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Disco Deathtrap

PROM NIGHT

4 Stars  1980/18/89m

“If you’re not back by midnight… You won’t be coming home.”

Director: Paul Lynch / Writer: Ron Oliver / Cast: Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Stevens, Eddie Benton, Michael Tough, Antoinette Bower, George Touliatos, David Mucci, Marybeth Rubens, Joy Thompson, Sheldon Rybowski, Pita Oliver, Jeff Wincott.

Body Count: 8

Dire-logue: “For a guy so fast on the dancefloor, you are the slowest!”


Life is a ballet where the dancer falls, or some such wisdom once sang the lovely Bucks Fizz. Indeed, if life is one big, merry dance made up of moshers, ballroom, jivers, Steps-lite routines and High School Musical glee, then why not swirl it all together in one big cocktail of super-fun-happiness-yeah!

Now, mixing the rumba that is Halloween with the delicate ballet of Carrie sounds pretty cool – but tossing in the grooves of Saturday Night Fever!? That’s Prom Night for ya! No, not the shitty remake. That was akin to mixing ice cream with shit. We’re talking about the original, one of the earliest and most successful low-rent attempts to take what John Carpenter did, go to Canada, and add a bit more stab n’ drip to it.

As was the case in all of the stalk n’ slashers of olde, things begin in the past. Not 1732 or anything, but six years before the main section of the film. At a creepy old school, four kids are playing a macabre version of hide and seek they call ‘Killer’ – totally a riff on the formula. Along comes Kim and her younger siblings, boy/girl twins Robin and Alex (in matching stripy sweaters just to labour the point), who are, in no uncertain terms, told to go away by Kim’s classmate, Nick.

Kim and Alex continue in different directions while little Robin decides to take a closer look at the workings of the game of ‘Killer’, which culminates in the nasty little brats ganging up and scaring her until she takes a tumble backwards out of a window…to her DEATH!!!

Evil children, big hair, disco dance-offs - Prom Night has everything

Evil children, big hair, disco dance-offs – Prom Night has everything

The kids quite coldly under react and make a pact never to tell and the death is blamed on a handy mental patient who is then burnt by fire and incarcerated. Six years later – to the day, natch – Kim and Alex, now model teenagers and offspring to straight-laced Principal of Hamilton High, Leslie Nielsen (!), are prepping for the school’s senior prom, where Kim will be crowned queen along with her boyfriend… sister part-killer Nick! Complex, ay?

Being that Kim is played by Jamie Lee Curtis, we know she’s the final girl from the outset and, as usual, JLC delivers a great performance in spite of her worst slasher hair-do (including her looney-bin wire mop from Halloween: Resurrection). Nick (the late Casey Stevens) is the only participant in Robin’s death who seems to harbour any remorse. Two of the others, Kelly and Jude, are Kim’s best friends! You’d think they’d be smart enough to give her wide berth considering they killed her lil sis! But no, this is a slasher film and thus character sensibility has no place here!

Jude is the not-as-pretty girl who couldn’t get a prom date until porky wannabe-playa dork Slick turns up and inexplicably wins her affections. Kelly is the jittery chick who can’t work out whether or not she should let her pushy boyfriend enter unchartered territory. Then there’s Wendy, former ringleader of the guilty group, bratty then, mega bitch now…and clingy ex-girlfriend of Nick’s. Wendy therefore hates Kim and recruits school bad-boy Lou to organise a prom prank that will see them sabotage the crowning ceremony and humiliate Kim and Nick forever! Ooh, the melodrama! It’s just like an early incarnation of Degrassi Junior High.

...plus retarded caretakers, bums, and dope

…plus retarded caretakers, bums, and dope

Meanwhile, Kelly, Jude and Wendy have all received crank calls from a whispery fiend who says he’ll see them at the prom. Despite their past crime and some major hinting from the caller, none of the girls seem to take much notice of the warning. Nick blissfully misses his call altogether. Elsewhere, the man convicted of Robin’s murder has conveniently escaped from his mental insitution and murdered a nurse in doing so. The rent-a-shrink supposes he could return to town to seek revenge! There’s also the slow, drooling school custodian who turns up to stare at pretty young girls intermittently (especially when mooned) – is he more than just a red herring. Is he, huh?

The pieces are on the board, now it’s time for action! Yes, the prom finally begins and brings with it some much needed killing. It’s almost an hour’s wait for the debut murder, a vicious throat-cutting with a shard of broken glass. However, this horror pales when compared to the disco-dance scene when Kim and Nick decide to ‘show Wendy how it’s done’, cheered on by their evidently high classmates, the overlong sequence is overflowing with horrible moves that make the sugary routines in High School Musical look like funeral marches. Jamie Lee spins, twirls, makes bizarre Semaphore-like signals with her arms, and does this bizarre above-the-head clapping motion…

More sanely, Jude loses her virginity to the ironically-named Slick while Wendy and Lou scheme to hijack proceedings. Alas, the killer intervenes on both counts, doing away with the young lovers first and then chases Wendy for ages around the deserted school. It’s a great scene, the best in the film, and has rarely been matched in subsequent efforts, flawed only by the fact that ultimately we don’t get to see the film’s nastiest character buy it on screen, having to settle instead for hearing the thwacks of the ski-masked killer’s axe going into her head.

