There have been plenty of bad girls we secretly/not-so-secretly like throughout the history of horror cinema. Chris Hargensen in Carrie (1976), with her potty mouth, irrational hatred for Carrie White, and the god damn bucket of pig’s blood, is probably the gold standard, and rightly so. As much as I absolutely love Nancy Allen’s performance, in the end I sort of relish when Chris faces some fatal consequences for her actions.
Then there’s another type of bad girl, personified best in my mind by Wendy Richards in one of my favorite slashers, Prom Night (1980). As portrayed brilliantly by Anne-Marie Martin (credited by her given name Eddie Brenton), Wendy seems like the archetypal drop-dead gorgeous popular girl who has it all. She might carry herself with confidence, but her aloofness masks insecurities and disappointments that Wendy can’t seem to shake.
As a child, she played a role in a tragic accident that now serves as the killer’s motivation for revenge against a group of prom night revelers, Wendy among them. As a teen, Wendy seems sullen and unhappy and, frankly, not that excited about being a bad girl. It’s as if she realizes no matter how bad she is to her classmates, it never makes her feel any better about herself.
Prom Night’s final act is full of carnage, as the killer methodically works his way through his kill list on prom night. Wendy’s fight for survival is, without exaggeration, quite possibly the best scene of its kind in the history of slasher cinema. Martin is incredible, and we believe the shear terror Wendy feels as she’s chased through the halls of her high school—all while looking fabulous in an iconic red-sequined dress.
Martin’s performance is simply wonderful. She makes Wendy a fully realized character and every time she’s onscreen we learn a bit more about her through Martin’s beautiful, nuanced work. She’s lived with a terrible secret for too long, she’s miserable and bored with her high school existence, both of which make her utterly human to me. It’s an extraordinarily sympathetic choice Martin makes to imbue Wendy with such attractive and relatable ennui. It makes me root for Wendy every time I watch, even though I know the results will always be the same.
Today is Anne-Marie Martin’s birthday and she deserves all the cake for gifting us with such a memorable performance in Prom Night.