Prom Night III: The Last Kiss strikes me as somewhat of an oddity and, more to the point, a lost opportunity. The horror genre brims with cash-grab sequels that have nothing to do with the original, but it’s rare to see one earn a follow-up of its own. Nevertheless, the ghostly prom queen from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987) got a second chance at terrorising Canadian audiences, and why not? Mary Lou (Courtney Taylor) makes for a terrific monster, standing out from her slasher contemporaries not just for her sex but also her embodiment of teenage vanity, an evil far more relatable than the vague sense of oblivion represented by the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees.
Unfortunately, directors Ron Oliver and Peter Simpson squander the opportunity to make her a household name by abiding to a particularly obnoxious nineties fad: that of turning every slasher monster into lurid jesters. Their version of Mary Lou borrows less from the evil spirit introduced in Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II than from Freddy Krueger, and I don’t mean the scary dream demon from the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). We’re talking full-on goofy rapping Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988).
Consider Mary Lou’s new MO in Prom Night III: The Last Kiss. Latching onto high school slacker Alex (Tim Conlon), the ghostly prom queen eviscerates, in increasingly outlandish fashion, anybody who threatens his success, from the crotchety biology teacher (George Chuvalo) she impales with ice cream cones to the jock (Dylan Neal) who dies by way of the most girly pass in football history. Our villainess also kills some random janitor (Terry Doyle) by pulling out a brick-shaped pacemaker from his chest. Seriously, did no one in the props department think of looking up what such a device actually looks like?
Never mind. The point is that the once proud Mary Lou has a disturbingly submissive role in Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, one akin to what you’d find in a sixties sitcom like Bewitched, except her beau doesn’t hold a candle to either Darrins. To be clear, I’m not slamming Tim Conlon, whose casually whiny intonations go a long way to selling the movie’s central joke, but rather his uncharismatic bore of a character, Alex, for whom we’re expected to root despite his failing to make any substantial decision for himself and serving as an accessory to murder.
Really, we feel bad for his girlfriend Sarah (Cyndy Preston), who plays the Betty to Mary Lou’s Veronica, spouting off some of the best lines in Prom Night III: The Last Kiss: “I don’t get mad. I bake!” Not only does Alex cheat on the poor girl, he ends up dragging her to hell, where she has to fight a horde of weird Renaissance zombies and a ninja jukebox. I guess I should be grateful for her involvement in the climax, seeing as I actually care what happens to her, but shouldn’t the filmmakers have put some effort into making their so-called hero the least bit sympathetic?
Granted, his flawed personality is kind of the point. Prom Night III: The Last Kiss should, to some extent, be viewed as a morality play in which our passive protagonist pays a gruesome price for failing to take control of his own existence. What with its light plot, morbid humour, and conceptual (albeit gratuitous) twist at the end, the story might have worked as a half-hour episode of Tales from the Crypt. As a full-length feature, though, the whole thing drags about as much as a real-life prom (remember: Alex is your date).
The problem for me lies in Oliver and Simpson expecting us to roll on the floor laughing every time our ghostly prom queen snuffs out a human life. Don’t get me wrong. Anyone familiar with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987) knows horror comedy is a viable subgenre. However, I can’t help but reject Prom Night III: The Last Kiss when it’s piling up the bodies as if death in and of itself made for a sufficient punch line. I would’ve rather Mary Lou continued to symbolise adolescent cruelty instead of pandering to it.