We all remember that evening of Prom. You rent a very nice tuxedo (I traded in two old cars at the junkyard for the $100 to rent my white top/black bottoms), the beauty saloons slammed for days, and for the rest of your life, you will find glitter in your car from your date (five years later I was still finding glitter in the passenger seat). Since Promanades began in the early 1800s, teenagers have been losing their minds, making sure these evenings were to be remembered, taking (awkward) photos by their parents’ fireplaces, and trying (not too) hard not to get into trouble. However, at least their not losing THEIR HEADS, like some of the poor unfortunates in the 1980 horror Disco Duck Prom Night. Like a bad date who spends the entire evening hanging with the bros and throwing up, it would be huge regret if I only talked about the first in the series and not its offshoots (although we can all shake hands instead of kissing goodnight if I speak of the 2008 remake!) and sequels, which trying to figure out the timeline or how they connect will make you lose the bounce in your heavily hair-sprayed quaffed hair!
You don’t have to be in AP chemistry to figure out why the slasher genre cut its way into the drive-ins like a 1960s after-prom party. Movies like Bob Clark’s Black Christmas and Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (It’s only a movie… It’s only a movie…) showed there was a profit in dismemberment, but nothing quite like John Carpenter’s Halloween. With great success comes great rip-offs, and like a cheap leisure suit from the thrift store, they never go away (and itch), yet Paul Lynch’s take on the genre was smart and different, with an incredible disco soundtrack to rival the Bee Gee’s (gives a whole new meaning to ♪Staying Alive♪).
Lynch was smart to cast while the iron was hot Halloween star Jamie Lee Curtis to add to her ‘Scream, Queen’ portfolio before she went “legit” as Randy from Scream pointed out. Made for an estimated $1.5 Million (most going to Curtis and name actor Leslie Nielson before he laughed in Airplane!) the film would go on to gross over $15 million in box office tickets alone, not to mention TV and home video sales. With all of this in mind, it seems strange a sequel was never in the works… or so many thought. Fast forward a few years down the road, during the heyday of Ma and Pa video stores, it was good business to stack your cassette next to a well-known property. Hence, the “in-name-only” sequel was created. Prom Night was a great renter during these years, and what joy it was when patrons grabbed this title to see there weren’t just one but three sequels! The only issue (like having no money to pay for your prom date’s meal) is they had nothing to do with each other and much disappointment when viewers realized Curtis was in none of the others, or that the second one and third were related, or how the fourth had nothing to do with any of them (or why in the world there was ever a remake… ever…).
I’ll do my best to explain the plot of each one, so give me pause (and a lot of spiked punch) to map it all out for you:
More like a Dario Argento Giallo than the standard slasher, the first film starts twelve years before the big night, when kids misbehave in an abandoned house and a little girl gets killed. Years later, the dead girl’s sister (played by Curtis, who looks like she’s taking her senior year for the fifth time) is up for Prom Queen. Many are jealous, others are spiteful, but for some reason, those who are nasty, or happened to be involved with the death years before, are getting the queen of hearts treatment (off with their heads!). Coming in a choppy ninety-three minutes and directed by Paul Lynch (who went on to direct TV shows like The Twilight Zone ‘85 and Beauty and the Beast) you’ll suffer a splitting headache when they reveal the killer and you’ll never see it coming (like having your back turned to an ax-murderer)!
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II
Like the Halloween franchise, you have to use advanced algebra to figure out the trajectory, but for now, just know the film was made under the title The Haunting of Hamilton High but the producers bought the title rights so it was next to the original on the video shelves. In 1957, during their senior prom, ‘Hell on Wheels’ Mary Lou Maloney (a great role for Lisa Schrage) has the itch to scratch and no one is taking the bait. After a hard night of partying, she is crowned prom queen, right before a stink bomb (those crazy hooligans) lights her dress on fire, and goodbye Mary Lou! Thirty years later, her date Billy (played by the legendary Michael Ironside) is the high school principal, and the students of Hamilton High, like Carrie-esq Vicki Carpenter (yes, a nod to John Carpenter), is getting ready, but Vicki needs to find the right accessories for her special night, and just so happens to find ol’ Mary Lou’s haunted crown and cape (at the school after all these years for some unknown reason) and possesses Vicki. Filled with nods from A Nightmare of Elm Street to The Exorcist, it takes a wild departure from the first film (naturally) yet still delivers the goods when yuppy 80s teeny-boppers get hung by lights, crushed by lockers, and zapped by Apple II computers! Burning down the gym at Ninty-seven minutes and directed by Bruce Pittman (who was nominated for an Oscar for his short film The Painted Door) the film bombed at the box office but killed at video rentals for the cost of a cheap corsage (these teenagers are very thorny)!
