Saturday Nightmares: Hello Mary Lou - Prom Night II (1987)
1980’s Prom Night was among the first slasher films to come bursting forth from the post-Halloween floodgates and, while it doesn’t seem like you can find a positive review of it anymore, it was a big success then and remains one of the most enjoyable entries in the slasher subgenre.
When producer Peter R. Simpson finally decided to create a follow-up, however, A Nightmare on Elm Street and its first sequel had done far better box office business than their straight-up slasher peers. It’s no surprise, then, that the filmmakers took note of Freddy Krueger’s increasing popularity and decided to take things in a similar, supernatural direction. What we have here is an attempt to create the next popular nightmare man (or woman). Hence, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II.
Shifting gears with a sequel seems like an incredibly strange practice. On one hand it seems like a guaranteed way to avoid the pitfall of rehashing well worn territory, but the downside is that you risk alienating the core audience that made the previous movie such a success. I can remember watching Slumber Party Massacre II a few weeks after seeing the first Slumber Party and being shocked by the fact that the filmmakers had jettisoned the stalk and slash formula for a series of Freddy-like one-liners and incredibly dumb nightmare FX sequences (the bit where a teenage girl dreams she’s become a giant zit, for instance). People typically seek out a sequel because the original worked for them, after all.
Hello Mary Lou takes a similar approach (it began filming as a largely unrelated film titled The Haunting of Hamilton High), giving us a supernatural story about bitchy prom queen Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage), who is burned alive after a prom night prank goes horribly awry (when do they ever go right?). Thirty years later, her vengeful spirit is unleashed and Mary Lou takes possession of innocent high schooler Vicki Carpenter (Wendy Lyon) - just in time for the senior prom where she intends to take her revenge (or relive her glory days - it’s never made entirely clear).
Right from the beginning, it’s clear that director Bruce Pittman isn’t taking things very seriously. Just try keeping track of the references made to Brian De Palma’s Carrie (from which this film takes a page or two). There are lots of them. Then they start in on The Exorcist references - I counted four before I gave up. They’re never in your face, though, which makes it fun for people in the know and almost undetectable to viewers who aren’t well versed in either of the aforementioned films. They help convey the total tongue in cheek feel of the material making this an easily digestible experience. But it’s also the crazy set pieces, gratuitous nudity and the shameless attempt to turn the character of Mary Lou Maloney into the female Freddy Krueger (though, somehow, an undead teenage prom queen doesn’t carry the same weight as a disfigured child molester but, hey, they tried) that make this such a delightful package.
Hello Mary Lou also has a nice sense of R-rated fun to it. Once the titular character takes possession of the virginal heroine, there’s perverse pleasure to be found in watching the girl torment those around her with her newfound sexuality. From teasing her priest with an invite for sex, to a full on lip-lock with her father, the level of sleaze is consistent enough to keep one’s interest. The debauchery peaks in the centerpiece (not the prom), where our possessed heroine strips away her clothes for a full frontal shower scene where she torments a fellow classmate with an attempted lesbian kiss. The quotient of sleaze is upped further in that our main character is a sweet as they come before Mary Lou gets into her. Vicki is the kind of character that you almost never see nude in films of this ilk and maybe this is yet another Carrie connection. Either way, it’s surprising to see the film’s star revealed this way (no complaints here, though).
On the violent side of things, the FX work is fun if not entirely convincing. One of the characters is sucked into a blackboard which becomes a whirlpool, a toy rocking horse comes to life and there’s an obligatory “rebirth” sequence where one person comes ripping out of another (shades of Nightmare 2, here). Even if you don’t buy into all these happenings, the practical approach to special effects maintains a good deal of its charm here. CGI might be cheaper, but I’ll be damned if it every looks as cool.
In the lead, Wendy Lyon is fun to watch, particularly as she becomes progressively evil (”I’ve got places to go and people to kill!”). Lisa Schrage (prologue Mary Lou) entertains in her limited screen time, making the most of her bitch role. Writer Ron Oliver goes the extra mile in making her as detestable as possible and Schrage absolutely nails it. Oddly enough, it’s Michael Ironside who comes off the worst here. It’s probably true that he didn’t want to be involved (from the looks of things, at least), but he sleepwalks through nearly every scene he’s in, spending most of the run time wandering around in a daze while looking baffled. He springs to life a bit at the conclusion, but it’s a little too late to leave much of an impression.
Hello Mary Lou – Prom Night II is pure 80’s horror, through and through. While it’s not without some clunky moments, it’s a pretty hard movie to dislike: Sophomoric humor, mean-spirited violence (one person is killed just minutes after announcing pregnancy) and a fun sexual charge have granted this a welcome home in my collection, and it comes highly recommended to anyone who can groove on 80s horror.
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