With Halloween right around the corner, now’s the time when all good little boys and ghouls are upping their consumption of horror movies.
There are your classics both new and old — Psycho, Halloween, The Bride of Frankenstein, Shaun of the Dead, Get Out. But how many times can you really watch Scream before you start hankering after an unsung gem? (The answer is infinity times.) So once you’ve gotten through your Silence of the Lambs and your Rosemary’s Baby and your Evil Deads, might I turn your attention to the ‘80s slasher masterwork that is Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II.
Ridiculous title. Ridiculous movie. But in a good way. A teenage punk is killed by a possessed cape. Did I mention it’s free on Amazon Prime?
Directed by Bruce Pittman, Hello Mary Lou is a sequel-in-name-only to 1980’s Prom Night, starring a young Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen. No one is murdered by a cape in that movie, thus it is inferior to its successor. To know whether you’re going to be into Hello Mary Lou, you just need to check your temperature on the opening scene.
It’s the dead of night, and a teenage girl — this is Mary Lou, played by Lisa Schrage — enters a confessional. She’s sinned, she tells the priest. “I disobeyed my parents many times. I’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain many times. I’ve had sinful relations — boys at my school. Many boys, many times. Father, there is one more thing. I loved every minute of it.”
Then she pulls out a tube of lipstick and leaves a “for a good time call” message on the confessional wall.
Mary Lou Maloney is a boss-ass bitch.
She’s also the villain of this particular movie — and a gleeful, bloodthirsty, outrageously fun villain she is. Prom night, 1957: Mary Lou is crowned prom queen seconds before her accidental death at the hands of boyfriend Bill (Steve Atkinson). Thirty years later, the spirit of Mary Lou returns to her high school stomping grounds to take vengeance on Bill — now the school principal, played by Michael Ironside (He’s unsettlingly attractive in this. Don’t ask me questions. I don’t want to go into it.) — and just generally have all the murderous fun she didn’t get to have the first time around due to having died horribly in a fire. Of course, she’ll need a body. She gets one in the form of sweet do-gooder Vicki (Wendy Lyon), whose possession initially takes the form of cursing out the local Regina George and laying the smackdown on a creepy chemistry teacher. Also, this is Vicki’s hair:
Vicki and Mary Lou are only two of this movie’s fairly deep bench of well-sketched female characters. I don’t exactly look to little-known ‘80s high school horror comedies as the peak of female representation, but God damn if Hello Mary Lou doesn’t come off on the female-friendly side of the spectrum. It does this by having female characters who are actual characters, not just walking props with boobs. (It's a low bar ... but one that a lot of movies stumble over.)
There’s Vicki’s sarcastic best friend Monica (Beverley Hendry), who’s almost too relatable:
There’s Vicki’s uber-religious mother (Judy Mahbey). And if you’re thinking “religious mother, prom shenanigans, teenage girl with supernatural powers … my God, this is a Carrie rip-off!,” then A) correct and B) screw you, no one was ever killed by a cape in Carrie, so who gives a hoot about that movie anyways? Hello Mary Lou is Carrie with the quality dialed down, the schlock factor dialed way up, and approximately ten times as many atrocious gym clothes.
One of Hello Mary Lou’s most memorable scenes involves Mary Lou’s first victim, many-times-aforementioned cape victim Jess (Beth Gondek). She’s not in the movie much, but before she croaks, we get a scene of her tearfully admitting to Vicki that she’s pregnant and that the father of her unborn child isn’t returning her calls. Jess is in Hello Mary Lou for 10 minutes. The movie didn’t really need to stop in its tracks to give this random victim her own, unrelated-to-death-by-cape conflict … but it did, because Hello Mary Lou sees Jess as a person, not just the first tick on a body count list.
A person with amazing clothes.
I mean, sure … this was 1987, and not everything’s wall-to-wall wokeness. There is, for example, a locker room scene with gratuitous nudity. But the sordid elements are elevated by acting that’s frankly better than it has any right to be. Ditto the practical effects — this movie was made on the cheap, and it shows, but Pittman made the most of his budget. Also, all the men except one are assholes in one way or another, and the vast majority of them get their comeuppance at the manicured hands of the deliciously evil Mary Lou. "There is no God, Buddy! And there is no Heaven. And do you know what pissed me off the most? No f***ing wings!"