GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: Rebecca McCallum is the assistant editor of @GhoulsMagazine. A horror enthusiast with a specific interest in writing think pieces that dissect and analyse the films of the genre, Rebecca feels an instant bond with anyone who describes the Texas Chainsaw Massacre as one of the greatest works of art the world has ever seen. Find on on Twitter @PendlePumpkin.

For many teenagers, Prom signifies reaching a milestone in their young lives—a celebration as they make the transition into adulthood. For others, however, it can also represent a period of extreme social anxiety, triggering a preoccupation with physical appearances, wealth, and popularity. While Prom provides a chance for high school graduates to mark a special occasion, the crowning of a Prom Queen and King creates a micro-hierarchy which values social status above all else. Two films that focus on events triggered by and surrounding Prom are Brian DePalma’s widely known Carrie and Sean Byrne’s 2001 indie hit, The Loved Ones.

Carrie

The position of Carrie White (Sissiy Spacek) as outsider is solidified from the opening scene of the film, which depicts a group of high school girls playing sports. Not only does Carrie literally stand on the edges of the court but when she is given a chance to score a point, she falls short, prompting a torrent of abuse from her peers. This is followed by a deeply unpleasant and heart-breaking scene of bullying, when a terrified Carrie gets her first period and does not understand why she is bleeding.  Sadly, life at home is no better, as her religious mother enforces a strict and unloving regime. In fact, it would seem that Carrie is constantly victimised, belittled, and ignored: by her teachers, her principal, and even a neighbourhood boy who openly mocks her on the streets.

For her mother (Piper Laurie), the news that Carrie has started her period marks the beginning of her losing power over her daughter. When Carrie tells her mother she is going to the Prom, she echoes the word back as a thunderstorm resounds from on high, signifying that this inspires great fear within her. This coincides with Carrie finding that she has gained power through her telekinetic abilities. Carrie’s invite to the Prom emboldens her to oppose her mother and put herself first: ”I’m going Mama, you can’t stop me and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Just as it looks as though everything is coming together for Carrie and she is crowned Prom Queen, her dream (conveyed through melodic and hazy score and slow movements) morphs into the ultimate nightmare. Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen), ringleader of the bullies, chooses to rip Carrie’s world from beneath her at a moment which she has calculated will cause maximum social humiliation. In De Palma’s film, the colour red is symbolic of both blood and rage and is integral to the themes explored. Upon seeing Carrie’s dress, her mother retorts: ”Red. I might have known” when in actual fact, Carrie tells her, the dress is pink. To Mrs White, red is equated with sin. As a blood- soaked Carrie is replaced by an entire screen steeped in crimson, we watch as she exercises her revenge. The theme of the Prom is ‘Love Amongst the Stars’ and any idea of the night being close to heavenliness makes way for a living hell as the gymnasium burns into flames.

After suffering extraordinary shame onstage, Carrie must return home and face her ultimate oppressor in the knowledge that her warning “they’re all going to laugh at you” has indeed come true. In a recreation of the opening scene where Carrie’s fate was sealed, she takes a bath and we see imagery of blood and water. After a violent confrontation with her mother, Carrie retreats into the very closet which we have seen her sent to as punishment. As the house collapses inward, we are left wondering if Carrie is now the subject of a higher wrath. In a now famous horror ending, De Palma first shows a clean, conventional and safe scene of Sue recovering in bed and thus conveys the sense that all is safe and we can exhale. However, the peace is shattered with a magnificent jump scare which indicates that—even beyond the grave—Carrie’s rage will live on. 

The Loved Ones

Quiet and socially awkward Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy) is rejected by fellow high school student Brent (Xavier Samuel) when she asks him to the dance (Australian equivalent of Prom). Unable to take no for an answer, Lola and her father (who has never said no to her and is played by John Brumpton) undertake an act of brutal revenge. Brent is kidnapped and subjected to Lola and Daddy Stone’s own recreation of the dance, which includes paper hats, mirror balls, and a kettle. We gain an early insight into Lola’s mindset through a panning shot of her bedroom which displays an unsettling mixture of imagery that is both sexual and innocent.

As Brent is tied down and invited to share in the deranged and darkly comic celebrations, we learn that Lola represents a strange blurring of girl and woman. Whilst matter of fact and frank when it comes to sex, she also uses childlike phrases such as “porky pies” and thus challenges our notions of conventional femininity. In a refreshing take on the male villain utilising a weapon as a phallic substitute, Lola brandishes a power tool which she uses to both penetrate and create a hole. The soft light of a mirror ball and bright bobbing balloons are juxtaposed with the bloody mess that Brent becomes as things grow more and more out of hand. Lola soon pulls out a scrapbook adorned with hearts and her trademark pink aesthetic which reveals that she is even more troubled than we first thought.

Presented as ‘Queen of the Dance’ by Daddy Stone, Lola’s crowning moment shows her in a state of euphoria—this is emphasized by the magical sounding score. This is what she has coveted most, this is her idea of a fairy tale. The notion of fairy tales and Prom feel closely linked, the idea being that a Princess (Daddy Stone’s affectionately weird pet name for his daughter) will find her Prince.

In The Loved Ones, Lola tells Brent that she has had to kiss many frogs and that ultimately her father is her Prince; it would seem that for Lola, ‘Daddy’ is unparalleled. Clearly drawing on horror heritage—including themes regarding children, parents, and the void that can exist between them —as well the dark humour of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Byrne has managed to craft something new at the same time paying homage to the genre.