Written by: Clay Borris
Directed by: Dan Curtis
Starring: Nicole de Boer, J.H. Wyman, and Joy Tanner
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďHoly Father, help me save the sluts and the whores."
It was a pretty rough prom night for Hamilton High back in 1957. Not only was prom queen Mary Lou Maroney roasted as she accepted her crown, but, if Prom Night IV is any indication, the same fate befell two of her classmates that were about to bone out in the parking lot. Or maybe this is a different Hamilton High. Either way, after three movies, itís pretty clear that itís best to stay at home on prom night if you go to Hamilton High unless you want to have your night ruined by various vengeful psychopaths, be it the ghost of Mary Lou or a deranged priest out to do the Lordís work.
Thatís the case in part four, as the 1957 festivities are interrupted by Father Jonas (James Carver), a local priest who asks for Godís help in slaying the wicked. Father Jonas decides to start with some pretty low-hanging fruit, though; instead of targeting the true scum of society (like, say, certain Catholic priests), he sets his sights on teenagers frolicking in the backseat. After slicing up a couple and torching their car, he returns to his seminary, where his fellow priests are horrified by his actions, especially when he displays signs of the Stigmata. Instead of turning him over to proper authorities, they transport him to another church and bury him away like a dirty secret. 30 years later, newcomer Father Colin is tasked with keeping watch on the now catatonic (and absurdly bearded) Jonas, whose fellow priests have been administering a daily sedative to keep him in check.
Unfortunately, Colinís kind of a goof and forgets to give Jonas his meds one day, so the psycho priest escapes and resumes his quest to slay promiscuous teenagers. Luckily for him, it just happens to be Hamilton Highís prom night once again (are we sure this guy isnít to prom night what Michael Myers is to Halloween?). From there, itís pretty routine stuff, as Jonas targets a quartet of kids who are actually too cool for school and have retreated to a rural, summer home for prom night. The subtext of various splatter movies then becomes text as the moral majority is made into homicidal flesh and takes its vengeance out on the untamed, corrupt youth of the day, with its conservative values (read: virginity) once again being reaffirmed by the end of the film. Iím not quite sure anyone ever thought this point would be made with dead teenagers affixed to flaming crosses, though.
If that sounds pretty wild (and maybe even a little awesome), it certainly is; however, itís also a rare lively moment in Prom Night IV, a film that feels a bit like course correction. Instead of following the first two sequelsí lead down Elm Street, this follow-up attempts to recapture the more straight-laced feel of the original film, which was very unintentionally silly. Despite its more disturbing premise, this one is just as silly; after all, most of it is still dedicated to a group of teenagersí pursuit of sex and paying the ultimate price for it. As such, itís terribly predictable fare, save for the fate of the forgetful Father Colin (the film seemingly introduces him as the main character before strangling the life out of him): of the four kids, Laura (Joy Tanner) and Jeff (Alle Ghadban) are the more amorous couple (thus marking them for death), while goody-two-shoes Meagan (Nicole de Boer) has been holding out on Mark (J.H. Wyman), thus leaving little doubt who the final girl will be. Such predictability is perhaps expected and even played along with in slashers, but Prom Night IV is stunningly dull; if the goal was to get back to the slow, uninteresting approach from the original, then it succeeded.
Since the body count is so threadbare, most of the film involves the unseen priest stalking about the premises as the dopey teens go about their business. For whatever reason, the house has been broken into (a subplot that ends up meaning very little), and their interactions mostly boil down to everyone trying to calm Meaganís anxieties about sex. When Father Jonas finally decides to interrupt and put them out of their (and perhaps our) misery, things only get marginally better since much of the climax involves the dwindling survivors calling out the othersí names in an obviously futile search. Slashers can get away with a lot, but being boring is arguably a cardinal sin for the genre, and itís one Prom Night IV commits pretty frequently. While the gory payoffs are pretty decent, they hardly compensate for the stodgy proceedings.
In fact, the most interesting stuff in Prom Night IV is still all subtext. Some force actually endows Father Jonas with the ability to shoot fire at will, which leads to some questions (chiefly: ďWhy doesnít he just set his victims on fire?Ē). Is this the work of God or Satan? The clergy naturally writes it off as demonic possession, Jonasís Stigmata has some disturbing implications, none of which are mined or explored in any way. Perhaps this is a super trenchant critique of the church as a destructive force, and it certainly highlights its darker, conspiratorial side by burying its shames rather than bringing them to light. Something tells me that Prom Night IV isnít exactly the arena for this sort of thing, though (in fact, just stick with Jess Francoóhe did this much better two decades earlier in Exorcism).
If Prom Night IV is a course correction from the previous entries, then it is accomplished, for better or worse (okay, mostly worse). Both films are plagued by stagnant middle acts and split the difference on various elements. The original has (marginally) better characters, while this one has a bigger body count and a less generic killer, so I suppose it just about breaks even. Usually, a third sequel matching the original is a pretty remarkable feat, but not so here since the series didnít exactly need a course correction after the superior middle sequels. Basically, if Mary Lou Maroneyís not around, itís a pretty dull night. Anyway, Prom Night IV is the second half of Artisanís double feature; for whatever reason, this one isnít cut, and the fact that the edited version of part 3 is still more entertaining speaks volumes. The presentation is similarly low-rent, though: the transfer is murky, the stereo surround track is passable, and there are no special features. Perhaps in an effort to hit every beat on the slasher checklist, Prom Night IV does tease a sequel, which obviously never happened. Maybe that was for the best--unless Prom Night V would have resurrected Mary Lou and teamed her up with the other killers in the franchise (in retrospect, I feel like every major series should get its own Fast Five entry whenever possible). Rent it!
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