In 1957, Mary Lou Maloney went up in flames. Now she’s back. And she’s burning mad.
Thirty years after her accidental death at her 1957 senior prom, the tortured spirit of prom queen Mary Lou Maloney returns to seek revenge.
Have you ever read a more enticing movie premise? I discovered this film earlier this year thanks to my friend Matt – and was already looking for an excuse to revisit as soon as I could. With horror being the theme for this month on the collab, it was a no brainer to include it in the line up. I’m confident Jill will get something out of PNII but as I type my adorable little intro, I realise I have that nervous bellyache synonymous with showing a dear friend a much-loved piece of art and waiting to see if they love or hate it with a passion.
I guess it’s all in Mary Lou’s hands now.
We begin in 1957 and Mary Lou is confessing her saucy sins to the local priest. Our girl is a sexually free honey who shows no remorse for her liaisons with numerous boys and rightly bloody so, that’s what being seventeen should be all about. Later at the prom, which Mary Lou attends with her date Billy, she sneaks off behind the stage for a quickie with bit on the side Buddy. Since Billy has just given her a ring, he’s unimpressed by this turn of events and storms off, cursing Mary Lou and the day she was born.
While huffing and puffing backstage, Billy catches two dorks planning to drop a stink bomb and has the genius idea of delivering some humiliating pay back to his philandering girlfriend. So as Mary Lou graciously (LOL) accepts her position as Hamilton High School’s crown Queen of the Prom (1957), he drops the bomb. Alas, our girl goes up like a roman candle and in the kerfuffle exactly nobody bothers to put her out, administer any first aid or call an ambulance/the fire brigade. Buddy makes a half-ditch attempt to approach her burning carcass but hasn’t the gumption to see it through.
As Mary Lou smoulders for real this time, she makes eye contact with Billy thus letting him know exactly what a piece of shit he is and that she knows he did it. That look is enough to haunt a man for all eternity, though whether Bill has the moral decency to feel bad about it for long remains to be seen.
Fast forward thirty years and Bill is now the headmaster at Hamilton High with a family of his own. Buddy still lives in town too and spurred on by the Mary Lou incident, has dedicated his life to the church and is now a priest. In 1987, we’re gearing ourselves up for prom again and in this timeline, our heroine is Vicky Carpenter, a nice girl with prom queen aspirations of her own. Alas Vicky lives in a somewhat oppressive household with her deeply religious mother and brow beaten father – and when her parents refuse her money to buy a new frock for the occasion, she inadvertently releases the spirit of a furious Mary Lou, with dramatic and amazing results.
If you were comparing our two leading ladies, you would say that Vicky is morally everything Mary Lou was not. Pure, blonde, loyal, nice and caring. This is continually signaled throughout the first half of the film – including a really clunky thread in which kooky classmate Jess reveals she’s pregnant after a one night stand – and Vicky has the opportunity to show how supportive and non-judgemental she is as a character. Call me cynical. Anyway, the pregnancy also becomes a convenient way for faculty and classmates to explain away Jess’ death which looks like a suicide.
So Vicky has found the prom paraphernalia – last worn by 1957’s winner – in the school boiler room and strange incidents start occuring. Beginning with Jess’ murder (Mary Lou is pissed when Jess picks one of the ‘gems’ off the plastic prom crown). V is obviously devastated by the death of her friend and starts having nightmarish hallucinations that all center around Mary Lou Maloney. She goes to see Buddy the priest who starts to believe that she might really have risen from the grave. Having half blamed himself for what happened to his lover, he’s lived with the guilt for most of his adult life. UNLIKE SOME.
V starts behaving more and more out of character – falling out/slapping/taking long homoerotic showers with friends, being more forward with her boyfriend Craig (who happens to be Bill’s son) and dressing in 1950’s fashions (that she just happens to have hanging in the back of her wardrobe). It’s very obvious that M has inhabited Jessica’s body and is having a blast.
Of course her motivation is of the sinister persuasion so you can bet your arse she dishes out justice left and right in the lead up to the prom – and her second chance to get her hands on the crown. And if this means dispatching all of Vicky’s friends (and Vicky) in the process, then so be it.
Will Mary Lou finally get that crown? Will Billy pay for his sins from 30 years ago? Will you ever look at a row of lockers in the same way again?
Well, I think this is the most fun and I love it. It gives me strong Nightmare on Elm Street vibes, particularly from some of the later movies which I truly adore. It has a tendency to really lean into surrealism and that’s a large part of why I like it so much. I have to mention an absolutely sublime nightmare sequence in which Vicky is lewdly harassed by the rocking horse in her room.
I don’t really have any negatives although the implication that M deserved what she got because of her loose lifestyle compared to Vicky’s squeaky clean one isn’t fair. You could argue this was illustrative of attitudes in the fifties but we know this isn’t strictly true given the final girl trope (bookish girl good, slutty girl bad) which still lives on today in bad horror movies. I am willing to overlook that for all the great stuff we get though and it is refreshing that our antagonist is a vengeful teenage girl rather than a heavy footed white man with a machete.
I was a little disappointed they killed off Jess so soon and I don’t really have strong feelings towards Vicky. Or at least I didn’t until she started acting like Mary Lou. None of the men really stand out (Bill is pretty eager to forget he literally burned a girl to death, citing the fact it happened ‘in the past’, the bastard) and the school mean girl is very much what you’d expect but is ultimately forgettable.
I have to say the whole prom night climax is great, trippy as fuck and actually quite moving. Justice for Mary Lou always.
I loved every minute of it. ~ Mary Lou Maloney
Rating: 5 shit-talking rocking horses out of 5
Did Jill enjoy Mary Lou? Would she whop bop b-luma b-lop bam BOM, or stand it up on prom night? Find out here.