PROM NIGHT (1980) Blu-ray
Director: Paul Lynch
Synapse Films

Synapse Films is your date for PROM NIGHT, the Canadian slasher classic finally given the red carpet treatment on Blu-ray.

Young Robin Hammond (Tammy Bourne) was killed in an accident during a game of "Killer" in an abandoned convent. It's now six years later at what would have been Robin's junior prom, and someone has decided it's time to play the game again with the quartet of kids – bitchy Wendy (Anne-Marie Martin, THE BOOGENS), virginal Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens, PERFECT TIMING), meek Jude (Joy Thompson, SKULLDUGGERY), and jock Nick (Casey Stevens, IN PRAISE OF OLDER WOMEN) – who made a pact never to reveal their part in the girl's death. Robin's older sister Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis, TERROR TRAIN) is prom queen and she's got a beef with Wendy over prom king Nick (although, does Kim ostensibly does not know about Nick's involvement in her sister's death). Her brother Alex (Michael Tough, THE PHANTOM KID), Robin's twin, is on the sound system since he has no date; but he seems more concerned with bully Lou's (David Mucci, UNFORGIVEN) unwanted attention to Kim than what happened in the past. The father Principle Hammond (Leslie Nielsen, AIRPLANE) is putting up a strong front, but their mother (Antoinette Bower, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO) seems to be having the hardest time getting over her daughter's death. The creepy new janitor Sykes (Robert A. Silverman, THE BROOD) is always watching the girls. Nick's police lieutenant father (George Touliatos, POWER PLAY) still suspects Murch, a known sex offender of causing Robin's death in a failed sexual assault; the previously catatonic schizophrenic – badly burned while fleeing the police six years ago – has just escaped from the nuthouse and left the body of a nurse at the scene of the original crime. Now we know that he didn't kill Robin, but he might want revenge on the kids responsible for the crime that put the police on his trail. Some of the targeted kids might not even make it to the prom, and the ones that aren't home by midnight won't be coming home at all!

Director Paul Lynch had directed two non-genre films but had been working as a graphic designer and art director when he got to know graphic designer Charles B. Pierce who had directed THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN and THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK. Deciding he wanted to direct a low budget film himself, he designed an ad campaign for a fictional film and approached HALLOWEEN's Irwin Yablans. Yablans did not like his pitch but suggested he think up a horror film to tie in with a holiday. Lynch saw a motel ad for spring formals and got together with a USC writing student (Robert Guza who also wrote CURTAINS and would later become head writer on GENERAL HOSPITAL) who had a story about a group of teenagers whose past comes back to haunt them. Lynch met producer Peter Simpson (CURTAINS) at a party and mentioned the idea and his upcoming meeting with Yablans, so Simpson pounced and the project was underway. The story would be developed by William Gray – who had just come off THE CHANGELING and would later do HUMONGOUS with Lynch – into the screenplay PROM NIGHT which would be produced in Toronto as a tax shelter production and sold to Avco Embassy whose effective and widespread ad campaign was a large part of its success.

PROM NIGHT is an early example of the killer targeting a group of friends for a past accident – around which they have formed a pact of silence – and it does a relatively good job at building up its high school world with concerns about losing virginity (for once it's the boy in the make-out scene who gets creeped out when he hears a noise and says "someone's out there"), smoking pot, popularity, and petty jealousies within the scope of its one day time frame. While Wendy is not such a likable character, the other three guilty ones are likable enough for the viewer to feel concerned for them since they were just kids when the tragedy happened while also understanding the killer's desire for revenge. The film does stumble in its setting up of red herrings with Sykes being so obviously not the killer, Kim's mother footage to the cutting room floor, and the Murch subplot particularly standing out as padding. The tension with Nick wanting to tell Kim the truth is underexplored, and one thinks that Kim must have suspected something back then since she knew who was playing in the building where her sister was later found. Wendy's plotting with Lou to make the prom one Kim will never forget is underdeveloped, which may be partially intentional given how little time they had and Lou's general oafishness, but nothing had yet escalated at the point where Wendy stormed off after telling Lou that no one was supposed to get hurt. The climax is particularly memorable not just for Curtis' final girl fighting back and even repeatedly hurling herself into the struggle with the killer, but also the revelation of the killer's identity (we know who it is but it's still a striking moment when Kim realizes who it is) and the tragic final scene (which leads to an end credit sequence scored with the moving "Fade to Black" by Gordean Simpson). I used to think the other songs were rather cheesy in a bad way; but now they work perfectly (even "Prom Night! Everything is all right!"), as does the orchestral scoring of Carl Zittrer (BLACK CHRISTMAS) and Paul Zaza (MY BLOODY VALENTINE), cues of which do seem to run together with CURTAINS and GHOSTKEEPER upon recent viewings.

