Friday, May 11, 2012

Worth Mentioning - Disco Madness and the Dwarf

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody takes note of prom season and digs Goldie.


With schools around North America having their proms this month, I thought it would fitting to give this a viewing. Seemingly inspired by the success of Brian De Palma's 1976 adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie, where the nightmarish climactic action occurs at a high school prom, and John Carpenter's 1978 slasher classic Halloween, this film combines elements of those two movies into one: a slasher at a high school prom.

As with most slashers, there's a backstory of a terrible event that happened years before, and like most slashers this event is shown to us in the opening sequence.

At an old abandoned school, a group of kids around ten years old are playing a twisted variation on Hide & Seek and Tag called Killers, where the person who's "It" is the first Killer, and as they catch the other kids playing, those kids are tagged into becoming fellow Killers. The Killers stalk the halls shouting things like "The Killers are coming!" and "The Killer's gonna get you!" When they're down to just one non-killer, that kid is surrounded by Killers who chant "Kill! Kill! Kill!" I don't know how the game ends, because the one time we're shown the end of a game, it results in someone actually being killed. The Killers are a little too intense with the role, the last non-killer is a girl who's a bit too freaked out by her peers, the girl accidentally backs up through a busted window and falls to her death. Not wanting to get in trouble, the four Killers swear they'll never tell anyone what happened.

I love the look of this sequence, bright white afternoon light backlighting people, streaming through rooms, at times almost completely blowing out as it blasts through windows and doorways. There's a strange haze that hangs over the scene, adding to the uncomfortable atmosphere and enhancing the creepiness of these kids' game.

I wish that haze was only there for the beginning, I like it less as it continues to hang over the rest of the film's daylight scenes. Even exteriors look as smoked up as a Tony Scott interior.

The police figure that the girl's death happened while she was fending off the local pervert, but the man escapes when they try to question him. A car chase ensues, ending with a crash that causes the man to be engulfed in flames. He ends up spending years in a hospital bed, terribly burned and catatonic.

The film jumps forward six years, to 1980. If the little girl had lived, she would be a Junior in high school and having her first prom. A prom that her siblings and the kids who witnessed her death are preparing to attend. As the night of the dance approaches, the kids who played Killers get phone calls bordering on obscene, a voice whispering, "I'll see you at the prom." Someone seems to be stalking them...

Word comes that the disfigured deviant has awoken and escaped, could he be back in town for revenge? Or might the stalker be the girl's father, the high school Principal? Or the school groundskeeper, who you know is a creep because he's disheveled and wears taped horn rims? The Killers' bitchy ringleader? The school bad boy? The suspects are many.

The characters reach the prom at their school, which is right on the edge of an ocean bluff, at the 50 minute point. The prom's theme: Disco Madness.

This movie is best remembered for the song "Prom Night" and two members of the cast - Leslie Nielsen, still getting serious roles, as the school Principal (this movie was released just 16 days after Airplane!), and Jamie Lee Curtis as his daughter, heroine Kim Hammond.

When Kim's rival in a love triangle arrives at the prom, she grabs her date and says, "Let's show her what we can do." Show off they do, with a three minute long disco dance sequence to the title song. "Prom night, everything is all right."

Then the murders begin, interspersed with the traditional moments of sexual dalliances and pot smoking.

The killer isn't very stylish, in dress (he just wears all black and a ski mask) or his executions, although there are a couple of spectacular moments in here.

I think most slasher fans will get a smile from seeing the credit "Introducing Sheldon Rybowski as Slick", and what's even better than having a character named Slick in a slasher is the payoff that this guy does not match the image that his nickname brings to mind. Slick is a mop-topped, bespectacled, overweight, short guy with a customized Chevy van, and he has the most memorable interaction with the killer.

I don't count Prom Night as one of the greatest slasher films, but it's entertaining and definitely worth checking out for anyone who enjoys the sub-genre.

FOUL PLAY (1978)

Harold and Maude/Silver Streak screenwriter Colin Higgins made his directorial debut with this comedic homage to film noir and Hitchcock, starring Goldie Hawn as a librarian who gets caught up in an assassination plot and Chevy Chase as the San Francisco detective who tries to help her out.

Hawn's character Gloria Mundy (a name lifted from a Latin phrase) gets herself into trouble with a simple act of kindness - giving a ride to a stranded motorist - an act also spurred on by a friend's advice that she needs to liven up and take chances because she's been too shut in since her recent divorce. The motorist is a handsome man, and their conversation comes around to them making a date to meet up at a movie theatre that night.

The man shows up late for their date and joins Gloria in the theatre, which seems to exclusively show cult films and movies from the '30 through '50s, but it's clear that something's wrong when he starts bleeding onto the popcorn during This Gun for Hire. With his dying breath, he whispers to Gloria, "Beware of the dwarf." From that point on, Gloria finds herself targeted by a trio of hitmen - the dwarf, scarface, and the albino.

Goldie Hawn is an entertaining actress, and she plays a likeable character in this. Always beautiful, she also often achieves adorable, especially when she puts on a pair of glasses to read, watch a movie, or drive.

Chevy Chase's detective role is the closest I've seen him come to playing the straight man, but he does get some klutz moments and funny lines.

There's an awesome supporting cast; Burgess Meredith as Gloria's neighbor, Brian Dennehy as a cop, a couple of the hitmen are played by Don Calfa and Marc Lawrence (who appeared in the Bond films Diamonds Are Forever and The Man with the Golden Gun, and also had This Gun for Hire among his 200+ credits.) Billy Barty is in a couple scenes, and I don't know why the fact that little people prefer to be called "little people" only seemed to catch on in recent years, because Barty is right here telling us that in 1978. Dudley Moore has a great small role as a man on the prowl to bring women back to his bachelor pad, which he calls his "beaver trap" and has stocked full of liquor, disco, and all your adult entertainment needs.

It's a fun movie, and along the way there's mistaken identity, suspense, a car chase, a couple old ladies playing a vulgar game of Scrabble, even the Pope starting a slow clap.

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