December 9, 2012

PROM NIGHT (1980) and the Affliction of Hindsight

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Anne-Marie Martin, Casey Stevens, Robert A. Silverman, Michael Tough, Antoinette Bower. Directed by Paul Lynch. (1980, 90 min).

Essay by D.M. Anderson

Have you ever looked back at your life at some seemingly insignificant moment and wondered how things would have turned out if you had simply said or done something different, for better or worse? Yeah, me too.

Have you ever thought about a girl you may have dated once or twice as a teenager, and briefly pondered what would have happened if you had ended up falling in love back then? Yeah, me too.

And when recalling those times, was there ever a girl who was so mature, sweet and unbelievably hot that, even though she agreed to go out with you, deep down inside, you knew she was way out of your league? Yeah, me too.

And that date ended up being the only one because your so-called charm failed to impress her in any way whatsoever (and, in fact, the date ends earlier than you planned)? Yeah, me too.

And today, a tiny part of you likes to imagine this charming, drop-dead gorgeous girl ending up being a crack whore, donating plasma to buy cigarettes and feeding her six kids with food stamps, just so you can feel better about yourself after blowing your chance all those years ago? Yeah, me too.

For me, that girl was Linda, who I met during my summer job walking greyhounds before races. At least, I think Linda was her's been nearly forty years and it ain't like I've been pining for her ever since. But 1980's Prom Night still vividly sticks in my memory because that was the movie I took her to, and Linda was, without-a-doubt, the prettiest girl who ever agreed to go out with me during high school. It's also the one date I remember not going well at all. With hindsight (an affliction which develops around the same time as pattern baldness, and just about as welcome), I can understand why we were doomed after one date, and it was all my fault. I was overzealous and had a misguided sense of what would impress this girl.

I must have been really excited for this date because I showed up way too early and ended up sitting on her living room sofa watching a Battlestar Galactica rerun while she got ready. She finally emerged from the bedroom a half-hour later, dressed pretty damn sophisticated for a 17 year old, and damn, was she beautiful! Have you ever watched a NASCAR race, and during the National Anthem, seen the goofy-looking, good-ole-boy drivers standing next to their trophy wives and wondered how the hell they ever hooked up? That’s the best analogy I can think of for how inadequate I suddenly felt sitting there in blue jeans and my letterman jacket. I could have sworn I told her this was just pizza and a movie, but she was dressed like we had reservations at a five-star bistro.

Anyway, Linda was ready, but suddenly I wasn’t because I’d gotten sucked into the Galactica episode and asked if we could stay until it was over. It would mean we’d have to catch the movie at a later time, but I was in no hurry. It never occurred to me she didn’t want to sit through the show. While I took up space on her sofa, Linda went into the kitchen and called one of her friends. During a commercial, I threw a glance back at her. She looked bored.

So I gave in, feeling a bit self conscious after allowing my inner geek to show, which I usually kept as well-hidden as the Playboys under my mattress (geeking on sci-fi wasn't as cool back then as it is now). But I put on a great front and tried look like I couldn’t care less whether or not Starbuck and his new Cylon ally escaped that remote planet alive, and off we went before I could see how things turned out.

When Linda asked where we were going, I excitedly told her we were heading to the Rose Moyer Theater to see Prom Night. Most of the time, a teen slasher flick was a good choice for a date, even those as predictable and derivative as this one. They’re aimed at people our age, don’t require much brain power to enjoy and there was always the possibility of making out in-between axe killings. But I could tell by Linda's blank stare that Prom Night wasn't what she had in-mind. She simply nodded and said, "Okay."

On the way, I drove fast. Not because I was in a hurry, but for some reason, I had it in my head that driving fast was cool, and I really wanted Linda to think I was cool. Maybe I was trying to compensate for previously letting my geek escape by showing my rebellious side. That is, until Linda politely asked me to slow down. Feeling suddenly stupid, I humbly let off the gas and we puttered the rest of the way to the theater.

I tried to engage in some small talk during the drive, but it seemed awkward & forced, and all my attempts at humor totally bombed. Everything in my arsenal that usually went over great with other dates wasn't working. With pesky hindsight rearing its ugly head again, we obviously didn't have much in common; Linda was far more mature than me or any girl I'd dated before. But I was still so blown away by this perfect female specimen sitting next to me that I kept plugging away, desperately looking for some common ground. I was almost relieved once we got to the theater, bought tickets and settled into our seats. For the next 90 minutes at least, nothing stupid or asinine would fly from my mouth.

Or so I thought.

Along with the usual trailers, there was a short public service ad, about a young woman's menstrual cycle if I remember correctly. Because the subject involved female genitalia, it instigated a lot of laughter from the audience, including me. I can't speak for the other yahoos in the theater, but the sheer inappropriate randomness of this ad struck me as funny.

“Oh man,” I remember giggling out loud. “That’s hilarious!”

“No it’s not,” Linda replied, not-at-all amused by the laughter and probably speaking on behalf of everyone else of her gender in the auditorium. “It’s embarrassing.”

I suddenly wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Way to let your maturity show, Dave!

" feel a draft in here?"
Finally (thank Christ), the movie started, and even if you've never seen Prom Night, you've probably seen Prom Night. It's yet-another in a long line of cookie-cutter slasher movies which spewed into theaters in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th. Though not the worst of its ilk, there isn't a hell of a lot to distinguish it either, other than its cast, which includes Leslie Nielsen before Airplane! made him relevant again, and Jamie Lee Curtis, once again playing a the world's oldest high school senior (as pretty-much the same character as in Halloween). As usual, several teenagers are killed off one-by-one by an unseen-until-the-end loony as revenge for a childhood prank that resulted in a kid's death. Unless this is the first slasher movie you've ever seen, there are absolutely no surprises (save for the unfortunate girl whose throat is slashed right after she just actually said no to having sex, a scene which looks like it was humiliating for the actress). I can only imagine what Linda was thinking...probably that I should have chosen Ordinary People playing in the theater next door.

Although it inspired several in-name-only sequels, Prom Night was one of those movies most folks probably forgot roughly ten minutes after leaving the theater. Except for me, of course. No, the movie itself didn't resonate much, but the whole time, I was well-aware that Linda was decidedly not enjoying the movie or my company. She was just marking time until the end credits rolled, when she (very politely) asked if I would take her home. So that's what I did, before we had a chance to share a pizza. She gave me an obligatory peck on the cheek before climbing from the car. Soon after, I was back in my bedroom listening to Rush on my headphones before it was even ten o'clock.

Aside from one or two  follow-up phone calls that went nowhere, that was it for me and Linda. I had my shot and blew it, and Prom Night stands as a reminder. I’m about 90% certain she eventually hooked up with a Mitt Romney-looking stockbroker, got married, had 2.5 angelic kids and now spends her weekends redesigning her living room. Probably not the crack-whore I sometimes like to imagine she became as payback for being unimpressed with me.

And, nice as she was, I don't really miss Linda or anything. And, no, I don't hope she's a crack-whore (being a hopeless, lonely Valium addict would suffice). This is simply one of those times we have all experienced, when just a small part of us wouldn’t mind having a shot at a do-over.

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