Seeing as the original went out of its way to rip off the wave of American slashers spawned from John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween (the flick even stars Jamie Lee Curtis), it seems fitting that Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II would spend most of its runtime emulating Wes Craven’s own masterpiece, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), along with all the derivative horror titles of its day. From Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) to Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985), practically every scary movie of the eighties gets its turn, except Prom Night (1980), reinforcing my suspicion that the notional sequel was developed as a separate entity until its Canadian producers lost their nerve.
Consider the opening flashback in Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. Set in 1957, the scene has got nothing to do with the first instalment. Instead, it references the climactic prank in Carrie (1976), replacing Stephen King’s sheepish protagonist with a heartless queen bee, the titular Mary Lou (Lisa Schrage), and its supernatural massacre with a terribly unlikely fire. Oddly, the sequence is presented as the recollection of a dressing room trunk. When the box shuts on its own, we somehow understand that the prom queen’s vengeful spirit is trapped within, even though it’s got no reason to be.
Cut to thirty years later as Vicki Carpenter (Wendy Lyon) opens the trunk while searching for a used prom dress at school. You see, her pious mother (Judy Mahbey) won’t let her buy a new one, presumably because she’s pissed off about reprising Piper Laurie’s role in Carrie. How else would you explain the woman’s animosity toward Craig (Louis Ferreira), our heroine’s loving boyfriend, who conveniently happens to be the son of Mary Lou’s accidental killer, Principal Bill Nordham (Michael Ironside)? All kidding aside, I like that Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II provides its characters with lives and ambitions independent of the main premise.
This, by the way, also applies to Vicki’s cannon fodder friends and frenemy (Terri Hawkes), who, it should be noted, don’t die in the order one might expect. Contemporary slashers could stand to learn from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, which takes the time to build its supporting cast before knocking it down, diverging from the established formula just enough to keep things unpredictable. Sure, some of the murders prove a bit uninspired, such as the one involving a Sith lord desktop computer, but then the point of a thriller isn’t to feed gore hounds’ sociopathic bloodlust but to, you know, thrill us with its suspense and frightening visuals.
To that end, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II delays Vicki’s inevitable possession in favour of a series of nightmarish set pieces wherein Mary Lou attempts to trap our heroine’s consciousness in a parallel dimension filled with creepy critters and cackling maniacs. These spooky scenes seem straight out of A Nightmare on Elm Street, or rather A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), relying on surrealist imagery to convey the protagonist’s slipping sense of self and disturb us on a weird, subconscious level.
Take, for example, the bit in which a blackboard turns into a whirlpool, swirling chalk letters around while Mary Lou’s victim tries to splash her way out: no gore, blood, or even death, just the odd mixture of dread and confusion that comes with watching a relatable character struggle against an enemy to whom the very laws of physics have already yielded. I also dig Vicki’s possessed rocking horse with its red eyes and just slightly organic features. It’s as if director Bruce Pittman and his special effects team had decided to leap headfirst into the uncanny valley. Our heroine’s reaction to the creature doesn’t make a lick of sense (“This is my room! Leave me alone”), but I find the sequence all the more perturbing for it.
Admittedly, the final act delves into more familiar slasher territory, delivering old standbys like the climactic high school gym massacre. Mind you, I commend Pittman for linking the money shot to a morbid rebirth of sorts as opposed to the usual bloody slaughter. We’ve all seen this stuff before, of course, but then that’s the point. As I mentioned, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II delights in referencing the horror classics of its time. That the murderously vain Mary Lou would turn out the more compelling monster in the Prom Night series only serves as testament to their adaptable charm.