The high school promenade dance, more commonly known as "prom," is largely regarded as a significant rite of passage, signifying the transitory period between the pubescent high school life and young adult life. Although it exists as a celebratory ritual, it is also one of potential loss — a loss of innocence, security, and youth. The loss of such characteristics is commonplace in the teen #horror film, so it is only natural that many teens horrors include a ritual such as prom to create a sense of dread or fear.
Many of the better known prom-themed films are irreverent teen dramedies such as Pretty in Pink (1986), She’s All That (1999), and American Pie (1999), which position sexually-charged teen angst and confusion as their key thematic and narrative drivers, using the artifice of prom as their conclusions. Prom night, however, is not always such a jubilant occasion. This list counts down the top five horror films that utilize a #prom setting to convey a sense of terror, as if a bunch of inebriated, libidinous teens grinding up against one another in a confined space wasn’t terrifying enoug
5. 'Jennifer’s Body' (2009)
While it may squander its promising cast and undeniably entertaining teenager-turned-succubus storyline, #JennifersBody’s third act implements a prom setting to create an impressive bacchanalia of teens, trauma, and terror. The film sees geeky, reserved Needy and vapid, conceited cheerleader Jennifer come to blows after Jennifer mysteriously gains an insatiable appetite for male flesh. As Needy’s male classmates are picked off in a series of gruesome attacks, the young girl must uncover the truth behind her friend’s monstrous transformation and find a way to stop Jennifer’s murderous rampage before it is too late. Admittedly problematic in terms of its gender politics, the film’s camp factor and solid performances are enough to make up for its narrative shortcomings. Look out for the 1980s-inspired prom outfits and one of the best lines of Megan Fox’s career (when admonished for killing people, she replies): “No, I’m killing boys!”
4. 'Dance Of The Dead' (2008)
What it lacks in budgetary finesse, it more than makes up for in charm and humor. In this independent #zombie horror-comedy, prom night looms over Middle America. Tuxes have been rented, dresses have been purchased, but when the dead unexpectedly rise from their graves to eat the living, it’s up to the school outcasts (the ones who couldn’t get dates to the dance) to save the town from the undead horde. The film is hardly ground-breaking in terms of thematic or narrative scope, but its honest and funny approach to the risky zombie-comedy hybrid makes this prom horror film a must-see for genre fans.
3. 'Prom Night' (1980)
#JamieLeeCurtis, a masked assailant with a knife, and a gaggle of sexually-charged teens. No, not Halloween (1978), but Prom Night, Curtis’s second foray into horror, which solidified her status as one of the genre’s finest #screamqueens. Throughout their high school lives, Hamilton High School seniors Kelly, Jude, Wendy, and Nick have been harboring a dark and dangerous secret. Only they know the truth of what happened to the deceased 10-year-old Robin Hammond, whose broken body was found near an abandoned covenant. The group taunted and backed her into a corner until, frightened, she stood on a window ledge and fell to her untimely death. Despite being an accident, they feared the worst and vowed never to tell a soul. Unbeknownst to them, however, someone else witnessed Robin’s demise — someone who is hell-bent on revenge. Often eclipsed by Curtis’s more popular slasher film role two years prior, Prom Night boasts enough tawdry teenage mayhem and surprising twists and turns to ossify itself within the prom horror canon.
2. 'The Loved Ones' (2009)
A decidedly more intimate and unsettling take on the prom/high school dance locale, #TheLovedOnes is an Australian horror film that sees high school senior Brent being kidnapped by lonely outcast Lola and her father in a grotesque prom-style simulation, played out within their remote home. Brent has become the prom king at a Machiavellian, macabre event wherein he is the entertainment for Lola and her disturbing desires. I’ve written about this film several times, partly because of how great a film it is, but also because of its versatility. The Loved Ones works on so many levels — as a teen film, as torture horror, and as prom horror. Yes, this film really does have it all: satin dresses, disco balls, power drills. Because nothing screams "prom night fun" like kidnapping your crush and brutally tormenting him until he loves you back.
1. 'Carrie' (1976)
An obvious, yet completely deserved, choice for the No. 1 spot on the list, Carrie is the Citizen Kane of prom horror. Frightening, poignant, and timeless, there’s a reason Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel remains one of the finest horror films ever made so many years after its original release. Many of the films on this list (and teen films in general) deal with pubescence and sexual maturation. None, however, do so quite like Carrie. When Carrie White, a timid and unpopular 17-year-old is invited to the high school prom by her crush, she believes that her life — which has been controlled by her overly religious mother — is on the up. But, when she realizes that her newfound happiness is actually a plot orchestrated by her high school tormentors, Carrie unleashes a terrible revenge on the entire prom. Famous for its iconic pig’s blood scene, this psychoanalytic nightmare is unquestionably the most iconic prom horror film ever made. The hysterical exchange between Carrie and her mother regarding her "dirty pillows" (breasts) alone warrants Spaceck and Laurie’s Oscar nominations.
What are some of your favorite prom horrors? Let me know in the comments below!