Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

Director: Bruce Pittman
18 | 1h 37min | Horror, Slasher, Supernatural

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I officially have a brand new guilty pleasure, my only regret being that I didn’t find it sooner. Much sooner. Why I never stumbled upon Bruce Pittman’s gloriously out-there supernatural slasher Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II while perusing the dusty crevices of my local video shop is anyone’s guess, not least because of it’s knock-out accompanying poster and VHS sleeve. The above image is the kind of canvas treat that would have left me staring in awe during my weekly horror movie expedition, the kind I approached with the gusto and scholastic meticulousness of a young Indiana Jones. The movie was also released in 1987, which was primetime for my peewee horror fandom. I can only assume they didn’t stock this particular film in the micro cave of wonders where I made the majority of my retro horror discoveries ― a crazy thought in an era of one-touch convenience, but certain things had a habit of evading you back then.

Even in light of such misfortune, I was still later to the party than I should have been, not only because of the cult following this underseen gem has garnered over the years, but because it shares its title with one of the slasher sub-genre’s most infamous golden age entries. Not that their connection stretches any further than superficial marketing. In fact, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, originally titled The Haunting of Hamilton High, wasn’t intended as a sequel at all. Executive producer Peter Simpson, who also produced the original Prom Night, wasn’t happy with the initial cut of the film and ordered reshoots for several sequences, which were ultimately rushed out in under a week. During post-production, distributor Samuel-Goldwyn had the film’s name changed to cash-in on Prom Night‘s success, which with a domestic gross of $14,796,236 had proven a real coup for Canadian cinema back in 1980, something the company were hoping to emulate. The fact that both movies are set at the fictional Hamilton High School, the film’s solitary storyline connection, was purely coincidence.

Managing a mere US$2.7 million on a budget of CA$2.5 million, Hello Mary Lou Prom Night II didn’t live up to the film whose name it cynically latched onto, but it’s much more fun creatively. It’s not often I prefer a movie that shamelessly rips off another, but asides from belonging to a trilogy of films that landed Janet Leigh offspring Jamie Lee Curtis the ‘Scream Queen’ moniker, Prom Night, filmed back-to-back with Terror Train, has never been one of my favourite slashers, paling against the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Friday the 13th and Maniac released the same year. It has its moments, and you have to love that disco aesthetic/soundtrack, but it kind of crawls along for the most part, and was certainly a comedown for anyone who admired Curtis’ first two ‘Scream Queen’ outings in John Carpenter’s hugely influential Halloween and supernatural successor The Fog. The fact that Prom Night arrived as the slasher was taking off and managed to bag a burgeoning Curtis more than fulfilled its financial aspirations, but creatively it was almost destined to underwhelm.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II fared much better in the home video arena the following year, fitting in nicely with a genre that had long-since ditched the dead-eyed killer for horror of the supernatural variety. By the time of its VHS release in 1988, Fred Krueger, who had led the genre’s self-aware paradigm shift by becoming a wisecracking, pop culture figure in the MTV mode, was sitting at the top of the horror mountain, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master boasting record figures for the series with a rather impressive return of $49,369,899. Krueger inspired so many like-for-like movies and outright rip-offs during the late 1980s, and his presence is certainly felt here, especially since ‘Hello Mary Lou’ features the work of A Nightmare on Elm Street special effects designer Jim Doyle, who had also worked with the likes of John Badham and Francis Ford Coppola, but despite featuring some rather dazzling dream sequences in the Nightmare mode, this is no straight-up Krueger rip-off.

With a horror surname motif that sees the majority of our cast named after some of the genre’s most lauded creative forces, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, respectfully borrowing from the likes of Carrie, The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street much more than it does Prom Night. It even throws in a bit of zombie action during the film’s delirious finale. The film also indulges in another 80s trend by setting the prerequisite slasher set-up in 1957, thirty years before the film’s current day narrative. Nostalgia is cyclical, and the 80s was absolutely enamoured with the 1950s, some of film’s biggest players living out their formative years in the rock and roll era. Movies such as Rob Reiner’s coming of age drama Stand By Me and cult favourite Back to the Future were very much the product of 50s kids, and the horror genre was no less immune to the decade’s charms, films such as The Stuff, The Blob, and The Thing embracing the Cold War sci-fi of yore.

The 50s was also a decade of teenage rebellion, and in titular menace Mary Lou, ‘Prom Night II’ gives us a hellcat to reckon with, one beautifully portrayed by two separate actors in original, possessed and demonic forms. Slashers are notoriously sexist, punishing women for lascivious and unseemly acts, but Mary Lou flaunts her flagrant immorality with unabashed zeal, which is such a refreshing twist. In the spirit of films such as Amy Holden Jones’ The Slumber Party Massacre, this is one for ladies who resent the term ladies, a fact outlined in the film’s opening scene, in which Lisa Schrage’s Mary Lou Maloney stops off at confession on her way to the prom, outlining all the immoral acts she’s committed and explaining with devil-eyed relish how she loved every last minute of it. Not only that, she leaves her phone number in the confessional booth along with the message For a Good Time Call Mary Lou. Quite the introduction!

