Monday, March 4, 2019

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990)

... aka: Baile de Formatura III (Graduation Dance III)
... aka: Dernier baiser avant l'enfer (Last Kiss Before Hell)
... aka: El último beso (The Last Kiss)
... aka: Escuela de terror (School of Terror)
... aka: Noche de graduación 3 El último beso (Graduation Night 3: The Last Kiss)
... aka: Prom Night 3
... aka: Suudelma ennen kuolemaa (Kiss Before Death)

Directed by:
Ron Oliver
Peter Simpson

I've noticed that many fans of the pretty straightforward slasher Prom Night (1980) didn't much care for the more comedic / supernatural route the first sequel, HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II (1987), took. Well, bad news for you if that's the case cause Mary Lou's back. Shackled up in torn stockings and forced to do an eternal Rockettes-style dance in hell (?), Mary Lou (Courtney Taylor) manages to saw through her chain with a nail file. Next thing we know, her tombstone blows up and she's back at her old haunt, Hamilton High School, and ready to indulge in a comic-gore killing spree with her array of corny, Freddy-inspired one-liners. "Mama said I'd be a heart breaker," she smirks after electrocuting the overnight janitor with a jukebox until his pacemaker explodes. Unlike with entry #2, where Mary Lou was resurrected wanting both revenge for her fiery death and to finally get the prom queen crown she was denied in 1957, in this entry she just wants... love.

Alex Grey (Tim Conlon) is your average high school student. Average height, average shoe size, average intellect, average looks, average athlete and as colorless as his last name. The only above average thing about him is that he somehow happens to be dating the beautiful "nerd" Sarah Monroe (Cyndy Preston). Alex's goal is to go to medical school, but due to a lack of drive and his C-grade high school career, bitchy guidance counselor Miss Richards (Lesley Kelly) recommends he look into fast food or janitorial work instead. Aside from that, the biggest drama in his life is deciding whether to spend the summer on a farm with Sarah or go on a road trip with his curiously possessive best friend, Shane (David Stratton). That is until a late night trip to the high school to retrieve his books finds him bumping into Mary Lou, which leads to a fall down the stairs and then sex on top of an American flag. Mary Lou's found her man.

In order to improve Alex's chances at success, Mary Lou starts doing nice things like changing failing test scores and trying to get him off of the second string on the football team. Problem is, she can't help but kill anyone who gets in her way. After he gives Alex a failing grade, she kills his biology teacher (former Canadian heavyweight boxing champ George Chuvalo) with ice cream cones and a hand mixer (!) and then turns him into an ice cream sundae. When Alex ends up on the top of the honor roll and threatens to join other "yuppies in training," Miss Richards decides to investigate. She's intercepted by Mary Lou, who kills her with battery acid out of a hairdryer while pretending to be Madge from the Palmolive commercials. (That joke's dated really well!) And when detestable jock Andrew (Dylan Neal) petitions to remove all "dweebs, dorks and geeks" from the football team, he's killed by a football that turns into a drill. Mary Lou uses her seductive charms on Alex until he tires of always having to clean up her mess. Besides, there's only so much room on the football field to bury corpses.

Having already estranged both his girlfriend and his best bud, Alex decides to call things off with Mary Lou, but she isn't going to go away that easily. Instead of helping Alex, she turns even nastier and starts stalking and terrorizing him, plus threatens his family and kills off his friends, turning this into a sort of supernatural Fatal Attraction ("If I can't have you, nobody can!"). She shows up on a TV as a newscaster and in a "social disease" scare film being screened in sex ed class and impersonates Alex's kid sister (Juno Mills Cockell) to seduce and then rips out Shane's heart. After the buried corpses are discovered and neighbors spot Alex leaving Shane's house after he's been killed, the police hunt down and arrest Alex. Mary Lou kills two cops and springs him from jail long enough for the big finale, which takes place in hell.

From the style of the murder sequences and hallucinations to the leads entering Mary Lou's colorfully-lit alternate domain right down to equipping Mary Lou with retractable claw-like fingernails (she also sometimes boasts a burnt face), this has clearly been heavily influenced by the then-insanely-popular Nightmare on Elm Street series. Mary Lou is basically positioned here to become some kind of female heir to the Freddy Krueger throne. She always finds some kind of creative (usually silly) supernatural way to kill and always follows that up with a "witty" one-liner.

While this continues on in the spirit of the second film, it's not as good and there are a number of reasons why. First, while part two gave Mary Lou plenty of amusing dialogue, it was mostly out-of-place 50s lingo used in a contemporary setting and clever, sarcastic lines instead of the hokey quips used here. Second, Mary Lou was portrayed as sophisticated and intelligently evil in the previous entry, while here she comes off like an immature, spoiled brat. And then there's the change in the physical look of Mary Lou. Part 2's Lisa Schrage was an elegant, classical beauty, while here Mary Lou is more of a heavily made-up, voluptuous 50s pin up type. That isn't really a big deal except for the fact Taylor isn't nearly as good in the role as Schrage or Wendy Lyon, who played the character possessed by Mary Lou in the previous film.

There's more humor here but it's very hit-or-miss and sometimes rather embarrassing. Worst of all are the constant dumb lines read over the intercom at the high school ("Attention girl's weight lifting team, the clinic on facial hair removal will be held in the east gym"). What's doubly annoying is that this film didn't even need any of that as the casual banter between the normal characters was fairly well-written and amusing all on its own, more so than the overt, forced comedy elements. It's also pretty much impossible to like the lead character. I can almost deal with him covering up the murders, but to then have the audacity to cheat on, lie to and mistreat Cyndy Preston? Unforgivable! Speaking of Preston, her casting as an unpopular, undesirable girl whose only other prom date option is the biggest nerd at school (who's obnoxious to boot) is a very hard sell. And the fact she even tolerates Alex's shit to begin with ("I don't get mad, I bake."), let alone goes to hell to try to save him / get him back, is even sillier than the jukebox slinging razor-sharp 45's.

On the plus side, things move along fairly quickly and they've packed this with plenty of entertaining nonsense. The production design and lighting used to turn the high school into a hell landscape at the finale was fairly well-done. You also get a nightmare featuring zombies, more (talking) zombies in hell, Preston running around with a flamethrower torching said zombies, a hair metal band performing a terrible song called "Do the Bump N Grind," a finger accidentally cut off with scissors, several unfortunate rap songs and a bunch of attempts to try to convince us this is an American production instead of a Canadian one filmed in Toronto.

Also in the cast are Roger Dunn (who voiced the dad on the Beetlejuice animated series) as the principal, Jeremy Ratchford (Junior:A Cut Above) as a nerd and Brock Simpson (who appears in all four Prom Night films) as a police officer. Co-director Simpson, producer Ray Sager and composer Paul Zaza all returned to work on the next sequel: Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil (1991). It drops the Mary Lou character in favor of a killer priest and returns to a more routine slasher formula a la the original. The full screen copy I viewed, which looks no better than a decent VHS transfer, was the 2003 DVD distributed by Alliance Atlantis Home Video out of Canada. I don't know if the other DVD releases look any better or not.

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