Release Date(s)1980 (September 9, 2014)
Studio(s)Echo Bridge Entertainment (Synapse Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
There are some very clear favorites when it comes to 80’s slasher movies and Prom Night is one of them. It helped to solidify Jamie Lee Curtis’ status as “Scream Queen” for the next two decades along with Halloween, Halloween II, The Fog, and Terror Train. A lot of these movies, along with the Friday the 13th series, helped define many of the standard tropes of the genre for many filmmakers who made horror films from then on. It was a crazy time when every holiday or major event imaginable was being used as the basis for a horror film and everything that could get lopped off was lopped off. And while it didn’t seem like it at the time, Prom Night had a little more going on than most people let on.
It’s also true that Prom Night also started a plot trend of somebody getting killed and a group of people trying to forget it or cover it up, only to be killed off one by one later in their lives. People lined up at drive-ins all over the country to see the latest batch of victims get hacked to pieces while they were also busy necking in the back seat. In this instance, it’s a group of kids who accidentally kill their friend and try to forget about it until it comes back to haunt them on prom night when they all start getting taken out one by one by an unknown killer. It’s slightly giallo in that regard, but without that particular style.
Besides Jamie Lee Curtis, Prom Night also features a few other familiar faces, some of which are surprising including Leslie Nielsen as the high school’s principal (as well as Curtis’ father), but also Anne-Marie Martin, who fans of the cult show Sledge Hammer will recognize. The movie does carry a bit of a Carrie vibe, unintentionally, mainly due to the latter half of the movie taking place during prom, hence the title. And like Carrie, there’s also some terrific camera work on display, with some great framing and some nice sweeping shots during the disco dancing scene. Speaking of which, the music is also a lot of fun, which is that late 80’s disco funk that I’m personally quite fond of. The movie’s story and its payoff aren’t the most interesting or the most shocking elements in horror history, but they work well enough. Because of the compounding ripping off of other horror movies at the time, the plot just seems ho hum and a lot of the impact that Prom Night once had is gone for good. What saves it are the characters and the look of everything. It’s quite colorful and beautiful at times, much less so than other slashers with shoestring budgets and no artfulness to them, making Prom Night more relevant.
Which brings me to Synapse Film’s extremely fine treatment of the movie on Blu-ray. One can say for certain that this is the definitive home video presentation of Prom Night. For years, I watched the movie on VHS and could hardly stand to look at it because of how poorly cropped, dark, and just barely watchable it was. That has now all been set right and Don May Jr., who oversaw this project, has seen to it that the transfer for this release is heads and tails above anything previously seen, going so far as to create a new 2K high definition transfer from the original 35mm camera negative. Despite the movie’s inherent diffused look, there’s an enormous amount of detail on display with a very pleasant and filmic appearance. Film grain is never intrusive or underwhelming, and the film’s color palette is ripe with rich hues, especially reds and greens. Skin tones also look very accurate and never stray from a natural appearance. Black levels are not completely even or deep, but that stems from the original photography, so we’ll give that a pass. As they are, they’re very impressive. And both contrast and brightness levels were perfect. There’s also been no attempt to digitally make these images look any better than they already do, so you won’t find any signs of aggressive DNR or edge enhancement. It’s a perfect presentation of the film, bar none.
The movie’s audio comes in two options: English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD (the latter of which is stemmed from the original mono). Like the visuals, the audio has also been terrible over the years on home video, but Synapse once again comes through with flying colors. The 5.1 track is quite immersive, with plenty of speaker activity. Dialogue is always clean and accurate, of course, but the score and the sound effects, as well as atmospherics, come through beautifully in the surround speakers. The musical sequences have plenty of thump to them as well. It’s a perfect track, and the original 2.0 mono track is greatly appreciated as an option if one were to choose to go a bit more old school with their listening experience. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
For the supplemental portion of the disc, we’re treated to a wonderful array of extra material to sort through. There’s an audio commentary with director Paul Lynch and screenwriter William Gray, moderated by Paul Jankiewicz; The Horrors of Hamilton High documentary, chronicling the making of the film with various cast and crew; the film’s original theatrical trailer; 6 TV spots; 2 radio spots; a motion still gallery; a set of scenes that were shot specifically to pad out the film for its original TV broadcast; and finally a set of never-before-seen outtakes from the film. Unfortunately there isn’t any involvement from Jamie Lee Curtis in this material, but otherwise, this is a fantastic set of extras.
I think it should come as no surprise that I’m going to wholeheartedly recommend that you rush out and buy this release right away. Along with Scream Factory, Synapse Films knows exactly how to treat the material they release while also being respectful of the fans. They really deliver the goods, and this release just reaffirms that to the nth degree. Prom Night: Special Edition is not just highly recommended, but it’s an essential purchase for horror fans.
- Tim Salmons