Throughout the 1980’s, horror fans were treated to an endless supply of films being released to theaters. The majority of these were sequels to popular franchises: FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, EVIL DEAD and A NIGHTMAE OF ELM STREET for example. Then in 1987, a sequel to the 1981 slasher film PROM NIGHT was released, but failed to capture both the audiences’ attention and box office profits. Now, exactly 30 years later, fans have finally caught up to the brilliance of HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II.
For those who may have not seen the film yet, here’s the plot in a nutshell: In 1957, jealous boyfriend Bill Nordham kills Hamilton High’s Prom Queen Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage). Thirty years later, Nordham (Michael Ironside) is now the principal of Hamilton High and his son Craig (Justin Louis) is attending the prom with his lovely girlfriend Vicki Carpenter (Wendy Lyon). But when she finds and opens an old trunk in the school’s basement, the spirit of Mary Lou processes her. Now Nordham must confront his old love before she murders everyone he cares about.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that the film was never to be intended to be a sequel at all. Directed by Bruce Pittman and written by Ron Oliver, it was originally titled THE HAUNTING OF HAMILTON HIGH. Oliver’s script was heavily filled with nods to other horror films such as CARRIE, THE EXORCIST and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Another interesting nod that he did was to have almost every characters’ last name pay homage to famous horror and cult directors; such has Wes Craven, Frank Henenlotter, John Carpenter, John Waters, Stephen King, George Romero, Todd Browing and Edward D. Wood, Jr.
The movie was shot on location at Archbishop O’Leary High School in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. After filming wrapped, executive producer Peter Simpson – who produced the original PROM NIGHT – didn’t think the film worked and hired Oliver to rewrite and reshoot several of the film’s sequences in one week. These would be the rocking horse scene, the chalkboard whirlwind and the climax of the locker room death scene.
Once production was completed, the Samuel-Goldwyn Company, who purchased the film’s distribution rights, decided to change the title to HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II to cash in on the success of the first PROM NIGHT. It was a sheer coincidence that the name of the high school was the same from the original.
The film was released to theaters on November 13, 1987. It grossed $2.6 million at the box office against its $1.5-$2 million budget. The film performed poorly and horror fans didn’t flock to the theaters to see it. It did garner a positive review from L.A. TIMES film critic Kevin Thomas when he called it “THE BLUE VELVET of high school horror movies.” In a 2002 interview with the website The Terror Trap, Peter Simpson stated that, “But [Samuel Goldwyn] never had the courage of his convictions and it was released in a capricious and silly fashion. He wanted to build on PROM NIGHT so we changed the title, which I think hurt the movie.” Though the movie bombed at the box office, it eventually made a killing when it was released on home video. It’s here that the film finally found its audience and became a bona fide cult classic.
HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II is an often, overlooked 80’s horror gem. With its amalgam of slasher killings, supernatural scares, radical 80’s soundtrack and its social commentary on topics revolving teen sex, pregnancy and suicide, the movie demands a closer examination. It’s had 35mm screening from San Francisco’s Castro Theatre to the Alamo Drafthouse. It’s available on a variety streaming platforms and on DVD. So there is no reason for you to not watch this movie. So invite a bunch of your friends, make some popcorn and go watch this horror classic! Just make sure you save a seat for Mary Lou!