Prom Night (1980)

Events-themed horrors were a big deal in the ‘80s, as both Friday The 13th and April Fool’s Day can attest. Coming before either of them, but after the trend-setting Black Christmas and Halloween, was Prom Night, a now-dated slasher flick that honourably attempted to turn a sugary sweet occasion into a bloodbath of terror.

Slasher fans will already know what to expect from Prom Night thanks to more recent horror fare (say, I Know What You Did Last Summer) pilfering great portions of its plot and freshening them up for a turn of the century audience. We begin in 1974, when 10-year-old stutterer Robin Hammond is accidentally killed by four older bullies when a prank goes wrong.

Fast forward six years, and her taunters are now 18-year-old high school seniors. Preparing for their prom, they’ve all but forgotten the incident from their childhood – until they receive threatening phone calls on the anniversary of Robin’s death. One person who definitely hasn’t forgotten is Robin’s sister Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis), whose family is still feeling the loss. Meanwhile, the lunatic who was wrongfully accused of Robin’s murder has escaped incarceration…

There’s a lot going on in Prom Night, with madmen on the loose, inept cops flapping around, and teenagers gripped in complicated relationships. Sadly, the film’s not really that bothered about exploring things like Kim’s boyfriend’s guilt issues (he was one of the kids responsible for Robin’s death), and poor Leslie Nieslen (here playing both Kim’s father and the school’s principal) is robbed of any decent screen time.

Still, relegating many of its stalk ‘n’ slash scenes to its final 30 minutes is a bold decision, suggesting that Prom Night is a slasher with loftier ambitions than many of the horrors that would follow it. Spending its first hour establishing characters and red herrings, Prom wants to be a hard-hitting teen mystery. It’s a shame, then, that when the chase scenes/kills finally arrive, they’re too drawn-out, repetitive and dull to really gather any momentum (even if the mirror shard is an inventive weapon).

The fact of the matter is Prom Night has dated, and is spectacularly rooted in the ‘80s. If it isn’t horrendous dresses, it’s horrendous hair ‘dos. “Let’s show her what we can do,” Jamie Lee Curtis huffs when her beau’s catty ex walks in, then launches into a ridiculously camp, five-minute-long dance routine (on a multi-coloured dance-floor) that would cause even the High School Musical kids to blush.

That frothy moment is actually one of the film’s highlights, though, with much of Prom Night’s running time given over to those silly double bluffs and police officers speaking in voiceover to themselves (a trick that’s straining for film noir gravitas). Shamefully, Eddie Benton’s snippy, bitchy Wendy is basically on a leash throughout, and Curtis’ sort-of heroine is a giggly flirt who doesn’t really get to do much (apart from dance).

Of course, Prom Night probably looks all the weaker now because many of its key elements have been re-done (and better) in a string of contemporary movies. Those learned slasher viewers will spot and dismiss the red herrings no problem, while the identity of the killer is pretty much a slam dunk the second you see the ‘Six Years Later’ cue card.

Any redeeming features, then? Well, there’s some very natty editing that enlivens the film’s pace while giving weight to some of the more dramatic moments, and a rolling-head kill is both Prom Night’s funniest and goriest set-piece. If it’s event horror movies you’re after, though, best stick with Halloween. 2/5

The Burning (1981)

“Man, this guy is so burned, he’s cooked! A fucking Big Mac, overdone!” So much for hospital staff sensitivity, that being how an orderly describes the poor burn victim he’s treating at the beginning of this pleasingly typical ‘80s slasher.

Said victim is Cropsy, a mercilessly mean caretaker at Camp Blackfoot who’s set aflame when a prank played by mischievous young campers goes horribly wrong. Burnt to a crisp, it takes Cropsy (wow, that very nearly is ‘Crispy’) five years to leave the hospital he’s recovering in. And when he’s out, he’s got just one thing on his mind. No, not a Happy Meal – revenge.

So far so slasher, but The Burning isn’t quite as cynical as all that. Made just one year after the first Friday The 13th, it’s a blatant cash-in that somehow manages to remain entertaining and inventive. What’s most interesting about The Burning is that it shows us just how early the ‘killer in the woods’ formula was boiled down to its bare essentials. Taking the slasher rules set up in Friday The 13th, The Burning streamlines them into a concentrate that will end up being used by every forest-y slasher thereafter.

We all know those rules. The girls are frigid, giggly teases, the boys randy as dogs in heat. There’s female flesh galore, and the ‘girls who have sex die’ mantra is deployed in full-force (though a few poor girls who tease and don’t put out are tarred with the same bloody brush). Meanwhile the deaths are grisly, graphic and bloody, carried out by a killer wielding a massive pair of gardening shears (this wasn’t branded a ‘video nasty’ for nothing).

What sets The Burning apart from other hack-and-slash murderthons, though, is the time it takes to set things up. After the initial prank-gone-awry, and a brilliantly atmospheric introductory stalk-and-slash, things settle down into effective boo-scare territory. When the slashing finally begins in earnest, it has impact – not least thanks to Tom Savini’s no-holds-barred gore work.

Savvy modern horror audiences won’t have any trouble figuring out who lives and dies (or spotting the slasher steals, such as the Halloween killer POV pinch), but that’s all part of the fun. If your Friday The 13th box set is worn out, The Burning provides a refreshing respite. 3/5


If I’d been more organised, I’d probably have been able to rustle up a seriously awesome post dedicated to that most long-ish of slasher franchises, Friday The 13th. Sadly, it was not to be. But I still want to celebrate this most troublesome of un/lucky days, if only because the original F13 was one of the first slashers I ever saw – and it’s still got a sizeable place in the meat locker I call a heart.