The piece de resistance of the killer crashing the prom proper and mistakenly beheading Lou instead of Nick is the sweet topping on this cheesecake. It leads to a disco-floor showdown between the ‘mystery’ killer, Nick, and Kim, which is almost as awkward as the dance scene from 20 minutes earlier, and backed by the same over-energised disco songs (“prom night / no more feeling uptight / everything is alright…”) that sound like the worst of ABBA covered by Alvin & The Chipmunks… Kim manages to subdue the fiend and the requisite unmasking occurs with heartbreaking results for her.

prom-4-pics2

Prom Night is essentially a nicely done revenger but leaves a few loose ends – some primary cast members disappear from the film completely with no explanation. The premise was echoed in I Know What You Did Last Summer seventeen years later, despite being based on a book written in 1973. It gains more from its cheesy composites than it loses, with a good cast playing mostly nice characters, Wendy’s great chase scene, the paperthin cloak n’ dagger act and the broadcast ‘thoughts’ of some of those involved. A lot of people don’t like Prom Night because it’s slow and not very wet with grue, and I’d like to say they’re WRONG! But my inner-Buddha democratic self will not allow it. For Vegan Voorhees, it doesn’t get better than disco NRG, an axe-wielding killer and Jamie Lee fucking Curtis – what more could there be!?

The sequels were variable and largely unconnected aside from Hamilton High’s presence in all four; #3: The Last Kiss is the best of which. The 2008 remake recycles only the brand name and general theme but was so watered down it doesn’t merit being affiliated with the franchise at all. It’s horror for 12-year-old girls, and an antithesis of its own genre.

Blurbs-of-interest: Curtis has made six slasher flicks altogether plus the TV series Scream Queens; Anne-Marie Martin, who played Wendy under the name Eddie Benton, has a tiny role in Halloween II and later wrote Twister with hubby Michael Crichton. Antoinette Bower (Curtis’ mom) was in peculiar Frankie Avalon slasher Blood Song. Jeff Wincott is brother of Michael Wincott. Director Lynch also turned in Humongous the following year. Brock Simpson, who played Young Nick, appears in all four Prom Night movies in different roles (dying in 2 and 4).

MEMORIAL DAY

MEMORIAL DAY

1.5 Stars  1999/18/79m

A.k.a. Memorial Day Killer - UK DVD

“Beers. Burgers. Bloodshed. Gonna be a long weekend…”

Director: Christopher Alender / Writer: Marcos Gabriel / Cast: Therese Fretwell, Marcos Gabriel, Andrew Williams, Erin Gallagher, Jasmine Trice, Derek Nieves, Adam Sterrit.

Body Count: 9


A boy drowned in Memorial Lake. Three years later, his sister Rachel and her friends return there for a weekend getaway in one of the cabins by the water. Sound familiar? Mrs Voorhees would sue.

This special needs slasher gained slight notoreity for being one of the first digital features, but it’s so damned cheap and grainy it doesn’t matter one bit. It’s strictly amateur night all round, with acting that rivals a GCSE drama production and has a killer in a mask that not only appears to be made of crate paper, but is also shaped like a hockey mask!

A so-so twist prevents things from being totally risible but it’s a case of too damn little, too damn late. One trip down memory lane not worth taking.

GRADUATION DAY

GRADUATION DAY

3 Stars  1981/18/92m

“The class of ’81 is running out of time!”

Director/Writer: Herb Freed / Cast: Christopher George, Patch MacKenzie, E. Danny Murphy, Michael Pataki, E.J. Peaker, Richard Balin, Carmen Argenziano, Virgil Frye, Beverly Dixon, Hal Bokar, Linnea Quigley, Denise Cheshire, Billy Hufsey, Tim Hintnaus, Carl Rey, Linda Shayne, Karen Abbott, Vanna White.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “You have lovely eyes. My sister had eyes like yours. She’s dead now.”


Back in 1996 I read a book called Games of Terror, one of only a few theoretical insights into stalker movies (as they were dubbed by the writer) and of the films briefed, I found all but Graduation Day within a couple of months – bearing in mind this is long before DVD back-catalogues. Hell, it was before DVD! Six gruelling months of trying to bag a copy, a local collector sold me his VHS tape for £9 (along with Madman) and I merrily skipped home for the premiere.

