VHSaturday:: Writer/Director Chris Moore on Prom Night (1980)

UNK SEZ: Hey! We have a special guest today! It’s CHRIS MOORE the writer and director of the super creepy BLESSED ARE THE CHILDREN! Check out this trailer and then read Chris’s ode to the VHS tape of PROM NIGHT below!

Picture it! (Sicily. Just kidding.) A young fella of about 7 sneaks out of his bed at 2 a.m. on a school night to watch a “naughty” movie on FOX called Prom Night. I’d already seen the first two Halloween movies (on USA Network, so they were edited for content) and loved Jamie Lee Curtis, so it made sense that, when I saw this listed in Sunday’s TV Guide, I’d have to find some way to watch it. I tiptoed into my Dad’s office where the tiny TV was and turned it on, making sure the volume was barely above a whisper, so as to not wake anyone up. There I stayed for the next 2 hours, transfixed by this lurid story of family secrets, murder, and disco.

Sure, I was super tired the next day at school, but it didn’t matter. I’d had a rite of passage. I’d disobeyed my parents and been rewarded for it by seeing a super cool movie. It was only natural that I’d want to relive this experience over and over again, so I set out that Friday to find Prom Night on VHS. Blockbuster didn’t even have it. In fact, I believe they only had Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. To this day, I’ll never understand why one would have to go from video store to video store just to see all the installments of a franchise. You’d think they’d all want to carry all the installments. Don’t even get me started on how impossible it was to find a copy of Friday the 13th Part 2 a couple of years later.

I checked our local mom & pop store, Video Library (which I still consider to be more important to my film education than film school) and SCORE – they had one. There it was – cut into a small white clamshell was Jamie Lee Curtis staring at us from the school hallway with a bloody axe tucked into her prom bouquet. It was quite an image, but having seen the film, I was a bit taken aback. After all, Jamie Lee’s character isn’t the killer and she’s not even really the lead. It was probably my first taste of how film companies can mislead audiences through weird marketing gimmicks. Still, it was freakin’ Prom Night and I couldn’t wait to watch it again. I was allowed to rent it on one stipulation – my Mom and Dad would have to watch it with me and, if there was anything objectionable, they’d turn it off. I was fine with that.

I got home and put it in and noticed how terrible the picture was. I mean, this movie was DARK. It looked like it was shot with a flashlight and that’s it. My parents seemed both amused and sort of bored by the film, but I was still eating it up. I don’t even remember my Mom staying for the whole thing, but I know my Dad did, because he was surprised by the killer reveal at the end.

It was a year or so later that my Mom and I were at a different video store called Home Video. It was located a little bit past where my Grammie lived and it was more of a schlep than Blockbuster or Video Library (which were, at most, 2 or 3 miles from home), but this was a new experience and a special treat for going to flag football practice at the YMCA (yes, I had to basically be bribed to go). As a growing film fan, I was excited to check out all the local video stores in the hopes that they’d have something the others didn’t.

Turns out, they did. They also had a copy of Prom Night (not to mention ALL of the sequels. Way to go, Home Video!), but this one was completely different. It was older, more beaten up, and bleached from years of sun tanning next to the large windows in the store. This version had two spooky eyes surrounded by darkness and a gloved hand gripping a large shard of glass with a screaming woman hanging upside down in its reflection. It was even more eye catching than the version Video Library had. This was from MCA Videocasette, Inc. and the Video Library version had been released by New Line Home Video. At that age, I marveled how one film could be released by so many companies (I clearly didn’t understand what licensing meant or know about the OTHER versions released by both Virgin Vision, Starkmaker, and Anchor Bay).

I proudly grabbed this box from the shelf along with copies of Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and took them to the front desk where the employee had to go to a back room and find the brown clamshell cases with the responding videos. It was certainly more complicated than either Blockbuster or Video Library, but I knew it would be worth it. After all, this release of Prom Night might be one with better picture, where you can see what’s going on during the last act of the film.

Imagine my disappointment when the employee came back and said that he couldn’t locate the tape for Prom Night. I was crushed, but was reassured that maybe they’d find it soon and to check back again. I did check back. A few times. They never found it, but I was desperate to. I went to a few other video stores and they didn’t even have the film at all (but, yes, most of them had ALL the sequels).

It wasn’t until I discovered the magic of eBay around ’02 or ’03 that I was able to locate a copy of this mysterious tape and give it a spin. Turns out, the picture was only barely better than the New Line and TV versions I’d seen. It would take Anchor Bay releasing a widescreen DVD (sourced from an Elite laserdisc) a few years later to finally get to see most of what was going on and it would take the geniuses at Synapse a few years ago to give us the definitive version of the film on Blu-Ray – colorful, as sharp as a film with much soft focus photography can get, and well-lit during the darker scenes. Turns out, there was actual thought put into the cinematography of this film. Who knew?

If I’m being honest, I’ve never understood why Prom Night has such a hold on me. The pacing is iffy, it’s never truly scary, the death scenes are nothing to write home about, and the entire film has a sort of run of the mill TV movie feel to it, but god damnit, I adore it. I think it’s just so darn cozy and the ending is unlike just about any other slasher movie I’ve seen. It packs an emotional punch and I love that. I’ve gotten to see it on the big screen in 35mm (with the original Avco Embassy logo, which has never been attached to any home video release) and I damn near sobbed. I have issues.

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Cousin WIL
Cousin WIL
5 years ago

I hate to sound like an old man, but I wonder how technology is going to change film for the current generation. I guess it will always be fun for some people to go back and educate themselves on classics, but the hunting part for films is basically over with. I miss going to flea markets (US 1, baby!) and video stores looking for movies. It made you appreciate movies more. It’s why some not-so-great movies are considered classics. I remember my mom and pop video store had a poster for GRUNT THE WRESTLING MOVIE but never actually got the movie. I spent a year hunting that stupid movie down.