Navigating high school is terrifying in and of itself, so it’s no surprise that it’s a frequent setting in horror. The teen angst, the hormones, and the complicated social development means a vast potential for emotional trauma. In high school, everything seems like a huge deal, especially school dances. The pressure to not only find a date but have a perfect time can be nerve-wracking. Throw in murderers, demons, killer cheerleaders, and more, and you have the making for addictive horror. Now that spring is here, so is prom season, the biggest school dance of them all. As a reminder that things can always be worse, we look back at some of the most horrific school dances in horror history:
The quintessential horror movie prom to end all proms, and one hell of a final act. Carrie White’s high school life is rougher than most; her religious fanatic of mother has sheltered her to the point where she thinks she’s dying when she gets her first period. It only furthers the extreme bullying she deals with on a consistent basis. Then she discovers a new telekinetic ability, a liberating power that’s also in conflict with her mother’s beliefs. Attending the prom with dreamboat Tommy Ross is supposed to be the one thing that feels normal, but bully Chris Hargensen and jerk boyfriend Billy Nolan ruined that by dumping pig’s blood on her, causing Carrie to understandably snap and unleash a vengeance unlike any other. Prom is a major moment for any high schooler, and Carrie elevates that rite of passage metaphor to nightmarish levels.
High school seniors McKayla and Sadie are social media obsessed BFFs who deftly balance dance committee, cheerleading, and serial killing aspirations with ease. Being the overachievers that they are, they’re not just content to pick off victims one by one; they want to really make a name for themselves by staging a large-scale massacre. When you’re a high school senior, the easy choice would be prom. For most, prom would be the night of hopes and dreams of romance coming to fruition. But for McKalya and Sadie, it’s a harrowing test of friendship, mayhem, and bloodshed.
Trick or Treat (1986)
Another horror film to showcase the growing pains and tribulations of being a high school outcast, Trick or Treat swaps out the prom for a Halloween school dance. For Eddie Weinbauer, heavy metal is his escape from the horrors of high school. Especially his idol, musician Sammi Curr. When reports of Sammi’s death in a mysterious fire breaks, Eddie is devastated. A local DJ gives Eddie a copy of Sammi’s last unreleased album, and soon realizes something is off about the album. Sammi has murderous plans from beyond the grave, and he means to have Eddie help him carry them out. Of course, Sammi’s heavy metal rage builds to a climax that takes place during the Halloween dance.
Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever
While the first film felt apropos of its title, this sequel revolves entirely around the high school prom. Rider Strong’s character from the first film, Paul, reappears just long enough to spread his infection to the creek where its water is distributed to the local high school, when prom planning is well underway. The high school stereotypes, such as the nice guy with the unrequited crush, are all there, just with an added layer of gross-out infection added to the mix. Prom and high school horror goes hand in hand, but this Ti West directed sequel ensures this prom is anything but glamorous.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Before the hit TV show, there was the 1992 film on which the series was based. Stereotypical cheerleader Buffy Summers rises above her shallow, materialistic nature with the new responsibility of becoming The Slayer, the chosen one destined to kill vampires. It’s a new direction that places her at odds with her friends; they don’t recognize the person she’s become. Written by Joss Whedon and directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui, this teen vampire movie takes a far more light-hearted approach than Whedon had in mind, causing him to leave the project and eventually create the Buffy he intended a few years later. Even still, this version of Buffy is a lot of fun, building into a slapstick finale that take place at the school dance. Buffy kicking vampire butt in tulle and leather is great.
This Karyn Kusama directed dark horror comedy, written by Diablo Cody, navigates the horrors of female friendships in high school. Teens Jennifer Check and Anita “Needy” Lesnicki have had a tight-knit codependent bond since their days playing in the sandbox together. It’s a bond that even transcends Jennifer becoming possessed by a man-eating demon. High school is a transformative growing period, though, and some friendships aren’t meant to last through the growing pains. The complexities of female friendships get even more monstrous, literally, at the pivotal school dance.
For most high school set horror, or horror comedies in this case, a school dance is an event filled with pressure for the hormonal teens in attendance. But even more important, it’s an event filled with a sea of unsuspecting victim potential for maximum catastrophe. So, no surprise that this riff off of the phrase, “idle hands are the Devil’s play-things,” that sees stoner teen Anton lose control of his possessed, murderous right hand would culminate in the big Halloween school dance. The dance becomes the battlefield between Anton and his evil hand as he fights to protect his neighbor turned dream girl Molly.
Co-written and directed by Joseph Kahn, this meta-slasher sci-fi hybrid riffs on teen archetypes at a warped speed. The truth is that the plot is very much a kitchen sink, but at its core it’s about a group of students that band together to solve a serial killing mystery while serving detention during prom. While most of the movie is a frenetic whirlwind of insanity and dissection of high school tropes, you can bet that these characters do eventually make their way to the prom, giving way to one of the quirkiest school dance scenes ever. Mmmbop was never as fun or as lively as it was in Detention.
Prom Night series
Beginning with 1980’s Canadian slasher starring Jamie Lee Curtis through 1992’s fourth entry in the series, Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil, this entire series is centered around the horrors of high school prom. The series begins as a serious slasher with an extended disco dance number at the prom and spins into more eccentric horror. The best, though, is Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, that opens with a 1957 flashback to prom and climaxes with a present day set prom. Evil Mary Lou will kill for that prom queen crown.
The Loved Ones
Subverting the big dance spectacles of typical high school horror, Sean Byrne’s debut examines what prom is like for those who don’t get prom dates. In this case, when socially awkward Lola gets rejected by Brent to attend the dance, she and her father decide to create their own dance at home. The only problem is Lola doesn’t take no for an answer and Brent becomes her unwilling date. Crowned queen of her own dance, she decides the best way to a man’s heart is to carve her way into it. Sometimes a more intimate setting makes for a much more terrifying feature, and Lola’s twisted prom can be the scariest of them all.