Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

I didn’t go to my senior prom (boo hoo!), but this doesn’t sadden me in the least.  I had no girlfriend at the time, and I was petrified to ask anyone who I thought could possibly have been available to go with me.  I was also fiercely against things like proms and sports and so forth (perhaps because I never participated in them, perhaps because I genuinely just didn’t give a shit about them and still don’t; so punk rock).  I didn’t relish the idea of renting a tux, a limo (or just a nice car; I drove a 1964 Oldsmobile way back then [The Lima Bean Green Machine, it was dubbed]), buying a corsage, etcetera.  It seemed like a whole lot of bother for an evening I likely wouldn’t have enjoyed, especially since there weren’t many people at my school with whom I hung out on the regular who were going.  I did go to a semi-formal early on in my high school days, and the evening was, to put it lightly, a letdown (maybe this soured me; after all, if one time sucked, every time had to suck, right?).  Having seen my share of horror films, proms and their ilk appeared like Hell on Earth, and people always got massacred at them, and movies never lie.  Decades down the road, Bruce Pittman’s Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II arrived to confirm everything I believed in my teens.  I stand justified (or maybe just rationalized).

The year is 1957, and Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage) wreaks havoc on her prom and jilts her boyfriend Billy Nordham (Steve Atkinson) for bad boy Buddy Cooper (Robert Lewis).  Billy comes upon an abandoned stink bomb as the perfect revenge, but the fuse lights Mary Lou’s dress on fire as she accepts her prom queen coronation, killing her (we’re left to guess what the combination of burnt flesh and hair, chiffon, and stink bomb smell like).  Jump forward to 1987, where young Vicki (Wendy Lyon) struggles with her virginity, her ice queen mother, and her forbidden love for Craig Nordham (Louis Ferreira), Principal Billy’s (now played by Michael Ironside) son.  It doesn’t take long for Mary Lou to exact her revenge and lay claim her crown with Vicki as her weapon of choice.
The thing which struck me the most about this film was its refreshingly unglamorous view of the Fifties in America (or Canada where this was filmed, but po-tay-to, po-tah-to).  Usually, this era is glorified for being lily-pure and straitlaced and oh-so-perfect.  Sex and murder and rape and all of the evils of the world didn’t exist back then, if popular media is to be believed, and if these things were portrayed (post-Hayes Code), they were sanitized to the point of blandness, more often than not (perhaps the more egregious crime than denying them outright).  Of course, we know that this isn’t the case; Let’s assume we’re not all that naïve.  But it was a simpler time for many (maybe this is due to putting on the proverbial blinders), and it’s exalted for this (I certainly don’t deny having a fondness for it, myself).  Personally, I like the restrictions that were placed on filmmakers back then to a degree, because if they really, truly wanted to portray darker themes or more salacious elements, they had to get creative in order to do it.  This, for me, adds some depth to many of these films, the fact that they didn’t just wiggle all their naughty bits in your face (just look at Nightmare Alley for proof).  Prom Night 2 states that people were just as awful back then as they were in the Eighties (and now, naturally).  

Mary Lou LOVES sex, and she’s a self-centered asshole every inch of the way (she taunts a priest in a confessional before hitting the prom just to tell him how much she enjoys herself).  She dumps Billy unceremoniously in the middle of the soiree just to get her hump on with Buddy, grabbing his crotch and positively salivating at the prospect of what’s awaiting her within his pants.  Buddy’s also a dick, razzing Billy in a finders-keepers, go fuck yourself sort of way.  Billy is no slouch, either.  We can understand wanting to get back at Mary Lou for his heartbreak, but he takes it too far from his idea’s impetus.  Plus, he’s never punished for what he did (that the audience is made aware of).  In fact, he’s rewarded (like Dorothy dropping her house on the Wicked Witch of the East), being given a position of power in the community.  

Little has changed in the intervening years.  While Billy has put the past incident behind him, Buddy has spent his days trying to make up for it (he feels guilty for not trying to rescue his burning paramour), becoming a priest and swearing off the sins of the flesh.  In high school, however, the kids are still jerks, beset with problems that make their lives a living hell.  Vicki’s mother forces her family to pray all the time (instead of having a doctor look at Vicki after a volleyball “mishap,” mom insists that Vicki simply “needs to spend some time with the Lord”), shades of Piper Laurie in Carrie, in case the similarities weren’t obvious enough.  Craig spends his time trying to be accepted by Vicki’s mother (her dad likes him, though), but he’ll forever be an undesirable to her.  Vicki herself is virginal, but she’s investigating her sexuality (the first shot we get of her is Vicki checking her body out in her mirror) in the face of her escalating puberty and rampaging hormones.  Her room looks like a ten-year old’s, including a rocking horse (which plays a rather creepy role a little later on).  Vicki is friends with Monica (Beverley Hendry), who wants a date to the prom but tells guys who want to talk to her to fuck off.  Jess (Beth Gondek) is a quasi-outcast among this group, looking like a distaff Robert Smith in MC Hammer’s wardrobe.  She’s also pregnant from some jerk who ditched her and is positively miserable about her situation.  Josh (Brock Simpson) is the real humdinger.  He’s supposed to be cool and smart (he’s anything but), and even after he gets a date with Monica he still has time to ask for a blowjob from Kelly (Terri Hawkes), the school’s current queen bitch, in return for rigging the prom’s election.  What this all amounts to is a reflection on the fact that being a teenager is nothing but gloom and doom, no matter which generation you came from or your supposed place in the pecking order.  Not many horror films of this era espoused this viewpoint, but it’s nice that this one did.

MVT:  The film’s misanthropy is prominently showcased from first frame to last.

Make or Break:  The opening prom sequence gives us everything we need to get the idea of how we’re supposed to take this film and its characters.  Plus, it mirrors the finale, so if you don’t want to make it that far, at least you kind of know what you’re missing.

Score:  6.75/10     

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