Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil
1992, Starring Nicole de Boer, Alden Kane, Joy Tanner, Alle Ghadban, Ken McGregor, James Carver, Brock Simpson, Krista Bulmer, Phil Morrison, Fab Filippo. Directed by Clay Borris.
Guest Review by Rhett Miller
There is a single shot that, no matter how thematically different the Prom Night films are, manages to show up in every entry in the series. The shot is a low-angle tilt shot of the central building in the film. In the first three films, that building is Hamilton High. The shot casts the building in an ominous light and an empowering stature. It invites scrutiny of the institution where every single youth is to attend throughout their life, suggesting something sinister about the institution itself, rather than merely the people like Mary Lou Maloney who attend it. In Prom Night IV: Deliver us from Evil the building changes from school to church, but the scrutinizing camera angle remains. Deliver us from Evil is a scathing attack on the Catholic Church, and it is accordingly far more serious than the previous Prom Night excursions.
The film begins at 1957 prom night at Hamilton High, like the previous two films. It appears that on that same night, not only did Mary Lou get burned to a crisp, but another two people (a couple fornicating, natch) were also torched, although this time the fire was decidedly less accidental. "Holy father help me, help me save the sluts and the whores!" Father Jonas (James Carver) pleads during the pre-credit sequence. Confession just doesn't cut it any longer for such sinners though for Jonas, the only redemption is death. So when Jonas catches a couple having pre-marital sex, he sprays their car down with what appears to be flammable holy water(!) and lights the car into a sacrificial crucible.
Jonas is found in his cellar-like dwelling beneath the church, and the various priests condemn his murderous acts. It is not as cut and dry as good priest/bad priest however, as Jonas reveals he is the product of child molestation from within the church. Violation in his youth seems to have perverted his judgment of right and wrong, and passed onward the chain of religious depravity. Rather than dealing with their corrupt creation, the church instead decides to lock up their problems by sedating and chaining Jonas to a bed.
Flash forward to present 1991, and a new priest, Father Colin (Brock Simpson) is assigned the task of caring for Jonas after an older religious figurehead has a heart attack. Colin has good intentions of trying to reach Jonas, but makes the mistake of toying with nature's balance. With years of religious injustice under his belt, Jonas escapes and seeks to redeem himself by slaying more sinful teenagers.
It is prom night (although the prom is never attended or shown) for Mark (Alden Kane) & Meg (Nikki DeBoer) and Jeff (Alle Ghadban) & Laura (Joy Tanner) a good excuse for the two couples to head off to Mark's cabin. Jeff and Laura have an active sex life, while Mark hopes tonight will be the night he takes Meg's virginity. As they drive out there, the group toasts "to prom night!" while Jeff, in a wink wink to the audience, tips his glass "to Jamie Lee Curtis!" Things get much more serious when the gang observes Mark's cabin has been broken into. It appears the cabin used to be a small church, so it is without question that Jonas is the culprit now seeking refuge within its walls. The gang blames it on burglars, and proceeds to get drunk and lust for one another. Jonas lurks in the shadows however, voyeuristically watching the couples engage in sinful activity. Armed with a pointed cross, he punishes each teenager until only one remains. Regardless of the outcome, the injustice of the church remains, and past misdeeds live on through the generations.
Prom Night IV: Deliver us from Evil is a well-made little slasher film. Stylishly shot with a film school sophistication, it has a competence that few direct-to-video movies contain. What really makes the film though, is its story, which cleverly weaves religious themes into the tested slasher formula. The standard clich of the slasher genre is that those who engage in sex or drugs are always killed. It remains usually an unwritten rule without explanation, but Deliver us from Evil gives the clich a unique spin. The sin of premarital sex has always been due to the preaching of the church, so it is fitting that the killer therefore be a priest. The murders actually have religious significance rather than just killing because it is an unwritten rule in slasher films, Jonas murders under a perverted pretext that his actions are in service to the lord and will offer the victims redemption. Considering how well the slasher conventions fit within (exaggerated) religious beliefs, it is surprising that Prom Night IV remains one of the only films to tackle such subject matter.
The film does not play it safe at all when dealing with the church either. Jonas is not the lone bad guy, in a way the entire church is to blame for his actions. He is the product of molestation that constantly continues behind the closed doors of the church. The film also makes sure to point out that rather than helping a disciple, the church instead intensifies his problems. The entire church is painted as one of hierarchical corruption, and they are to blame for not only perverting Jonas' innocence, but also for punctuating his religious hysteria. Jonas is seen not as an exception to the church, but as a product of all the corruption that is left unmentioned in the media. Most films pussyfoot around the issues of corruption in the church, and who would have thought that a low-budget Canadian slasher film would present its case most honestly?
Deliver us from Evil asserts in its final moments that the depravity within the church is an ongoing thing that cannot be stopped or ignored. Before the end credits, it is revealed that Jonas still lives, as he menacingly opens his eyes. It is no coincidence that near the start of the film he is bearded to look like the infamous Rasputin. Like the mad monk, Jonas is one that refuses to die. Instead he stays alive to demonstrate the vice within the Christian religion. The film does not end, as most slasher would, with the revelation that Jonas lives. Instead, the film closes with the final heroine opening her eyes in a connection with Jonas. The message of the film is thus that corruption does not live in alienation, and that the chain of sin will continue on to further generations. It is no coincidence that those molested as children grow to be molesters themselves, and Nikki's virginity is emphasized in the film to show that she is very much still a vulnerable child. So like Jonas several years earlier, the young Nikki has been perverted with the vice of the church.
Easily the darkest entry in the series, Deliver us from Evil is also the most effective. Even without all the religious subtext, Jonas makes for a truly menacing killer. Whether he is making obscene phone calls like the Canadian slasher benchmark, Black Christmas, or he is wearing the scalped hair of one of his victims, he remains throughout one of the most disturbing of all slasher murderers.
There is nothing in the film to establish it as uniquely Canadian, despite its filming in wintry Ontario it comes off as entirely indecisive. There are no American flags at Hamilton High this time. Removing the focus away from its location instead signals the film's focus on the universal problems of the church, ones that have no continental boundaries.
It is rare that the fourth film in a series has all the quality and even moreso than the film that inspired it. Prom Night IV: Deliver us from Evil is a much more serious film than the cheesy original, and its scrutiny of the Catholic Church much more than what most slasher films attempt to deal with. Canada has been known for its slasher films, and this one ranks right near the top alongside Black Christmas. Highly recommended.