Prom Night Retrospective

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© Copyright Norstar Entertainment

© Copyright Norstar Entertainment

In honour of Kimberly Peirce’s upcoming Carrie (2013) remake, I thought I’d tackle a series steeped in high school horror and that most sinister of teenage traditions: the senior prom. There exist to date five Prom Night flicks, including two straight-to-video sequels and an American remake starring Brittany Snow. Somehow I doubt anyone’s jumping at the chance to make any more. It’s ironic how readily gore hounds have forgotten this franchise, which holds as its only discernible through line the notion that the past always catches up to you.

I suppose I could have reviewed Brian De Palma’s original adaptation of Carrie (1976), its 1999 sequel The Rage: Carrie 2, and the oft forgotten TV remake from 2002 instead. However, I’ve found in my life few occasions to ramble about Bruce Pittman’s Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987), an unlikely Canadian gem I discovered on one of those fabled eighties video rental shelves filled with cardboard pictures of ghouls, demons, and radioactive mutants. It still holds up today, perhaps because high school remains a cesspool of evil, and we can all buy into the notion of a ghostly prom queen who’ll stop at nothing to get her crown back.

Unfortunately, the delightfully vicious Mary Lou Mahoney (Lisa Schrage, Courtney Taylor) sticks around for only one more flick: Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990), which forgoes the haunting surrealism of Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II in favour of the gruesome slapstick so prevalent in the early nineties as aging franchises like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street made their bid for a younger demographic. I can’t help but feel like we missed out on a potentially iconic slasher villainess.

For the longest time, I refrained from picking up Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil (1992) on the basis that the videocassette’s laminated container doesn’t feature a picture of Mary Lou. Her name doesn’t show up in the back cover synopsis either. Instead, the blurb tells of a possessed priest resuming his murder spree after thirty-five years because, you know, religion-themed thrillers had become a thing at the time. Mind you, the fourth instalment in the Prom Night series does provide a tenuous connection with the two previous entries, setting Father Jonas’ (James Carver) fall from grace on the same night their most interesting antagonist got burnt to death.

© Copyright Norstar Entertainment

© Copyright Norstar Entertainment

For some reason, I always assumed the original Prom Night (1980) depicted Mary Lou’s last living days in 1957: the terror she inflicted on her classmates and the gruesome accident that would forever curse her soul. As it turns out, Paul Lynch’s cult hit centers on a boring old masked killer with an unrelated agenda. The movie starts off strong, with the sort of unflinchingly macabre imagery on which Canadian horror built its reputation in the late seventies and eighties, but then settles on ripping off the likes of Halloween (1978), even going so far as to cast Jamie Lee Curtis as the lead.

If I were to reboot the franchise, I’d drop all that forgettable stuff and cut straight to Mary Lou’s twisted plight. Unfortunately, Nelson McCormick went a different route with his 2008 remake, matching the title with yet another generic thriller wherein a beautiful teenager (Brittany Snow) eludes a murderous stalker (Johnathon Schaech) by getting everyone around her killed. Here is a series so concerned with emulating its contemporaries that it never got around to constructing an identity of its own. Reviewing the Prom Night movies is like doing a survey of the horror genre’s various commercial trends over the years, which, I suppose, makes the endeavour a worthwhile experiment in and of itself.

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