Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

... aka: Haunting of Hamilton High, The
... aka: Hello Mary Lou
... aka: Prom Night II

Directed by:
Samuel Goldwyn (uncredited)
Bruce Pittman
Peter Simpson (uncredited)

Prom Night (1980) was a bland, routine, inexplicably popular Canadian slasher flick whose chief claim to fame was that it starred a then-hot Jamie Lee Curtis fresh off her success in the huge hit Halloween (1978). This belated, unrelated "sequel" (filmed under the title The Haunting of Hamilton High) thankfully has absolutely nothing to do with the first aside from several scenes that take place at a Prom and is a much more creative, humorous, energetic and free-wheeling affair. Not without its own obvious derivations, Prom Night II owes a debt of gratitude to several other films, though it pays comic homage to these movies instead of outright stealing from them in a straight-faced manner. For instance, a priest character's various ramblings seem like slightly retooled dialogue that had already come from the mouths of Jason Miller and Max von Sydow in The Exorcist (1973). However, at a later juncture, another character comments that the lead female's progressively strange behavior makes him feel like he's living in "Lindablairsville" and you quickly catch on to where this movie is coming from. There's lots of playful nudging and just as many sly winks throughout; not only directed at the aforementioned William Friedkin classic, but also at the original horror-at-the-Prom flick, CARRIE (1976), as well as (then) more contemporary fare like A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

The relatively unknown Wendy Lyon stars as Vicki Carpenter, a generally sweet, polite and friendly teenage girl saddled with a push-over of a father (Wendell Smith) and a controlling, bitchy, hypocritical, ultra-religious mother (Judy Mahbey) who rules the roost. Vicki is one of many nominees for Prom Queen at her school, but mom disproves of her boyfriend Craig (Justin Louis) because he rides a motorcycle and refuses to give her money to buy a dress. That's OK. Vicki - like Carrie White a decade earlier - will just make her own. But those issues seem like a cake walk in comparison to some other changes Vicki's been recently going through... 

Our poor heroine starts suffering from horrifying nightmares that get progressively worse until she's doubting her own sanity. She then begins to use profanity, begins to be more sexually aggressive, begins dressing like she time-warped out of the 1950s (and uses accompanying lingo) and, all around, starts behaving like she's no longer the Vicki everyone knows and loves. That's because she is no longer the Vicki everyone knows and loves. She's actually been possessed by a bitchy, promiscuous former Hamilton High student who was accidentally torched at her school's Prom many years earlier. The vengeful spirit of Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage) is back... and she wants revenge, as well as the Prom Queen crown she never got in her human life. In order to achieve this, she has inhabited Vicki's body and goes after the man responsible for her demise. That man is Bill Nordham (Michael Ironside), the father of Vicki's boyfriend, who's now working as the school principal.

Students at Hamilton High soon start dropping like flies. In particular, all the young ladies in the running for the coveted Prom Queen title; i.e. the competition. First up is Jess (Beth Gondek), who finds out she's pregnant before a supernatural force takes care of that problem by hanging her and then tossing her out of a window. Vicki's somewhat snobby close friend Monica (Beverly Hendry), the extremely bitchy and obnoxious Kelly (Terri Hawkes) and the amusing geek Josh (Brock Simpson) are other potential targets. Father Cooper (Richard Monette), who was once a ladies man before taking to the cloth and was with Mary Lou the night she was killed, also gets involved. Some of the special effects highlights are Vicki getting sucked into a blackboard that transforms into a pool of dark water, a rocking horse that comes to creepy life and death by computer electrocution, impalement with a neon lightning bolt, a crucifix through the mouth and, the film's most memorable bit, being crushed between two lockers.

Lyon is quite a revelation in the lead role here and very skillfully plays a troubled teen driven to the brink as well as her deliciously evil possessed counterpart. This is actually one of the only "Final Girl" lead performances in an 80s horror / slasher flick that's truly noteworthy if you ask me. Not only a good actress, Lyon has no issue allowing the make-up and costume people to downplay her good looks in her "normal" persona (minimal make-up, frumpy clothes, hair simply pulled back...) so that when she's finally made up, adopts an evil and lascivious persona and has her big locker room nude scene, it's quite eye-opening to say the least. The gorgeous Schrage also does a fantastic job as the wicked and amoral 1950s temptress and makes the most of her screen time in her supporting role. The rest of the cast play their roles relatively well but these two lead females are clearly the standouts here.

Not only clever, amusing, well-acted, stylish, nicely-shot and scored and full of wonderful 80s tackiness, Prom Night II also has a surprising dose of tasteless, off-color humor, including a pre-Prom make out session that must seen to be believed as well as one of my all-time favorite confessional booth scenes. It's really only the stupid "here we go again" ending that disappoints. Still, it's a minor miracle this turned out as good as it did. Producer Peter Simpson later revealed in an interview with the site The Terror Trap (that can be read RIGHT HERE) that he and Samuel Goldwyn (whose company released the film theatrically) had to re-shoot about half of the movie after Pittman was done.

While not quite the box office hit the original was (it made an OK 2.7 million on a limited release), the film did extremely well on video and cable and that led to even more Prom Night releases. Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990) decided to just recycle the Mary Lou character (with Schrage replaced by the pretty but inferior Courtney Taylor) for another comic supernatural killing spree. Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil (1992) was a standard slasher flick featuring a killer priest that has nothing at all to do with the first three movies. And the least said about the extremely lame PG-13 Prom Night remake (released in 2008) the better.


Lord Crayak said...

Too bad they abandoned Mary Lou by the forth film (though, admittedly, what else could be done with her?)

While there are plenty of female slashers, there's a sore lack of recurring or "iconic" ones.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Yep, sure are. The only three that come to mind are Mary Lou and the two Angela's (Sleepaway Camp and Night of the Demons).

eillio said...

I forgot about the Angela character from the "Sleepaway Camp" films; she's a force to be reckoned with too. However, Mary Lou in this film scares the crap out of me, as her personality, I feel,can be more real (even in supernatural form, she is just nasty, but capable). I initially felt sorry for Angela in the first "Sleepaway Camp" film, but then it just became silly, although I like part 2, but Angela just doesn't scare me (especially in parts 2 & 3, when Pamela Springsteen took over the role). I've met females who had similar traits as Mary Lou, they just weren't doing a film and hid their true intentions better. now, I've never met an Angela (though I've met people who reassigned their sex, but it was more normal than Angela made a female to please her psychotic aunt!:-).

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I think most of us have met some real life Mary Lou's, minus the supernatural stuff! I'm not sure why Schrage didn't reprise this role in Part 3 either. She was really good in this one.

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