For most of his life, Evan Dossey generally avoided horror films. The genre made him profoundly uncomfortable. This meant he had enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Over the years, he has asked family and friends which essential horror movies he needs to see and spent the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. Once again, he’s sharing the month with those folks — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.
Austin Lugar is legally allowed to write for this site because he lives in Chicago, which is part of the MIdwest. There, he produces various podcasts — including The Immortals, which has Austin and three friends attempting to watch the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. He is also the editor of a few books about the mystery genre, including Mystery Muses.
Humblebrag: I went to prom. With a date and everything. And I remember it being … fine. Not that different from the other high school dances but more photos taken beforehand. I don’t remember who was elected prom king and queen and I also can’t remember a single person caring.
That was my experience and perhaps the experience of many others. That was not Mary Lou’s experience. She is an agent of chaos by way of a mean girl. She begins the movie tormenting a priest by bragging about her sexual exploits just for fun. She isn’t impressing friends who are giggling outside of the confession booth. She just drove by the church and thought this was a good use of her time.
Prom for Mary Lou wasn’t a dance, it was an overdue coronation. It was not a night for romance because she immediately cheats on her date at the dance. I’m not entirely sure how she got the votes she needed to win considering how cruel she is to everyone, but that doesn’t matter. In the same fashion as late-franchise slasher killers, we’re rooting for the baddie.
When her cucked date tries to get revenge by Carrie-ing her with a stink bomb, it is an offensive lack of respect. He can’t even do that right because the prank turns into manslaughter as Mary Lou’s dress catches on fire and she dies onstage.
Most people after dying would stay dead. But most people aren’t Mary Lou Maloney.
Thirty years later, poor Vicki Carpenter is searching through the high school’s basement (natch) and finds a trunk of Mary Lou’s prom night accessories (natch natch) and decides to take it for herself. Vicki doesn’t take her findings to the police because the school was withholding evidence … or even take them back to the Maloney family … or recognize Mary Lou’s legacy was so historic, they should belong in a museum. Instead, she keeps them for herself. Bad news for Vicki, great news for Mary Lou.
Because if there is one thing we understand in this messy world of ours, it’s that we don’t fuck with Mary Lou’s prom night.
The rest of the movie is a series of nutso events in which Vicki becomes more and more possessed by the spirit of Mary Lou. The film goes through a series of movies the filmmaker clearly recently enjoyed. We have a Nightmare on Elm Street dream sequence with a great chalkboard effect. Not just because of the prom-night fiasco, we also have a prudish controlling mother a la Carrie. And there’s an incredible locker room sequence that is Alien-inspired, with one of the best one-liners before a smashing kill.
The high-school movie genre is crowded by events that are perceived by its characters as the highest stakes of their lives. When you’re a teenager, they are the highest stakes of your life. But too many films (and Broadway musicals) aren’t just honoring the POVs of their leads, but they believe the hyperbole themselves. For every Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Friday Night Lights, there seem to be a thousand Netflix movies (seemingly all set in the same hallways) that tell kids that this is, in fact, all that will ever matter.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2 (no relation to Prom Night) satirizes that belief with violent glee. Let’s have a high-school tiara with higher stakes than the Iron Throne. People think that their time in high school will be remembered by the following generations, but those kids have their own stories to create. Mary Lou transcends that. For decades, people still thought about her — not because of the trauma of seeing someone burn alive onstage, but because she was such a bad bitch, fire may not have been enough.
Don’t. Fuck. With. Mary Lou’s. Prom.