Monday, October 19, 2015

Prom Night

Prom Night
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One of the many nice things about the first Scream movie is how it is, among other things, a love letter to Jamie Lee Curtis. There were other actresses who built their reputations on horror movies before her, but Curtis, more than most, is not only primarily associated with the genre, she managed to transcend it as well, and become a more complete actress, appearing in comedies like A Fish Called Wanda and Trading Places, as well as action movies like Blue Steel and True Lies. Currently, Curtis is back in the spotlight as the anchor of a new TV show called, appropriately enough, Scream Queens. From what I've read, it appears to be a modern homage to the slasher flicks of yore that made Curtis a star, but it looks like it hasn't been received too well.

As you know, Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of a pair of Hollywood legends: Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. They married in 1951 in defiance of Curtis' studio, Universal-International, who thought it would ruin his career. Obviously, it didn't. It was the first of six marriages for Curtis, while for Leigh it was her third. They divorced in 1962. In addition to Jamie Lee, they had another daughter, Kelly.

As Scream laid out so explicitly, Jamie Lee Curtis was a long-lasting Final Girl in horror movies like the Halloween franchise and today's subject, Prom Night, because her characters always followed The Rules, but in addition, she always struck me as being so much more mature than her peers. She was 22 when she made Prom Night, only two years after Halloween, but in watching her, she seems to have a certain poise, one that's so unlike so many of the teeny-bopper starlets that inhabit contemporary horror movies. I mean, she wears a jacket with elbow patches in this movie and gets away with it! And she has aged so gracefully too. Must be all that yogurt she eats!

Leslie Nielsen doesn't play as big a role as you might expect. Pity.

Prom Night is somewhat different from most slasher movies in that the killings don't start until the third act. The premise is simple: six years ago, a group of kids were playing around in an old abandoned building and one of them accidentally falls out of a window when their game gets a little too out of control. The other kids make a vow to not reveal their part in her death, but now, on the night of the high school prom, someone who knows what they did is targeting them for assassination.

The first two-thirds of the film set up the characters and their relationships to each other, though after awhile I found myself eager for the killing to begin. Maybe I'm too used to the formula of movies like this, though there must have been a time when this sort of thing wasn't old hat, no? I kinda wish I could watch a movie like this when it was brand new, before the genre was debased with numerous ridiculous sequels and spin-offs and reboots, before audiences were genre-savvy to all the tropes that movies like this established. I feel like I'll never be able to truly appreciate it any other way.

That said, there were some things I genuinely liked. Curtis has some decent dance moves that she shows off here. There's a little nudity, which is always welcome. Some of the slayings are genuinely surprising - one pivotal character gets beheaded and his head rolls out onto the catwalk of the stage at the prom, scaring the hell out of everyone! That was pretty funny. Another character struggles with the killer while driving a van. The scene goes on longer than it should; the way it plays, one could put some Benny Hill music behind it and it wouldn't feel out of place.

I'd have to say that Prom Night is no Carrie, but it's worth watching for the nostalgia factor, and to appreciate the career of a fine, enjoyable and (still) sexy actress in Curtis.

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