Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Bruce Pittman, 1987)

Out of all the Prom Night movies (there are four of them, five, if you include the frightfully lame remake), I thought for sure, judging by its flaky title and campy poster, that this one would be the worst of the bunch. Burn my legwarmers, I couldn't have been more wrong, because Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II is an absolute blast. Encompassing everything I hold dear in the realm of inappropriate entertainment, the film, which was shot in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and directed by Bruce Pittman, is a fanciful trip through the schizophrenic headspace of a real blonde with a scrumptiously low centre of gravity. Nothing is off limits when it comes conveying the lead characters sense of exaggerated disquietude, as everything from volley ball nets that resemble spider-webs to soul-consuming blackboards (come on in, the water's evil) have been turned into objects of unorthodox terror. The pressures that come with fitting in at your average high school are common motifs of youth cinema, but in the Prom Night series, that pressure is tenfold because you're expected to be crowned something called "prom queen" during a lavish ceremony usually held in a garishly decorated gymnasium. Obviously, the pressure to attain the crown is more pronounced if your a teenage girl (the rewards that come with being crowned "prom king" are pretty immaterial). The question this particular film asks is: What would happen if the winner of the prom queen crown (a jewel-encrusted tiara) was brutally murdered just as her victory was being savoured?

Teeming with full frontal nudity, mystical weirdness, and a totally rad array of late '80s fashions, this giddy sequel follows the vengeful antics of Mary Lou Mallony (Lisa Schrage), a garter-wearing (the sheer amount of nylon, metallic hooks, and straps lurking underneath her voluminous prom dress must have been a perverts paradise) strumpet who was accidentally set ablaze by a spurned prom date just as she was about to be crowned prom queen way back in 1957. A quick side note: She must have been wearing the most combustible prom dress ever devised by prom dress artisans, because that thing went up faster than a pile of kindling. Well, it's now 1987, and Mary Lou's back, and she's ready exact her revenge. Using the shapely body of a modern day student named Vicki Carpenter (Wendy Lyon), a wonderfully endowed Tina Yothers lookalike who owns the world's creepiest rocking horse, as a conduit, Mary Lou, on top of punishing those who wronged her in the past, has her sights on winning the prom queen crown.

One day, while poking around one a dusty storage room looking for a suitable dress to wear to the prom (her ultra religious mother won't let her buy a new one), Vicki opens an eerie-looking trunk and unwittingly unleashes Mary Lou's deranged essence via a magic cape and tiara (I don't know why they're magic, but then again, I'm not one to ask such questions). Anyway, before you know it, Mary Lou's ghostly presence is wreaking havoc in the halls of Hamilton High. And can you blame her? After all, she's still a tad miffed about the whole being setting her on fire during her prom snafu. Oh, and, of course, the humanitarian who torched her in 1957, Bill Nordham (Michael Ironside), is now the principal of the very school where she met her fiery demise.

The first target of Mary Lou's fury is Jess Browning (Beth Gondek), a stylish student who thinks all this prom business is a colossal waste of time (which is too bad, because I would have loved to have seen what kind of outré outfit the fashion adventurous student would have worn to the meaningless soiree). Anyway, unamused by the fact that Jess is messing around with her tiara (she's trying to extract the jewels) and cape in the school's sewing room, the spirit of Mary Lou sets off a gruesome chain of events that leave the fashion victim dead and all messed up.

A rival of Vicki and her best friend Monica (Beverley Hendry), Kelly Hennenlotter (Terri Hawkes), a big fan of Diet Pepsi (she's rarely seen without a can of the fizzy beverage in her hand), makes an insensitive comment about the competition being somewhat thinner since Jess' untimely death (which was ruled a suicide). Upon hearing her comment, an angry Vicki tells Kelly to "shut your fucking mouth, bitch." The retort to Kelly's snide remark, while justified, seemed a little out of character. You see, Vicki's normally a cool-headed gal who likes pink corduroy and drawing, and this outburst made it clear to the audience that something strange was afoot.

Keen observers will definitely notice that most of the characters are named after famous horror and cult movie directors. Hell, even Beverley Hendry's Monica Waters is named after the great John Waters. Oh, and just when you thought things couldn't get anymore self-referential, Josh (Brock Simpson), a nerdy kid who has the hots for Monica, uses the term "Lindablairsville" at one point (not to be confused with your ex-girlfriend Linda who moved to Blairsville, Georgia five years ago). Quirky-fun fact: Brock Simpson appears in all four Prom Night movies... of course, as different characters.

The principal of Hamilton High, Bill Nordham (the always terrific Michael Ironside), senses Mary Lou's presence the moment her trunk is flung open. What he doesn't realize is that her ominous spirit has shacked up in the curvaceous frame of Vicki, a student who just happens to be the girlfriend of Craig Nordham (Louis Ferreira). It's no coincidence that Vicki's boyfriend and the principal share the same name, they're related. As you'd expect, the prospect that the vengeful ghost of the girl he murdered in 1957 is gonna start putting the moves on his son in 1987 doesn't sit well with the balding educator.

If Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II sounds like it ignores everything that happened in the first one, that's because it does. This sequel completely reinvents the Prom Night universe, and I'm totally cool with that. Sure, the eerie music is still here (Prom Night 1-4 are all scored by Paul Zaza) and the random shots of dark Hamilton High hallways remain intact, but this chapter drops the slashing and focuses more on the supernatural end of things to tell its macabre tale.

Whether it be implied father-daughter incest, corn-haired characters who wear yellow sports jerseys (the kind of jerseys that accentuate the wearers legs in a manner that causes them dangle better than they've ever dangled before) in a bedroom setting, or hobby horses with functioning spit glands, this film has everything one could ask for from a prom-centric sequel. Actually, the part where the hobby horse is licking Vicki's hand is the exact moment when I thought to myself: "This movie is freaking awesome!"

The tormented Vicki Carpenter is brilliantly played by Wendy Lyon, a bodacious blonde with a scrumptious pair of gams (what they lack in length, they more than make up in shapeliness). Giving an alluring and unselfconscious performance, the tantalizingly beautiful actress takes the sheer ridiculousness of the film's plot and runs with it. I mean, when she's being sucked into the paradoxical goo that is her possessed home room blackboard, I bought it wholeheartedly.

She also displays great dramatic range, especially when she's consoling Beth Gondek's Jess, the angst-ridden new wave chick I alluded to earlier–you know, the one with the teased hair and a wardrobe so eclectic that she makes the members of Strawberry Switchblade seem drab by comparison . Showing a tremendous amount of verve when it came time to vocalize dialogue with her smallish mouth, Miss Lyon, whether uttering the nonsensical "a-wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop-bam-boo" before crushing a classmate to death, or the more straightforward "places to go, people to kill" is a master at conveying an aura of understated menace.

I'm telling ya, I could watch Wendy apply lipstick for hours. Watching her get hit in the head with a volleyball over and over again is also something I could do for hours, but I'd rather not get into that right now.

The scene in which Wendy makes the biggest impression has to be the bare-assed roguishness of the locker room pursuit. A sequence so rife with full-frontal nudity (it was like skipping through a golden wheat field), coltish frivolity, and steam-enhanced terror, that all I could think about was the image of me purchasing the DVD the very next day. Seriously, the amount of time Wendy spends in the buff was astronomical. It is definitely one of the best shower/locker room scenes with demonic overtones to ever to be captured on film.



  1. One of the best wheat fields I've ever seen, if you get my drift.

    Lyons is fantastic.

    Such a weird movie. I love it!

  2. Oh, I get your drift... loud and clear.