Prom night’s a fright in some of our favorite horror movies, including, of course, that pinnacle of high school horror, Carrie. A lot more can go wrong at the dance besides a vengeful, telekinetic Prom Queen: Stalkers, slashers, ghosts, and zombies love to crash the prom, or the after-party, so pack some pepper spray (or maybe a crossbow) along with your corsage.
“They’re all going to laugh at you!” Everything in Brian de Palma’s Stephen King adaptation builds to the brilliant split-screen prom scene in which a bloodied Carrie (Sissy Spacek) gets brutal revenge on the entire school. The camera lingers lovingly on each detail before the carnage: Tommy (William Katt) ex-ing out his own name on the prom ballot. The bucket of blood balanced precariously above the stage. Kris (Nancy Allen) licking her glossy lips in anticipation. The eyes of Sue (Amy Irving) following the rope up to the rafters and nearly preventing the entire tragedy before being shoved out of the gym.
When the pig’s blood splatters over Carrie’s pretty pink dress, it’s shocking, no matter how many times you’ve watched this classic. Spacek transforms from innocent bliss to the ghoulish spirit of vengeance in one of the greatest moments of horror acting. (She and screen mom Piper Laurie were both nominated for an Oscar.) It’s a magnificent crescendo of destruction as Carrie traps everyone inside the gym, turns the fire hose loose and electrocutes the principal. Her stiff, wraithlike stance as she walks out of the burning gymnasium is as iconic as Nosferatu silently ascending the stairs. She’s still the horror Prom Queen, despite all the homages and forgettable remakes.
Six years after a children’s game goes wrong and results in the death of a young girl, the friends who agreed to cover up their involvement are headed to the prom. And so is a masked killer who is determined to make them pay. The usual horror rules apply: Don’t have sex, don’t drink or do drugs, and definitely don’t choose a dark, remote makeout spot. Just one of three horror movies Jamie Lee Curtis starred in 1980, along with The Fog and Terror Train, but this is the only one with a choreographed disco dance straight out of Saturday Night Fever. This Scream Queen also makes a great Prom Queen.
In this razor sharp horror comedy written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, Jennifer (Megan Fox) is killed by a fame-seeking band in the name of Satan and returns as a boy-eating demon because (whoops) she wasn’t a virgin. Only BFF Needy (Amanda Seyfried) realizes she’s evil and is responsible for a series of teens turning up as “lasagne with teeth.” The big showdown happens on the night of the prom after Jennifer has already been snacking on Needy’s boyfriend. Girls in prom dresses trading blows and junior-high-level insults? Gold.
After a homebound World War II soldier receives a Dear John letter from his girlfriend, he gets his revenge on the night of the graduation dance: He finds her and her new beau alone in a gazebo and drives a pitchfork through them both. Thirty-five years later a new class is preparing to celebrate their graduation. But the pitchfork killer—eerily clad as a masked soldier and wielding an impressive array of weapons—is back. The extremely gory special effects are by FX wizard Tom Savini, with kills that pay homage to Psycho and Jaws. And the film has a nasty sense of humor, segueing from an impaled victim to someone cutting the cake at the dance. Not to mention the band singing a ditty called “Disco Blood,” with lyrics like, “I wanna see blood on the floor/I want to see her bleed.” If you want buckets of blood and truly savage kills, this movie’s for you.
This sequel in name only to 1980’s Prom Night starts out in 1957 when promiscuous Mary Lou is accidentally torched alive by a jealous lover as she’s named Prom Queen. Thirty years later, her spirit is awakened and a vengeful Mary Lou begins claiming victims left and right. She’s primarily gunning for her murderous ex, who’s now the school principal (Michael Ironside). Meanwhile, the current generation is battling over who will be this year’s Prom Queen, a crown that brings certain death. A surreal, tongue-in-cheek horror oddity with nods to Carrie and The Exorcist. And one of the most ’80s prom scenes ever, where one victim gets impaled by a pastel neon light.
Zombies overrun the school prom, and it’s up to everyone who wasn’t invited—the geeks, the bullies, the band that’s too cool to play the prom, and various other misfits—to save the day. Featuring some highly original zombie kills, unusual weapons, and deadpan humor, this overlooked indie plays out a bit like a forgotten episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like the moment when students argue about who should be in charge of strategy: the vice president of the student council or the president of the sci-fi club?
This grim small town slasher doesn’t revolve around the prom, but a fateful Valentine’s Dance. A deadly cave-in at the local mine occurred on the night of the annual dance because two supervisors left early, forgetting to check the methane levels. After weeks of excavation, one miner was found alive, but completely insane. He took his revenge by slaughtering the supervisors. He was shipped off to a mental facility, but swore that if the town ever tried to hold a Valentine’s Dance again, he’d be back. Sure enough, when the locals decide to finally hold the first dance in 20 years, people start showing up dead with their ripped-out hearts left as gifts. The sheriff cancels the dance, but the partying teens won’t be stopped. The gruesome killings continue by the seemingly unstoppable masked miner, truly one of the most chilling figures in any slasher movie.
Based on the true, unsolved 1946 Texarkana killings, in which a hooded killer terrorized a small town. The Texas Ranger called in on the case (Ben Johnson) urges prom goers to go straight home after the dance. But trombone player Peggy and her boyfriend Roy unwisely decide to head out to their favorite parking spot as usual. They fall asleep and are awakened up at 2:40 in the morning by the Phantom. Roy is shot dead, but poor Peggy gets a much more disturbing death: She’s tied to the tree and the sick bastard kills her by attaching a knife to her trombone and “playing” it into her back several times.
Johnny (Andrew Lowery) isn’t letting the fact that he’s dead stop him from escorting the love of his life, Missy (Tracy Lind), to the prom. The town isn’t exactly happy about having an undead zombie in their midst. Among the then-unknown supporting players are Philip Seymour Hoffman as a dimwitted jock who gets lines like “I’m gonna kill you, dead boy.” And Lost star Matthew Fox as the popular, snobby jerk who thinks that dead people shouldn’t hang out with “us decent, living folks.” Bob Balaban directed this lightweight comedy that co-stars Cloris Leachman as “Maggie the Zombie Expert” is the only happy ending on this list.
Sharon Knolle is a film noir buff, dog lover and founder of Moviepaws.com. You can follow her on Twitter.