Ghastly Grinning Loves PROM NIGHT II and We Show It
Having recently hit the streaming services Amazon Prime and Shudder, the 1987 horror not-really-a-sequel Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II is now being discovered (or rediscovered) genre fans everywhere. This is something that could not make me happier. I have been loving on this Canadian gem for many years now, so I think it’s time to take a look at what makes it a truly special movie.
If you have not had the pleasure of viewing this film before, let me give you a quick briefing: In 1957, bad girl Mary Lou Maloney is on stage at her high school prom just after being named Prom Queen when she is killed in a fire by a jilted lover. Thirty years later, the spirit of Mary Lou is haunting the next prom queen candidate, Vicki Carpenter, and eventually possesses her to take revenge.
I actually have to give my older sister the credit for first discovering Hello Mary Lou and introducing it to me and my best friend when we were probably about 12 years old. After that, it quickly became one of the staple horror movies for the many sleepovers we had at my house. We would go to the video store and not even look at anything else on the shelf – we just grabbed this one (and also Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers) and left. We never got tired of it. And maybe back then, when my genre love was still developing, and even though I truly loved the movie, I couldn’t see just how good it really was.
That’s not a problem now. What sets Hello Mary Lou apart from the crowd is simply that it is so different. Originally written as a standalone script under the title The Haunting of Hamilton High, the Prom Night tag was only added to capitalize on the success of the 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis film. In the era of the slasher, Mary Lou chooses its own direction and gives us something unique and fresh. Sure, it can most closely be compared to A Nightmare on Elm Street, with its supernatural roots and vision sequences. But even then, it’s not the same kind of thing. Mary Lou is a possession-revenge movie that is not all about the kills (even though there are some good ones) but rather more about the atmosphere. Though it has moments of comedic levity, they are few and far between, and overall it is a very dark and moody film.
This is brought forth by the stunning and innovative visuals. This is not a flat, boring-looking film. There is clearly an adept eye behind the camera, keeping things interesting with different lighting and focus choices. The vision sequences are where the movie really shines. Before Mary Lou fully possesses Vicki, she kind of messes with her a little bit. Vicki is subjected to strange visions that come to her out of nowhere – the food in the lunch line turning to worms or the volleyball neck turning into a huge black spiderweb, all against the set dressing of a derelict version of the school. And that rocking horse. Who could forget the creepy rocking horse in Vicki’s room with the gross tongue?! Vicki’s full-on possession comes about when she is pulled into a blackboard that changes to water, with the chalk letters swirling around her. The effect is practically seamless, and it still works today.
There are two specific visuals from the movie that have haunted me for years, and which also speak to the film’s innovation and imagination. A very likable character is about to meet her end by possessed Vicki, who stalks her through the girls locker room. She hides in one of the lockers, but that of course never works, especially when one is being targeted by someone with supernatural abilities. The lockers on either side of the character suddenly smash together, crushing her inside as blood and some other kind of unidentifiable goop drips out. The craziest scene is the prom climax. I have never forgotten the image of a slimy, burned Mary Lou creature literally PUNCHING her way out of Vicki’s body. It’s shocking and unexpected – but it also looks really cool.
And actually, that scene is one of many examples of how downright mean the movie is at times. Aside from what it does to its main character, the first victim of Mary Lou is a teenage girl who just found out that she is pregnant. A priest is killed in his own confession booth with a cross. A theme of the movie is the sins of the father being visited upon the children. The boy responsible for Mary Lou’s death is now the principal of the high school, Billy Nordham (played by genre favorite Michael Ironside), and his son Craig is dating Vicki, so Mary Lou threatens to go after him instead. There is also a pretty disturbing scene with Vicki and her father; another one with Vicki and a science teacher; and a side story with Vicki’s prom queen rival and the boy who could make her the winner that is just gross. Hello Mary Lou is not afraid to get all kinds of creepy and uncomfortable.
All this is not to say that the movie is not enjoyable to watch. In fact, it leads into another element of the movie that I find intriguing. A surprising thing I noticed on my latest rewatch was how timeless Hello Mary Lou is. This may sound silly, considering that most of characters’ hair styles and fashion choices absolutely scream “the 80s!” Putting aside that element, though, the story points are still relevant. The teenagers here deal with the same issues that teenagers in today’s movies do – teen pregnancy, overbearing parents, mean girl rivals. There is not much else visually or in the script that is indicative of the time (again, except for the fashion). One could make almost this exact same movie today and not even really have to change the dialogue. There are no 80s slang phrases or references. The references that the movie does make are still being done today – naming characters after famous horror directors, and drawing inspiration from classics like Carrie and The Exorcist.
All of the above mentioned elements are held together by a great cast. Other than Ironside, the cast is made up of unknown Canadian actors who each bring their characters to life with real sincerity. Nobody goes over-the-top or cheeseball with their acting, even the one guy who seems to really like potatoes. Lisa Schrage is commanding and chilling as Mary Lou, a wonderful opposite to nice girl Wendy Lyon as Vicki. She’s wonderful at playing the distressing parts of the character pre-possession, and then is able to turn it all around be very menacing and creepy as Mary Lou. Craig Nordham is played by Louis Ferreira. He’s the kind of boyfriend every girl hopes to find in high school, as he is every bit sweet, loyal, and loving. All the side characters round out the core cast nicely.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II is the true definition of a gem to me. Maybe the title doesn’t lead you to expect much from the movie, but once you give it a chance, I think you’ll find something that is equally smartly written and beautifully executed. We are all about the love here at Ghastly Grinning and Hello Mary Lou is definitely a movie that I absolutely LOVE. Don’t let this one pass you by!