least the murderer actually has a motive, for a change. If nothing else, it proves there's still a line between a respectable horror film and gross exploitation."[19] The News-Press wrote: "If Carrie and Friday the 13th weren't enough for you, this will satisfy your appetite for youth, gore and chills."[20] The Montreal Gazette's Bruce Bailey praised Curtis's performance but criticized the film's lengthy exposition, noting that "it takes rather long to get down to the business of delivering a few shocks."[21]

In a review published by Time Out, the film was called "a sincere Halloween rip-off which takes time out to milk Carrie, Saturday Night Fever, and all those B-feature 'lust and rivalry' high school sagas," but praised Jamie Lee Curtis's performance, writing: "Curtis is superb as Miss Naturally Popular and Prom Queen-to-be, isolated in empty high school corridors."[22] TV Guide gave the film one out of four stars, writing: "Curtis disco-dancing and wonderful moments such as when the severed head of a victim rolls across the dance floor. Prom Night is better than most slasher movies, mainly because it's funnier."[23]

The film's advertising campaign was also criticized by Siskel and Roger Ebert in a September 18, 1980 episode of Sneak Previews, cited among a glut of other violent slasher films released the same year that thematized "Women in Danger."[24] Siskel and Ebert used the episode to criticize the advertising campaigns for several films, including Don't Answer the Phone, Hell Night, and Prom Night: "[These] ads have been saturating television for the past two years," said Ebert, "and the summer and fall of 1980 are the worst yet."[25]

The film has an approval rating of 45% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 19 reviews, certifying it "rotten".[13] AllMovie's review of the film was generally negative, but wrote that it "utilizes a surprising amount of skill both behind and in front of the camera as it goes through its paces".[26]


Prom Night
Prom Night 1980 soundtrack cover.jpg
Soundtrack album by
Paul Zaza
Carl Zittrer
  • Paul Zaza
  • Carl Zittrer

The Prom Night soundtrack was composed by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer, with additional writing by Bill Crutchfield and James Powell.[27] and Director Lynch sought Zittrer after hearing his compositions in Black Christmas (1974).[1] The soundtrack of Prom Night includes several disco songs which are featured prominently in the film's prom scene. Originally, the film was shot with the actors dancing to then-popular tracks by Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer,France Joli, and Pat Benatar, but, according to Zaza, the publishing rights to the songs were far outside the film's budget.[1]

Under orders from producer Peter Simpson, Zaza wrote a series of disco songs over a five-day period, closely copying the original tracks that were intended to be used in the film. This resulted in a copyright lawsuit for $10 million, which was eventually settled for $50,000.[1]

The film's soundtrack is highly sought after by fans of the film and disco fans alike. It was released only in Japan on LP and cassette. A 7-inch single of "All Is Gone" b/w "Forever" was also released; however, neither of these songs appears in the film. The soundtrack was likely not released in North America due in part to disco's declining popularity in the United States by 1980. Many bootleg CD releases have also found their way onto the marketplace, but Prom Night has never been officially issued on CD. Some of the music used in the film was used in Canadian horror productions that Paul Zaza scored as well; 1981's Ghostkeeper and 1983's Curtains.[28] "Prom Night" was used in 2009's Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever.

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer.

1."All Is Gone"Blue Bazar4:12
2."Prom Night" 3:01
3."Changes" 4:19
4."Dancing in the Moonlight" 2:57
5."Fade to Black"Gordene Simpson3:12
6."All Is Gone (reprise)"Blue Bazar4:12
7."Time to Turn Around" 4:24
8."Love Me Till I Die" 3:11
9."Prom Night 2" 3:34
10."Forever"Blue Bazar4:14
Total length:37:16

Home media[edit]

Prom Night has had an inconsistent release history on home video. It was originally released on VHS in 1981 by MCA Universal in North America, at the beginnings of home video popularity, licensed directly from then-production company SimCom, who had licensed theatrical distribution to Avco-Embassy. In 1988, it was re-released on VHS by Virgin Vision in tandem with the in-name-only sequel Hello Mary Lou; Prom Night II, which Virgin handled through a separate deal with that film's then-distributor The Samuel Goldwyn Company. In 1997, the film was re-released again, by Anchor Bay Entertainment, in both standard and "collector's" editions.[29] It was then released on DVD by Anchor Bay on February 18, 1998 with a re-mastered widescreen transfer, and was one of the company's first DVD releases. By 2000, Anchor Bay's DVD release had gone out of print and became a rarity, with fans starting online petitions for a re-release.[30]

In 2004, Alliance Atlantis released the film on DVD, but the film was sourced from an extremely dark, low-quality VHS transfer, which resulted in some of the film's darker scenes being nearly illegible; this transfer was also used for Platinum Disc's full-screen DVD edition of the movie for the US.