After she arrives at the prom, we quickly realise that Mary Lou isn’t just acting out the way teenagers do. This isn’t your typical adolescent sticking it to a generation of prudish church zealots, the girl is wicked through and through. She practically rapes vodka-soused jock Buddy Cooper right in front of her beleaguered boyfriend, who she openly admits to using for his family’s wealth. When the timid and trusting Billy Nordham overhears and confronts her, she tells him to beat it and carries on in front of everyone, accepting the title of prom queen as if it was her birth right and lavishing in her own opulence. In a scene more than redolent of Carrie‘s finale, Mary Lou is then burnt alive in a stink bomb prank gone awry, making repressed midgets out of a future Buddy, now a man of the cloth himself, and jilted beau Billy, the boy responsible for sending his beloved bitch so unceremoniously to the afterlife.

Once Mary Lou pops her clogs (at least in her flesh form) we’re introduced to a new protagonist in Wendy Lyon’s comparatively unremarkable Vicki Carpenter, but don’t be fooled my her bland goodie two-shoes veneer, it’s merely the set-up for an exceptional twin role. Lyon’s transformation from American sweetheart to unconscionable incubator is absolutely startling, Vicki falling down the proverbial rabbit hole and reappearing with The Mad Hatter clenched between her pearly whites like a rabid Hellhound dragging Satan through a thorn hedge backwards. This is the result of Mary Lou’s awakening spirit and the gradual possession of Vicki through a series of dreamlike visions that are so fun and playful and really quite the achievement considering the budget at hand.

Vicki is dating the son of Billy Nordham, now headmaster of the school that played host to his unpunished act of manslaughter. Classmate Billy, now the town priest, senses that retribution may be in store almost thirty years on, though his forewarnings fall on deaf ears, even after Vicki’s pregnant classmate is hung from a ceiling and thrown through a third-storey window, something that the authorities attribute to suicide. An adult Nordham is played by none other than Michael Ironside of Scanners and Total Recall fame, the actor lending proceedings a peculiar pedigree amid so much self-aware melodrama and unrepentant horror shenanigans, which only adds to the film’s offbeat, often cavalier but always entertaining madness. If the original Prom Night stuck to a rigid, made-to-order formula free from risk, then it’s tenuously linked sequel is the complete anthesis, delivering slasher tropes, bizarre imagery, earnest drama, supernatural possession, and a demonic rocking horse with a rather flaccid tongue. It also gives us one of the most underrated horror villains of the era, one who truly comes into her own when bequeathed to the formerly angelic Miss Lyon.

The main reason for Vicki’s somewhat introverted nature is her queerly devout mother, Virginia, who though above wild acts of insane retribution certainly possesses shades of Carrie White’s maternal scourge, Margaret, and boy is she in for a shock. The disappointment of being robbed of Schrage’s equally devilish Mary Lou so prematurely is certainly made up for as we enter the final act, Lyon relishing in the opportunity to show a completely different side to her creative repertoire. A stranger in a strange land three decades detached from her natural habitat, Vicki’s possessed form flaunts her 50s chic, delivering the kind of antiquated rock and roll lingo that gives her a cult edge in the Schwarzenegger vein. And if you thought Mary Lou was a wild child during the movie’s opening, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Lyon’s Mary Lou is every bit as nasty and lascivious as Schrage’s, but now the character has a grudge to bear, with some rather devastating supernatural powers to boot. I’ve never been less and more attracted to a woman in such a short space of time. Lyon’s transformation is nothing short of palpable.

Though the film has benefitted from something of a reappraisal in recent years, critics were not so enamoured with Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, but this isn’t a movie that warrants serious analysis. It’s economical, lowbrow, utterly erratic, but if you know that going in and actively watch films for those reasons, it’s fun, creative, absolutely off the wall at times, much more than just a bad movie that can be consumed on an ironic level. With its inspired special effects sequences and cute genre nods, there’s also lots to admire here, and in the uninhibited performances of our eponymous villain(s), something to cherish too.

The Bitch is Back

It’s such a joy to see an inhibited character let loose so unashamedly, and there are plenty of reasons for the possessed Vicki to be ashamed once Mary Lou gets through with her.

