Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II
Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 19 October 2013
Source MGM DVD
Categories 31 Days of Horror X
It’s little wonder that high school proms have frequently become the settings for horror films. Sure, proms are more cinematic than your average high school day: just think of how much time and energy is spent on the costuming, set design, and soundtrack. But beyond that, the prom is an event so rife with hope, fear, lust, and frustration that it all but begs for the horror treatment. Brian De Palma’s Carrie is prom horror’s primary touchstone, but there have been echoes of, and answers to, his film ever since its release, offering a fascinating array of heroes and villains clad in taffeta and heels. Every Saturday for the next four weeks, look for a new review of a film that mixes slow dances and corsages with terror.
The original Prom Night helped to kick-off the horror boom of the 1980s and establish some of the sturdiest tropes of the slasher genre, but it wasn’t immediately followed by a sequel like so many of its contemporaries. Prom Night II didn’t surface until 1987, after horror had taken a turn for the surreal with A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the playfully strange with the likes of Re-Animator, The Return of the Living Dead, and Night of the Creeps. Indeed, dedicated horror fans might not find it particularly surprising that Prom Night II places its tongue firmly in cheek. It did, after all, come out in the same year as the hyperactively parodic Evil Dead II.
Since Prom Night left little room for a sequel, Prom Night II tells a new story about Hamilton High (ostensibly the same Hamilton High as the first film, though in the sequel, no one seems to remember that there was a massacre at prom seven years ago). The setup goes like this: in 1957, Mary Lou Maloney, an unapologetic “bad girl” — she’s lascivious and also mean, in a juvenile way — is about to be crowned prom queen right after she jilts her date, Billy Nordham, for a boy named Buddy Cooper. In a turn of events reminiscent of Carrie, the heartbroken Billy attempts to get revenge on Mary Lou by tossing a stink bomb at her from the gymnasium rafters. The prank goes fatally awry: Mary Lou’s dress catches fire, and she dies in a horrific conflagration before her classmates’ eyes. Thirty years later, a sweet teenager named Vicki, played by Wendy Lyon, disturbs Mary Lou’s ghost when she digs up the dead girl’s prom-queen accessories, including the crown she never got to wear.
Prom Night II is like a fun house mirror reflection of other teen horror movies: it feels like a less serious little sister to Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street, borrowing some obvious imagery and plot points from the former and a flair for creative nightmare visions from the latter. It’s winkingly self-aware, and loaded with allusions to horror films past: for instance, there are characters named for John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and Frank Henenlotter. But Prom Night II feels less like a predictable retread than a surprisingly tuneful mashup. Once Mary Lou’s ghost goes after Vicki, the film takes off into some delightfully strange and often campy directions. Its nightmare setpieces are occasionally disturbing, but mostly just amusing: a girl is menaced by a paper cutter, blood bubbles up in the school drinking fountain, a volleyball net becomes a giant spider web, and a formerly innocuous rocking horse starts raising its sinister eyebrows and waggling a Gene Simmons-like tongue. Director Bruce Pittman tests his boundaries, staging sequences that recall everything from Repulsion to The Exorcist to Poltergeist.
Lyon, meanwhile, is a hoot as Vicki, who is eventually possessed by Mary Lou and starts strutting the halls of her high school in a 1950s wardrobe while spouting outdated slang. (“She talks like we’re in an Elvis Presely movie,” one of her friends observes.) It’s hard not to get a kick out of Lyon wielding her lipstick like a switchblade and bringing menace to the phrase “See you later, alligator,” and the lyrics of “Tutti Frutti.” (Interestingly, the teen-girl-as-horror-baddie has remained somewhat novel: enough so that it raised discussion when Jennifer’s Body was released, 22 years after Prom Night II.) In addition to Lyon, Lisa Schrage makes a powerful impression in her few scenes as Mary Lou: it’s easy to forget how little we actually see of her here. And, to the film’s credit, some of the other characters manage be more than just cannon fodder, particularly Beth Gondek as Vicki’s troubled friend Jess, and Brock Simpson (a veteran of the first Prom Night, albeit in a different role) as a tech geek named Josh.
The film gets enjoyably messy and chaotic in its final act, and sports some impressively icky special effects, though it does somewhat frustratingly allow dream logic to take over. (In other words: at some point it kind of stops making sense, even as it cribs too-liberally from Wes Craven.) I don’t mean to suggest that Prom Night II is a bona fide classic, but it is silly in the best way, a deliciously loopy riff on familiar characters and themes. Mary Lou Maloney resurfaces (played by a different actress) in one of the two not-great Prom Night installments that followed this one, but it’s probably better to remember her as she is here, as the driving force of a sequel that’s more fun than it has any right to be.
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