Prom Night III: The Last Kiss
Not a sequel to the first film, but a direct sequel to the second, Mary Lou still can’t stand the heat (below) and comes back a few years later to wreak havoc on the students of the recently rebuilt Hamilton High, but now she has her sights on average nerdy Alexandar (played for laughs well by Tim Conton). Almost like a teenage Bewitched, Mary Lou needs his love to keep her off the sonar from the big guy downstairs, so weirdly she turns Alex into her Pygmalion class project, transforming him into an honor roll jock hero. It seems great for a while, but like every English teacher who makes students study Billy Shakespeare, Alex grows weary of the jealousy/murder thing Mary Lou thrives on, but you’ll see who gets the last laugh! The best part is, unlike the previous two, they play this one for laughs, and surprisingly is left off a lot of lists for ‘horror comedy’. The murders are amped up like High School Musical, ranging from a jukebox exploding a man’s pacemaker to impaling people on field goals posts, and was a stable on late-night TV in the 90s like USA’S Up All Night. Digging through the dirt at another ninety-seven minutes and directed by Ron Oliver (who wrote the second film and directed TV episodes for Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps), this was sent direct to video but has never really been released properly on DVD or streaming, hence why many are unaware of it (unless you’re too cool for school).
Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil
Just before poor ol’ Mary Lou starts heating the dance floor (but not in this film) during Prom Night ‘57, a couple of rebels have a cause to get hot and heavy in the juvenile jungles of the backseat, but a deranged priest thinks otherwise! The church feels the best plan of action is to lock the priest up in a monastery for the rest of his life. The only snag is on Prom Night ‘92, he escapes and is in the mood to stop four ‘horny like a marching band’ teenagers out to enjoy their special night. This film feels more like the original in a scary, serious tone, and the priest is like a Regan-era clerical-collared Rambo battling teenage sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll (♫smells like teen spirits♫). This film is better than it has any right to be for a fourth in a series now going direct to video. Had the film just kept its original title of Deliver Us from Evil it might have had more longevity, but seems it’s Prom Night IV moniker held it back for a few years. Sinning your way at Ninty-two minutes and directed by Clay Borris (whose previous efforts were Quiet Cool and TV western The Gunfighters), this unholy entry gathered a rather small cult following based on its conservative approach to high school naughtiness in 90s horror films (won’t someone please think of the children!)
Prom Night (2008)
(Bell rings) Good morning. It has Idris Alba in it. That’s all. Class dismissed.
In a world where Jamie Lee Curtis is now Academy Award-winning Jamie Lee Curtis (who acknowledged the genre in her acceptance speech, making us all clutch our VHS of Terror Train with tears) it’s good to look back at this series which helped keep her fans screaming for their (prom) queen. Due to some bad contracts and quick profits, the rights to the films were always thrown around, from Canadian home markets to MGM of all places. You can find Prom Night and Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II easily on mass DVD collections, and there was a poor 2-disc DVD transfer from VHS of Prom Night III: The Last Kiss and Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil, but there has never been an ultimate edition of all four films with special features (will the producers please report to the principal’s office). You can find all of them on most streaming platforms (painful dance shoes) except for Prom Night III: The Last Kiss for unknown reasons, but be sure to collect the Synapse Films special edition Blu-ray of Prom Night packed with special features like a collective rented limo. So be brave by asking that special someone to dance on the disco floor, put on a dusty crown from the prop room before going out to a cheap drive-thru, and for the after-prom party, watch all of these killer-thriller unrelatable chillers (as long as you don’t cheat by watching the remake as there will be detention for all who do).