From moral compass to callous perpetrator, Lyon relishes in a whole host of discrepancies: straddling her principal, offering to fuck Father Cooper before slaying him with a crucifix and stuffing his corpse into Mary Lou’s now empty grave ― just one instance in an unconscionable killing spree that does not discriminate for a single second, but the most deplorable act is reserved for the Carpenter homestead.

Lecherously straddling her possessed rocking horse like Nabokov’s Lolita, Vicki proceeds to shove her tongue down daddy’s throat right in front of her appalled mother, sending her telekinetically crashing through a plate glass door after cries of ‘Harlot!’ trigger an unrepentant rampage.

Good luck explaining that one post-possession.

Raspberry Squishy

Once Mary Lou possesses Vicki’s carriage, no one is safe, not even best friend Monica, the nicest, most loyal friend one could hope for in the hormone-ridden, high school coliseum.

After first trying to seduce her naked in the showers, Vicki/Mary Lou pursues her friend in the girl’s locker room in what is the closest thing to a slasher sequence in the entire film. In true slasher fashion, Monica stupidly hides in a nearby locker, which soon bleeds bubble gum viscera after Vicki uses her newfound telekinetic prowess to close the locker in on her prey, immediately squishing her into mush.

Pay Attention in Class

In what is the film’s truly standout special effects set-piece, a fleeing Vicki is grabbed and pulled into a blackboard that becomes metallic liquid and swallows her whole, a surreal visual trick that finalises her possession.

The sequence in question, which was achieved using a specially designed blackboard that was laid flat on the floor and filmed as if it was standing on end, took a total of five days to complete at a cost of approximately $2000 per hour.

It was worth every penny.

Choice Dialogue

Here’s the aforementioned interaction between 1957’s Mary Lou and an unfortunate town priest in full: (Mary Lou is wearing a headscarf, speaking softly and earnestly like Mary Magdalene reincarnate ― at least initially).

Mary Lou: Forgive me, father. For I have sinned. It has been three months since my last confession. I’ve disobeyed my parents. Many times. I’ve taken the lord’s name in vain. Many times. I’ve had sinful relations. With boys at my school. Many boys. Many times.

Priest: Why, child, these are great sins. You must prepare yourself for the consequences.

Mary Lou: Father, there is one more thing.

Priest: What is it my poor child?

Mary Lou: I loved every minute of it!

(Writes ‘For a good time call Mary Lou 588 6558’ in the confession box with lipstick, applies lipstick, blows a kiss and winks).

One of the most rewarding tenuously related sequels I ever recall seeing, ‘s derivative nature doesn’t stop at underhanded marketing, but rather than sell an inferior product using a well established title, Pittman produces an endearing pastiche of some of modern horror’s most beloved tropes, and a delightful villain who’ll carve a wicked smile on your face. You’ll love every minute of it!

Edison Smith

5 comments

  1. Oh, I absolutely love this film. Did I have it on VHS for years? You bet! I put it away for a number of years, but like Mary Lou’s prom paraphilia, it came back with a vengeance (in 2017, a year in which I was sad). It’s one of those films that has so many elements (like “Ninja III: The Domination”) and callbacks but also manages to do its own thing, as least that’s how I see it.
    For me, Mary Lou Maloney is a villain that to this day terrifies me (even her “What’s the matter, cracking up?” bit in Vicki’s vision; it was all in the peek-a-boo aspect for me there), and that, along with the mood, the set-ups that paid off (Josh working with the potato radio, electric; Vicki’s prudish mother, the church elements) and the mean-spiritedness of the deaths (killing a pregnant teenager?), means that “Hello mary Lou: Prom Night II” is never far from my thoughts (a life lesson: don’t rig votes for oral sex, especially for a lightweight like Kelly:-).

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    1. It’s so much fun. I wish I found it earlier but even without a nostalgic lens I adored this movie for all the reasons you listed. The SFX are knock-out considering the budget, with the same ingenuity of the original ANOES. And Mary Lou, what a villain! With two brilliant portrayals. Deserves much more love and a long-awaited Blu-Ray release, which I neglected to mention in the article because they’ll no doubt release it soon which would have left the article looking dated. I much prefer it to the original, though comparisons are somewhat futile considering the tenuous connection between the two. I’m yet to see Parts 2 and 4 but they’re surely worth a punt after seeing this, not least because they apparently have no connection with the rest either. Top marks for consistency in that regard. 🙂

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      1. Yeah, I actually viewed this film before I checked out the original “Prom Night”, and although I dig Jamie Lee Curtis’s disco dancing in that one, I’ll have to side with Mary Lou and tell the original to scram.
        I viewed “Prom Night III: The Last Kiss” in the early 1990’s and don’t remember too many details, but it’s more lighthearted (sort of like “Mannequin” with a body count I thought) and I recall it being worth a look.

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