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Prom queen Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), shortly before her surprise blood drenching in 1976's Carrie.
After finding success with its 2021 Fear Street trilogy, Netflix is plotting its next R.L. Stine adaptation, taking on the prolific author’s 1992 YA release The Prom Queen. The book’s plot and setting evoke one of horror’s favorite traditions: turning high-school dances into bloodbaths.
Here are 10 survival tips, should you find yourself in a horror movie in which a prom (or any variation of the Big Dance, really) is taking place. You’ve been warned!
There are different versions of Carrie out there—the 1976 original with Sissy Spacek being the obvious best—but all include the big moment of staggering humiliation for the main character, in which she’s doused with pig’s blood after being crowned prom queen. So if you’re a bullied teen who experiences a suspicious rise in popularity in the lead-up to the big dance—or if you’re just a random student trying to celebrate senior year—keep an eye on the school bullies. If you see any of them poking around the rafters backstage, rigging any sort of bucket contraption, expect that hell’s about to break loose.
2. Map out an exit route
Carrie White made sure nobody could escape the gym once she made the mental shift from “Omg I’m the prom queen!” to “I’m gonna kill everyone in this gym.” So—and this tip is sort of a blanket for all prom-based slasher flicks—prime yourself to flee at the first sign of trouble, whether it takes the form of a knife-wielding killer or an awkward teen girl with weaponized psychic powers.
3. Family ties are important
Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis’ disco-dancing prom queen in 1980's Prom Night is one of few characters to escape the movie’s splatterfest. The big reveal of the killer’s identity explains why she’s been spared: it’s her younger brother, avenging the death of another sister several years prior. Whew.
4. Clear your conscience
Another Prom Night lesson: if you (sort of accidentally) killed another kid some years ago, it’s best to own up to your role in the tragedy. Otherwise, when the check comes due while you’re in high school, and bodies start dropping in gruesome ways, the cops will waste valuable time searching for escaped psychiatric hospital patients—rather than zeroing in on the real slasher in your midst.
5. Embrace your keen fashion sense
As we learn in 1992's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one’s sense of style could play a key part in defeating the pack of vampires who’ve descended on your high school’s “Hug the World”-themed senior dance.
6. Beware of cursed objects
Enjoyably silly 1987 sequel Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II offers a textbook example of why you should never, ever plunder creepy old trucks hidden away in your high school. You might unleash the possession-happy ghost of a prom queen who perished after a ghoulish, Carrie-but-with-fire prank 30 years earlier, and is now hellbent on some serious payback.
7. Idris Elba will save you
In 2008, Prom Night got a remake made mostly notable by its casting of a post-Wire Idris Elba as a police detective as determined as he is heroic. Don’t worry about that crazed stalker who’s persistently intent on ruining your prom night—you’ve got a charismatic defender with a badge, a gun, and impeccable timing on your side.
8. Respect the past
Slasher films love making people in the present-day pay for the sins of the past—we already mentioned Prom Night, in which the killer’s motivation is very much in this vein. A variation on this is the re-starting of an event linked with tragedy in the past, which then becomes an emotional trigger for a disturbed soul who copes by launching a murder spree.
Two examples, both from 1981: My Bloody Valentine’s Valentine’s Day dance, which returns following a 20-year break after a deadly mining accident; and The Prowler, which sees a small town’s college graduation dance revived after a double murder 35 years prior. In both cases, well... someone ain’t happy about people having fun on such a solemn occasion, and gallons of fresh blood are shed as a result. Word to the wise: pick another day for your big dance, rather than remounting the event in such a way that pitchfork-wielding maniacs will be tempted to join the festivities.
9. Avoid the pool
Two 2009 films, two cautionary tales about staying away from the school swimming pool during the prom and/or big dance: Jennifer’s Body and Cabin Fever 2: Spring Break. One scenario involves an insatiable demon, the other a repulsive contagious disease—and neither presents a positive outcome for the student body at large.
10. Stay on the main road!
Goofball slasher comedy The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre—the fourth entry in the series—is mostly remembered as the only Chainsaw movie to star a pair of future Oscar winners: Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger. (Marilyn Burns, who played the original film’s Final Girl, also has a cameo.) But Return also contains our final lesson in prom-night survival: if you storm out of the dance, furious at your no-good cheater of a boyfriend, don’t disregard motor safety. You just might accidentally find yourself lost on a creepy back road... being chased by a chainsaw-wielding fiend.
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