Taking up more space in said meat locker is Friday The 13th Part 2 – and not just for the fact that it debuts an adult, sack-wearing Jason Voorhees (not to mention that amazingly creepy shot of him in the background jogging up to an unsuspecting victim, and also the fact that he has a bruised thumb nail… I always liked that detail).

Part 2 is top of the pile because it features the franchise’s best heroine; Ginny, aka Amy Steel. I’m sure any F13 fan worth their weight in blood (or… yeah…) will agree that Ginny’s the franchise’s stand-out Final Girl.

So, really, this is just going to be a celebration of Steel and everything she brought to the F13 franchise. First up, a quote from the lady herself (courtesy of Crystal Lake Memories):

“I was living in Florida, and a friend of mine wanted me to come to this modelling agency with her, and they took me on, then up to New York. I was about 19 or 20. It was early and fast and fun. I did a lot of commercials, then I got the audition for Part 2. It was big.

“It was out there. I was doing this job in the Poconos and they said, ‘You’re up for the role in Friday the 13th.’ And I was like, ‘Come on!’ I had to show up at the audition and pretend I was walking through the woods, screaming. And it was total typecasting – the outdoorsy, strong girl with blonde hair. And when I got it, it was great. It’s nice to be wanted in any capacity, and Friday the 13th was cool. I just said, ‘It’s sequel time!’”

Thank God Ms Steel could see through the typecasting. Far from being a pathetic, whining little victim, her Ginny is resourceful, smart and isn’t going down without a hair-pulling brawl. Even when she’s cornered by Jason, she’s sharp enough to resort to a little role play, slipping into Mrs Voorhees’ crusty old jumper and tapping into Jason’s warped psyche.  

Really, the other Friday The 13th chicks don’t stand a chance in her shadow. And it’s a small blessing that Steel didn’t return for a slash-happy pre-credits cameo in Part 3, as Adrienne King did with Part 2.

So here’s to Amy Steel, and happy Friday the 13th, y’all!

Four play

Recently, a buddy of mine wrote a (cracking) blog post about movie threequels. Which, it seems, is a topic that everybody has an opinion on. Alien 3 has its lovers. Spider-Man 3 its haters. But in light of Scre4m hitting cinemas earlier this month, my brain began to ponder the subject of fourquels. The result is this meandering post – a blatant fleecing of Stephen’s threequel blog. Or maybe a belated sequel…

Fourquels are tricky things, no question. If an emergent franchise does the impossible and creates a decent first follow-up (see Friday The 13th Part 2, Aliens), it’s almost always let down by a dreary threequel (see Friday The 13th Part 3, Alien 3). Which is where the fourquel comes in. Slowly, of course, because many fourquels take their bow a fair amount of time after their disappointing predecessors – Scre4am took 11 years to arrive after a fan-dividing trilogy-closer, Alien: Resurrection took five to recover from Fox’s Alien 3 meddling.

But are fourquels actually any good? When even the brains behind them know a third sequel is pushing things (see F13: Part 4, which attempted to put a lid on Jason Voorhees forever, then failed miserably), isn’t it time to call it quits and move quietly along?

Some are undeniable stinkers. Case in point A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which not only had the audacity to re-cast fresh Final Girl Patricia Arquette (introduced in Part 3) with a saucer-eyed soap opera reject (and then ingloriously kill her off), but insisted that we believe Freddy Krueger could be raised from the dead by a quantity of flaming dog piss. Dream Master is a fine example of fourquels that are travelling on the same beaten track as their predecessor(s), but are now squealing along on flat tyres.

And who could forget the hilariously unfortunate Jaws 4: The Revenge, which maintained that a sea-dwelling fish could not only hold grudges, but also set out in search of bloody vengeance? Fishy isn’t the word.

The fourquels that come off best (and “best” is all relative here) are the ones that seek to reboot and rejuvenate. Alien: Resurrection, armed with Buffy’s Joss Whedon on scripting duties, endeavoured to take the character of Ripley (who had little to do in Alien 3 except hate herself) in a kick-ass new direction. Yes, it failed in other areas, but by exploring new avenues in a tired concept, it at least gave the franchise a boost.

The same can be said of Halloween 4: The Revenge Of Michael Myers. With Jamie Lee Curtis long gone, Revenge effectively stirred up a Carpenter-esque mood while giving us one of the cutest ever little Final Girls (thank you, Danielle Harris). Yes, it was as subtle as a knife in the gut, but at least it respected the original. Sadly the same can’t be said of the atrocious Halloween 5 and 6, both of which are the definition of hackjob (there’s a fivequel discussion in there somewhere).

One the best horror fourquels tumbled along with 1998’s Bride Of Chucky, which revamped (quite literally, in the case of Jennifer Tilly) the killer doll franchise and dragged it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Okay, it was ‘hip’ and ‘in’, with clever references (hello Pinhead) and better humour than horror, but it effectively gave the Child’s Play series a shot of sugar that it was desperately craving.

The minus column, of course, almost entirely eradicates the plus. Die Hard 4 (explosive mess), Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skulls (saggy mess), Resident Evil: Afterlife (pure ugh), Critters 4 (no Leo), Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (Nuclear Man), Terminator Salvation (McG)…

Does the world need fourquels? They’re often rightly held up as examples of diminishing returns, but those occasional tarnished gems at least help keep the discussion interesting. With Mad Max 4 (Fury Road) and a possible X-Men 4 both on the horizon (producer Lauren Donner’s been teasing us about the latter for years), it seems Hollywood still isn’t ready to throw in the towel when it comes to profitable franchises. The fourquel lives on…