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SYFY WIRE horror films

Hidden Horrors of Peacock: The demented fun of 'Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II'

The sequel to Prom Night has nothing to do with its predecessor, but that doesn't make it any less fun.

By Matthew Jackson

Welcome to Hidden Horrors of Peacocka new monthly column spotlighting off-the-beaten-path scary movies available to watch right now on NBCUniversal's streaming service. From cult classics to forgotten sequels to indie gems you've maybe never heard of, we've got you covered. 

This month, we're taking a look at one of the wildest horror sequels of the 1980s: Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

I love horror sequels, particularly the horror sequels made in the decades before continuity and shared universe storytelling were a constant focus in genre cinema. Not that there's anything wrong with keeping a firm grip on continuity, but there was a time when sequels were unanticipated, things that simply happened because the first film made money and, therefore, films were allowed to just go for it, regardless of what happened in the first movie. That's how we got Jason Voorhees morphing from victim to killer and eventually putting on a hockey mask. It's how we got the Dream Warriors to battle Freddy Krueger. And most importantly for our purposes today, it's how we got Prom Night II

RELATED: The best horror movies streaming on Peacock

While those other sequels I mentioned do indeed fit into certain rules established by their respective fictional universes, the second Prom Night film is something that's even more out there, because it's one of those horror films that simply slapped a previously successful title onto a brand new story. Prom Night, released in 1980 and starring Jamie Lee Curtis, is a relatively straightforward whodunit slasher, and a very good one, but Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II has no interest in picking up that story again. Instead, we got a story about a possession that's basically Carrie meets A Nightmare on Elm Street, which just happens to feature a climactic scene at a high school prom.

Because it's completely unrelated to Prom Night and features no returning characters (it's barely even in the same subgenre), you might be wondering if the film is even worth your time. After all, "we slapped a previously used title onto this movie so it would make more money" doesn't necessarily instill confidence in the story, and there are plenty of terrible horror sequels from the 1980s to go around. So, why is this one different?

Hello Mary Lou starts as a pretty straightforward haunting/possession story. High school senior Vicki (Wendy Lyon) hears the old school legend of Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage), the 1957 prom queen who was accidentally burned alive in a prank by a jilted lover, and then begins to feel like Mary Lou is creeping into her life and mind thanks to the opening of a trunk containing some old prom memorabilia. As the body count mounts, Vicki wonders if she's going crazy, or if Mary Lou really is using her to rise from the dead and wreak havoc on the school again. 

Like I said, straightforward, and potentially even boring, but Hello Mary Lou never coasts on the appeal of its formula. Lyon and Schrage, along with the entire cast surrounding them, are remarkably game for what the film throws at them, particularly when Lyon has to play with the idea that Mary Lou's personality has begun to creep into her own. Director Bruce Pittman also presides over a production team that lays in plenty of atmosphere, from dreamlike practical effects to some wonderful creature work. If you thought Carrie's prom ended badly, wait'll you see how this one wraps up.

Even beyond that basic sense of ambition and craft applied to its story, Hello Mary Lou holds up remarkably well in another key way. It's not just that the film is about a vengeful spirit coming to torment her old high school. It's that it's about a vengeful spirit who died basically because she dared to be anything other than pure of heart, and the present-day teenager who longs to break free of the enforced purity of her own life. Setting the film's flashbacks in the '50s and the present day in the '80s further reinforces this, playing up the idea that the good old wholesome days parents long for were never real, and that the present day threat is not coming from teenage girls who dare to live their lives. There's even a dig at movies and video games as potential culprits right in the middle of the movie. It's both remarkably self-aware and slyly incisive.

So, even if you haven't seen Prom Night (which, hey, you should), give Hello Mary Lou a shot. It's streaming on Peacock now, and it still ranks as one of the unsung sequel greats of its decade.

Along with Hello Mary Lou, Peacock is also loaded with excellent horror flicks including Sick, Sinister, Nope, and Halloween Ends.