If you thought Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray of GRADUATION DAY looked great, PROM NIGHT's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray encode of a meticulously restored 2K scan of the original camera negative is nothing short of spectacular. Looking gauzy on its home video releases – including an early DiscoVision laserdisc and MCA VHS, a nineties reissue from New Line, a letterboxed Elite laserdisc and Anchor Bay disc from the same master, a Platinum fullscreen DVD, and a DVD from current Alliance Atlantis licensors Echo Bridge that was anamorphic but from a PAL master – Synapse's transfer is the first transfer of this film that I've seen that hasn't looked like an eighties TV movie (my first viewing of the film being a late night TV broadcast in the nineties). Detail is clearer and the colors less smeary during the disco scene where the gel lighting is more vibrant than before, as is the blue of the coatroom scene where Jude is menaced. The opening flashback scenes has a diffused look but that is intentional given the nature of the prologue, and grain is heavier in darker shots as well some post-production optical slow motion (including shots during Jude's murder of the killer's feet that are recycled from the later stalking of Wendy where they are seen in regular motion). One could never mistake PROM NIGHT for a new film, but Synapse's transfer looks better than many transfers of higher budgeted studio films from this period.

Synapse has treated the film to a new 5.1 remix in DTS-HD Master Audio that is respectful to the original mono mix while giving the music and creepy sound effects (like the disembodied breaking glass sounds that creep out Kim as she walks down the school corridors) extra dimension. Of course, the success of this remix is heavily indebted to the original mono mix (also included here in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) which is so well mixed that even monophonic swipes and clanks of the axe during Wendy's chase scene give the illusion of stereo. The music has wonderful depth in the 5.1 mix but even the mono track has full range during the musical passages. Synapse's audio track are also sampled at 96 kHz, which is twice that of other studio Blu-rays. Both tracks are exquisite, although I doubt I would have been able to tell the difference between these and equivalent tracks sampled at 48 kHz (but I'm sure it'll be a welcome touch for people with top-notch systems). The optional English SDH subtitles also transcribe all of the song lyrics.

Synapse's roster of extras start off with a brand new audio commentary by Lynch and Gray (who had also recorded a track not too long ago for HUMONGOUS), moderated by Fangoria writer Pat Jankiewicz. Since Lynch has already told the story of the project's origins in the disc's documentary as well as on the commentary track for HUMONGOUS and elsewhere, he rushes through it as part of his introduction on the track. He mentions that they originally sought out THE BRADY BUNCH's Eve Plumb for the lead until Jamie Lee Curtis' agent called and told them that Curtis wanted to do the project. They discuss the young cast – including Casey Stevens who died about ten years after the film – and particularly Eddie Benton, better known as Anne-Marie Martin who hit it off with Curtis and later appeared in TERROR TRAIN and uncredited in HALLOWEEN II before marrying author Michael Crichton. Lynch also reveals that he liked the ensemble of young Canadian actors so much that he wanted to find them more work ASAP, introducing them to Roger Spottiswoode who was directing TERROR TRAIN. He only asked that they not use Jamie Lee Curtis as that would put the film in competition with PROM NIGHT, but that is what he did (so now, Lynch jokes, that although Spottiswoode went onto a prolific career, Lynch like to remember him as the director of STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT!). Of Cronenberg actor Silverman, Lynch reveals that he had been in a terrible accident and only agreed to take the part because he had so few lines (and was still undergoing speech therapy). Gray points out that he doesn't recall any of the Murch subplot, which Lynch reveals was added at the behest of Avco Embassy who wanted the tension ratcheted up earlier on (this material was written by NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER's John Hunter who had previously written Lynch's THE HARD PART BEGINS as well as BLOOD & GUTS with Gray). Lynch also points out some additional effective inserts shot by Simpson himself. Gray recalls being on the set for one day and getting to sit in on a HALLOWEEN screening next to Curtis herself. Jankiewicz keeps things energetic as a moderator but does not really contribute much of interest, usually responding with "wow" to anecdotes from the other two and mistaking the character of young Wendy in the flashback for young Kim.