In September 2007, Echo Bridge Home Entertainment re-released the film on DVD in the United States in a completely re-mastered print from a PAL source, which was given an uncorrected transfer to NTSC. Due to the uncorrected transfer, the film is slightly "sped up," which, though mostly unnoticeable to the naked eye, reduced the film's run time by several minutes.[31]

On September 9, 2014, the film was released on Blu-ray and DVD by Synapse Films, featuring a restored print from the original film negatives, as well as featuring a documentary as well as outtakes, original promotional material, and deleted scenes from the network television cut as bonus material.


Sequels and remake[edit]

The Prom Night film series include four films and one remake (which tells a completely different story, with little connection to the 1980 film).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Felsher, Michael (2014). The Horrors of Hamilton High: The Making of Prom Night (documentary). Synapse Films/Red Shirt Pictures.
  2. ^ a b "Prom Night (1980)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  3. ^ Shary 2014, p. 165.
  4. ^ Miller, Rhett. "Review: Prom Night". Canuxploitation. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  5. ^ Wise 2001, p. 174.
  6. ^ Adilman, Sid (July 20, 1980). "Lucrative productions". Nanaimo Daily News. Nanaimo, British Columbia. p. 2 – via open access publication – free to read
  7. ^ "Curtains Unveiled: An Interview with Peter Simpson". The Terror Trap. August 2004. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  8. ^ Nowell 2010, p. 174.
  9. ^ Nowell 2010, p. 173.
  10. ^ Nowell 2010, p. 184.
  11. ^ Leogrande, Ernest (August 20, 1980). "A night in a B'way movie: the film is incidental". New York Daily News. p. 21 – via open access publication – free to read
  12. ^ Nowell 2010, p. 182.
  13. ^ a b "Prom Night (1980)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  14. ^ Siskel, Gene (July 21, 1980). "'Prom Night'". The Chicago Tribune. Tempo. p. 6.
  15. ^ Variety Staff (December 31, 1979). "Prom Night". Retrieved January 29, 2017.
  16. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (August 16, 1980). "'Prom Night,' Chiller from Canada, Masks Gore". The New York Times. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
  17. ^ Mathews, Jack (August 22, 1980). "You won't want a date for 'Prom Night'". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, Michigan. p. 6B – via open access publication – free to read
  18. ^ Thomas, Kevin (August 18, 1980). "The Gory Horror of 'Prom Night'". Los Angeles Times. p. 4 – via open access publication – free to read
  19. ^ "Prom Night". The Atlanta Constitution. Film. Atlanta, Georgia. September 27, 1980. p. 26 – via open access publication – free to read
  20. ^ "Prom Night". The News-Press. At the Movies. Fort Myers, Florida. September 26, 1980. p. 3D – via open access publication – free to read
  21. ^ Bailey, Bruce (November 24, 1980). "'Prom' short on needed shocks". Montreal Gazette. p. 47 – via open access publication – free to read
  22. ^ "Prom Night, directed by Paul Lynch". Time Out. London, England. Archived from the original on December 18, 2014. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  23. ^ "Prom Night". TV Guide. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved January 22, 2017.
  24. ^ Siskel, Gene (September 21, 1980). "Brutal attacks on women: Films take a turn for the worse". The Chicago Tribune. Arts & Books. pp. 6–7.
  25. ^ Martin 2016, pp. 17–18.
  26. ^ Guarisco, Donald. "Prom Night - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  27. ^ Osborne 2010, p. 471.
  28. ^ "Chords of Fear: An Interview with Paul Zaza". The Terror Trap. February 2010. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  29. ^ "Amazon Catalogue: Prom Night [VHS]". Retrieved April 12, 2014.
  30. ^ Garbarini, Tom (March 24, 2013). "Fans Petition for DVD Release of "Curtains" and "Prom Night"". CinemaRetro. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  31. ^ Powers, Gabriel (September 9, 2014). "Prom Night (US - BD RA)". DVD Active. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  32. ^ "Best Performance by a Foreign Actress". Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Genies. Archived from the original on February 13, 2012. Retrieved December 22, 2016.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]