31 Days of Horror: Film 21: Prom Night II [a.k.a Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II] (1987)

It’s time for the 31 Days of Horror: 2014 Edition. For those of you who weren’t around for last year’s journey, the plan is to watch at least 31 horror movies I’ve never seen before and review them all. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy my journey down the rabbit hole.

A sequel in name only to the Jamie Lee Curtis-starring slasher flick from 1980, Prom Night II is not a good movie. In fact, it’s pretty awful. But it is so misguided in its attempts to incorporate religion and sexual repression into its story that it becomes oddly fascinating.

In 1957, a wanton hussy by the name of Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage) goes to the prom with her milquetoast boyfriend Billy (Steve Atkinson)–

Question: How do I know Mary Lou is a wanton hussy?

Answer: Her introduction has her confessing to a priest about all the times she has had sex with many different boys at her school. And then she says that she loved every minute of it! She even writes her phone number in the confessional in lipstick as an invitation to anyone who may see it. That’s right, folks. Less than five minutes into the film, screenwriter Ron Oliver and director Bruce Pittman have already engaged in slut shaming. Don’t worry, it gets worse.

–at the prom, Mary Lou callously dumps Billy for Buddy (Robert Lewis), the class lothario. Upset, Billy tries to ruin Mary Lou’s moment of glory when she is elected prom queen. But things go horribly awry as her dress catches fire and she burns to death on stage before she can be crowned queen.

Jump ahead thirty years and we are introduced to Vicki (Wendy Lyon), the virginal good girl of her senior class at the same high school where Mary Lou went up in flames like a roman candle. Billy has grown up to be the school’s principal (a ridiculously overqualified Michael Ironside). No one seems to find it strange that the kid who accidentally killed a classmate thirty years earlier would be in such a position. But if the characters don’t ask these questions, why should I? After all, is that any more ridiculous than Buddy being so traumatized by Mary Lou’s death that he grows up to become a priest (Richard Monette)?

Through means of an evil trunk(?), Mary Lou’s vengeful spirit slowly takes possession of Vicki’s body. Our poor heroine starts having hallucinations of the school in the ’50s, gets pulled into a chalkboard by a phantom force, and argues with a demonic rocking horse (seriously). She also starts doing decidedly un-Vicki-like things as putting sugar in her coffee and swearing at her mother! The horror!

The first hour of Prom Night II is painfully slow. Other than Mary Lou’s death, there is only one murder and Pittman seems to be trying to make the film equate Vicki’s repression by creating the tamest slasher movie ever. Then the last half hour goes off the rails with gratuitous nudity, Buddy the priest actually shouting “the power of Christ compels you!”, Billy conjuring up some kind of super-strength to knock out his own son with a dress shoe, and Mary Lou’s corpse (covered in an unconvincing burn makeup) crawling out of Vicki’s body. I think I just made that sequence of events sound more coherent than the movie does.

The film feels like Oliver and Pittman watched a bunch of popular horror films, tried to incorporate elements of each, but had no clue what made those films work in the first place. Moving from a straight rip off of Carrie to an attempt to combine the Nightmare on Elm Street films with The Exorcist and The Omen, Prom Night II is not only unoriginal, it doesn’t even know how to use what it steals.

But that ineptitude to understand how better horror films use sexual repression, religious guilt, and the heightened emotions that come with teenage hormones is part of what makes Prom Night II entertaining. The filmmakers seem to think that just by including these elements in the film they have instant subtext, when in reality, their inability to incorporate them into a coherent theme only highlights how empty the film is.

I haven’t even mentioned all the little things that add to the film’s goofy aesthetic: the actors portraying the teens look to be at least ten years out of high school, the actor cast as young Billy is far too bland to age into someone as badass as Michael Ironside, a scene of incest that comes out of left field, and the many strange attempts to rip off Blue Velvet.

Prom Night II is a bad movie, but it still entertains. I don’t really like the idea of recommending a film this poorly made when there are so many legitimately great films to watch. But its failure to work properly across almost every level of filmmaking makes it some kind of weird miracle: a movie where nothing works, but that’s what works about it.

You can contact me at obsessivemovienerd@gmail.com and read all the extraneous crap that goes through my head by following me on Twitter.

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