More interesting is the documentary featurette "The Horrors Of Hamilton High: The Making Of PROM NIGHT" (41:04) which features the contributions of Lynch, actors Mary Beth Rubens, Joy Thompson, Michael Tough, and Jeff Wincott (who plays Kelly's boyfriend and whose brother Michael would appear in CURTAINS), as well as art director Reuben Freed (A CHRISTMAS STORY), prosthetics artist Warren Keillor (THE SENTINEL), and composer Paul Zaza (CURTAINS). Lynch again describes how the project developed, casting Curtis and Nielsen, finding actors and crew from Canadian theater and film schools, how Simpson's brother had been a high school teacher before going into production and had been instrumental in getting the school locations, and Avco Embassy's ad campaign. He also suggests that the film gets too much credit when its popularity is more likely due to the nostalgic chord it strikes with its viewers (many of whom saw the film as couples around prom season). Rubens, Thompson, Touch, and Wincott discuss their characters and working with Curtis – who wanted to demystify herself to them as a star so that their interactions would be convincing onscreen – and Nielsen who played pranks and carried a "fart machine" around set. Freed talks about how scouting film locations allowed him access to the disused mental institution that doubled as the convent in the opening while Keillor discusses making the false head for the final gore effect (a prop which he still has and shows off here). Tough reveals that he still has the killer's ski-mask and wears it to his kids' prom nights.

A number of entire scenes were deleted from the film to get it to a workable ninety minute length, but these scenes were reinstated for the film's television cut. The assemblage of six scenes here (11:11) is preceded by an introduction in which editor recalls scraping up everything they shot to make a cut acceptable for TV viewing. The scenes include Hammond taking his wife to her therapist who is revealed to be Dr. Fairchild, a classroom scene in which passing notes leads to Kim and her friends being given detention by their teacher (David Bolt, VIDEODROME) who is first seen in the finished film being directed in putting up prom decorations by the gym teacher, a scene at home with Kim that finds both her parents distracted in grief, and three comic relief scenes featuring temporary secretary Adele Cooper (Liz Stalker-Mason, STORMY MONDAY) who is un-introduced in the final film and only appears in the prom sequence.

Also included is an assemblage of silent outtakes (23:15) – scored with songs from the soundtrack – with alternate takes, trims, and unused bits from just about every scene. We see young Robin looking bored as blood and glass are applied to her, more indulgent views of some of the other gore appliances (including the severed head effect), bits from the disco scene that could not be used because the second camera was caught in the frame of the first. During the scene in which Wendy is hiding in the janitor's closet, we catch a glimpse of someone else in there with her in the foreground even though the killer is outside. The outtakes reveal this to be Sykes who subsequently witnesses her murder. We also see a crowd shot that had to be reshot because the severed head in the foreground blinks. Production manager Dan Nyberg (MILLENIUM) and first assistant director Steve Wright (MURDER BY PHONE) are the second unit directors, but editor Brian Ravok (SCREWBALLS) is listed as director on the clapboard in some shots (presumably these were inserts shot during the editing phase to fill in coverage). The trailer (1:49) and six TV spots (3:17) make use of a lot of the same footage, but they also reveal three different variations of the PROM NIGHT title design (none of which were used for the film's actual title card): a neon disco one, the more familiar sharp edged one that has appeared on almost every poster and video cover, and one with bleeding opticals. The disc also includes a radio spot and stills gallery. (Eric Cotenas)