Graduation Day is one of those ‘meh’ films. Probably due to overexposure to lost classics of the period (Prom Night, Happy Birthday to Me, Terror Train), or possibly the fact that the film is just a bit crud, finding things to like about it is a bit difficult.

grad-team-pic
Proceedings begin in the usual way, with a past event trauma that spurs on the killer at a later date and gives him something to talk to the final girl about. In this instance, over the groove-tastic disco stomper that plays through the credits, a female track runner – Laura – sprints to glory before falling down dead. We’re later told this is down to a blood clot, but everybody else blames the track coach for pushing her too hard.

A couple of months later, Laura’s military ass-kickin’ big sis Anne returns from abroad to collect a special graduation award in the dead girl’s memory. Meanwhile, a black-gloved killer is stalking and slaying the other members of the track team, clocking in all murders at just thirty seconds, the same amount of time it took Laura to win her death race. First to go is big-headphones jogging girl (throat slashing), followed by moody gymnastical-girl (sword through the neck)…

grad1grad6

In between kills, our killer stops by his gym locker and draws a big red cross over the face of the most recent victim, working his way across the picture from left to right.

At this time, some other, less important characters (suspects!) are introduced. There’s Delores, played by bad movie fixture Linnea Quigley, who will do anything to pass her music class, including seducing the face-like-a-slapped-arse teacher. There’s also an affair going on between the principal and his secretary, which contributes nothing to the slashathon we’re anticipating. Leery campus cop MacGregor likes to clamp down on the dope smokin’ students and creep around in the trees and the despised track mentor Coach Michaels, whom everybody blames for the accident. Lastly, is Laura’s grieving boyfriend, Kevin, who is all sensitivity and broodiness. Hmmm…

grad7<<< That’s Anne. Anne is our final girl, although she looks a bit like a final drag queen, don’t you think? That’s a lot of makeup for a military recruit. Gasp! Maybe she’s hiding something!!

I digress… While the boring characters talk about graduation ceremonies n’ shit, the killer offs a few more budding athletes. The third murder is truly that old classic of homicide: the football with the sword protruding from it. That’s an American football, by the way, and Mr Killer tosses it back to its owner who catches it sharp-end first. Watch in awe as the sword-ball spins in slo-mo through the air, defying all laws of gravity and credence as it goes! There’s some time out for a song about graduation and a roller-disco that boasts a seven minute nu-wave rock song while another couple of kids are chased and murdered outside. Although decapitation may be preferential to skating in circles and listening to Felony’s ‘Gangster Rock’ 12″ extended rollerboogie remix. Actually, when I re-watched the film recently, I noticed that they actually sing the song three times on loop.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate the interesting look that Felony employ:

grad-felony

Fedora’s, lip-gloss, mascara and those double-guitar things. Yikes.

Morning comes and brings with it news of the missing teenagers, but the principal is more concerned with the logistics of the day and ignores it. A couple more deaths ensue and then a couple of squealy girls (one of them played by Wheel of Fortune letter-turner Vanna White; below) discover the body of moody gymnastical girl stuffed in a locker and blame falls on Coach Michaels, who’s just been given the boot over the whole Laura thing.

Vanna (right) as disco-clad squealy girl

Vanna (right) as disco-clad squealy girl

A right kerfuffle ensues and the killer’s identity is finally revealed, much to the surprise of nobody except the cast members and Anne is soon thrown into direct combat, which allows more corpses to swing out on doors, severed heads to be found on crash mats and the like…

Graduation Day is one mess of a film. There’s some nifty speed-cut edits thrown in but some simple shots are completed screwed up with demented high-speed zooming. It’s the film they should remake but probably never will. Amidst the bad scripting, some horrible acting and diabolical pacing problems, there are remnants of a good tale here, it’s just tangled up by the crowded supporting cast, many of whom aren’t required at all. If you wondered about the blonde girl who disappears early on without explanation (Diana), the actress was fired and replaced by Quigley for refusing to disrobe on screen.

grad-knife

Director and scribe Herb Freed appeared in the 2006 documentary Going to Pieces to add a few tidbits about his film – the fact that he’s now a Rabbi may indicate he’s moved on. And if you’re wondering why I was so generous with my rating, I’m trying to justify the six months spent looking for the damn thing.

I want to be this person's best friend

I want to be this person’s best friend

Blurbs-of-interest: The make-up effects here were all courtesy of a woman (!), Jill Rockow, who later worked on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Boogeyman 2. Editor Martin Jay Sadoff worked on Friday the 13th‘s Part III and VII. Christopher George was in both Mortuary and Pieces. Michael Pataki appears as Dr Hoffman in Halloween 4. Carmen Argenziano was Dr Mendrakis in When a Stranger Calls and later turned up in Identity. George and Quigley turn up all over the place. Denise Cheshire, who played moody gymnastical-girl (or Sally), was the swimming double for the famous shark attack victim Chrissie Watkins at the beginning of Jaws.

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