In 1957, a mentally unstable priest, Father Jonas, snaps and kills two teenagers with a metal crucifix while they’re making out in the back seat of their car on prom night. His fellow clergymen at the seminary, convinced he is possessed by a demon and not wanting to cause a scandal, apprehend Jonas and lock him up in the basement of a larger church in the city, where he is kept under the careful watch of Father Jaeger who keeps him chained and sedated for the next 33 years. But after Father Jaeger’s passing his young replacement, Father Colin, fails to follow Jaeger’s or the church’s instructions of sedating Jonas, thinking that he can find another way to help him instead. Colin’s naivety tragically backfires, and Jonas inevitably escapes, with the local Cardinal tasked with finding him. But he’d better hurry, because Jonas is heading back to his old seminary out in the country, which has since been converted into a residential home that’s currently occupied by a group of four teenagers who decided that they’d rather skip prom in favor of having their own private graduation celebration.
Seriously, Colin, you had ONE job.
Prom Night IV follows the precedent set by the other Prom Night sequels, in that it really has very little to do with the first film, though it does return to the series roots of being a slasher. Beyond that though, the only thing linking it to the previous two films is that one of the first scenes takes place at Hamilton High. After that, not only does it switch locations, but it’s not even centered around a prom anymore, which makes the title kind of misleading. Most of the story takes place at a church, or at the old seminary-turned-house conveniently located out in the middle of nowhere. Then again, considering that all the films in this franchise seem to be so thematically different (likely because the original scripts were all reworked into Prom Night stories), perhaps the producers didn’t consider that an oddity, but a feature…
I think I may have pinpointed why this franchise died off.
Even adding lesbian subtext couldn’t save it.
That said, Prom Night IV is basically the perfect successor to the original film in that, as a slasher, it’s just… serviceable. As far as slashers go, it’s pretty by-the-book: horney teens in a secluded location are stalked/killed by some sort of hard to kill maniac. It’s also filled with characters you’ve grown to expect: the jock, the nice guy, the slut and the virgin-like final girl. And if you’ve ever made a checklist of all the horror cliches mentioned in the Scream franchise this movie would likely tic every one of those boxes. There’s nothing here that really helps make the film stand out from the plethora of other, similar slashers that have come before or since.
The film’s pacing doesn’t do it any favors either. It starts off strong with two brutal kills right before the 10-minute mark, but after that point the movie has a tendency to plod along between kills. You have to sit through a good 20 minutes of drawn out plot involving teenage shenanigans and awkward sexual tension before the suspense finally picks up again. But even after the plot finally starts to move along after the 30-minute mark, whatever tension the film starts to build up is quickly quashed thanks to blatantly poor decision making on the kids’ part, or unsexy sexy times. It doesn’t help that Jonas, despite displaying semi-supernatural abilities, isn’t at all scary. He really feels more like a disgruntled employee than he does a demon-possessed lunatic. Though I will give him credit for his weapon choice. His homemade cross-turned-sword combo is actually pretty damn impressive.
As far as gore hounds and pervs are concerned, even in the blood and booty department Prom Night IV manages to fall short. While the movie does manage to have a goodly amount of both, the nudity it contains is fairly sparse, and much of the violence is rather tame, with some of the more brutal stuff happening just off camera. So while it does contain more than the original film, the fourth installment will likely still not impress slasher fans looking for the typical slasher fair.
Wait, this happened the same night as the second film? 1957 was not a good year for Hamilton High.
The film’s one standout defining feature is that it tries to explain away some of the slasher cliches by giving them a religious motivation via Father Jonas. Let’s face it, a lot of the main horror/slasher “rules” governing who only gets traumatized and who winds up with an ax to the skull follow some sort of moral code and, like it or not, a lot of those morals are based in religion. So it kind of makes sense that when it comes to something like the sin of pre-marital sex, a priest may find more fault with that than others and wish to ‘clense’ people of their ‘sins’. The problem with this angle, is that the movie doesn’t take it quite far enough. It’s revealed early on that Jonas isn’t just a religious fanatic, he also shows signs of stigmata and thus through that, coupled with the psychopathy, it is implied that Jonas isn’t just crazy, but that he’s possessed by an actual demon. Cool, movie! You can do a lot with that! And yet, instead of utilizing this, the movie has Jonas spend all his time quietly stalking and hiding from a handful of useless teens. I’ll give the movie credit for making an attempt at weaving in the religious themes and even going so far as to address various forms of church corruption (including sexual molestation), but instead of deftly weaving them into the story, in the end they feel more like afterthoughts, because, although interesting, none of those little plot-points ever go anywhere.
And the whole reason for this get-up is completely glossed over too.
So Prom Night IV in many ways ends up being much like the first film in the franchise, in that it’s just okay. There isn’t anything here that hasn’t been seen or done a hundred times before. The characters are bland, the plot is generic, the villain is boring and the acting is tolerable at best. Minus the added religious angle the movie is about as cliche as cliche can be, which is a shame because the religious aspects opened up a whole slew of new possibilities. I’ll give them credit for going in that direction and illustrating the religious hypocrisy and hierarchical corruption, but it’s just too bad the ideas that were initially expressed only ended up being partially utilized. Those added layers easily make Prom Night IV the darkest entry in this rather short film series, but the rest of the film is so generic that it hardly ends up mattering.
Prom Night IV: Deliver us from Evil is available on a variety of streaming services.
It is also available on DVD, though most seem out of print and the quality of said DVDs may be a bit suspect.