Many years ago, my friend Dan worked in a 24-hour garage, on the night shift. Usually, it was very quiet, so we’d pop over and keep him company (we were all students or unemployed at the time), and part of the fun was grabbing a VHS tape from the bargain bucket and playing it over the store’s TV. We saw / fell asleep ten minutes into many a terrible B-movie, but the one I remembered with most fondness was “Prom Night 3” (having never watched parts 1 or 2 at the time). But now I have!
Mary Lou Maloney is in hell, after the events of part 2. Her hell is a Prom, a sort of hideous mashup of her 50s past and the disco of part 1, with shuffling zombies her only companions; but she’s resourceful, so with nothing more than a nail-file and a can-do attitude, she’s off and back to Hamilton High school! A quick couple of murders later (the janitor and an old boyfriend) and she’s ready to get involved with the main story.
Our human “hero” is Alex (Tim Conlon, making his debut), an average student in every way – height, weight, shoe size, grades, everything. He has a beautiful, smart girlfriend, though, Sarah (Cynthia Preston); but she wants him to go work on a farm with him after graduation and before college, whereas his best friend Shane (David Stratton) wants the two of them to get motorbikes and hit the open road. I mean, a summer on a farm does sound like sort of a crappy way to spend your last free time, but what do I know? In school late one night, Alex hits his head and while he’s lying completely dazed on the floor, wrapped in the American flag which fell off on top of him, Mary Lou, flying through the school’s corridors looking for fresh victims, sees him and falls in love.
Now, here’s where my carefully constructed feminist persona may crumble slightly. This is the first time in the movie we see the face of the new Mary Lou, Courtney Taylor (for whom this was her debut too). Now, we all have our favourite genders, sizes, shapes, and hair colours, but to say I developed a little crush on Ms Taylor is to understate things considerably. She was so beautiful that the film could have been a massive pile of crap and I’d still love it to this day – luckily, it’s great so I don’t have to pretend. Thank heavens the internet wasn’t a thing back then, I’d have made a horrible embarrassment out of myself – anyway, she’s also a lot of fun in the role too, playing someone who is so pleased to be out of Hell that she falls deeply in love with the first nice guy she sees.
Unfortunately for those around her, Mary Lou’s way of showing love is somewhat influenced by her past. A science teacher with a sweet tooth is about to give Alex an F, so she tears his chest open and replaces his guts with chocolate and ice cream. The guidance counsellor thinks Alex is only good for menial labour, so Mary Lou melts her face off with battery acid. Then, because she may be an utter psychopath but she’s not stupid, she forces Alex to dispose of the bodies, which he chooses to bury in the middle of the “football” field for some reason, making sure he’s bribed well with sex. This bonds the two of them together quite well.
Alex turns into a cool kid sort of by accident, as the confidence he gets from Mary Lou (along with the murder of his enemies), and a bike / leather jacket from his parents (as a reward for acing a test that Mary Lou actually filled in for him), elevates him in the school’s eyes. He and Sarah have some serious problems, and Shane struggles with the new Alex too.
As I always say, if you want a poorly worded recap you can just go to Wikipedia, so let’s talk character. Sarah is interestingly-played, as she’s pretty boring, wanting Alex to do a really dull thing with her, and having no obvious interests (that she’s not into sex, it would seem, is the icing on the cake for a teenage boy). She’s the archetype for many of that sort of character in teen comedy cinema, but rarely would they give her so few redeeming qualities. Mary Lou represents destroying small town tedium, and as well as being staggeringly beautiful, it’s very obvious to see how a guy obsessed with his own average-at-everything nature would fall hard for that. Alex is the everyman, and I’m pretty sure I identified with him quite a lot when I first saw it.
Then there’s the comedy element, as “Prom Night 3” is most definitely a comedy first and a horror second. The brutal murder of people around him is played off with a sort of off-hand, casual indifference by Alex, but his nightmarish rise to the top of the school’s social pyramid is funny as well. It’s not jokes or wackiness, but laughs that come from the characters and the situations; okay, there are some great lines too, such as Alex’s “What am I talking about? I just stuffed my dead biology teacher into the cupboard. Things are not alright”, but then, that’s all in the delivery too. There are also some weird / brilliant visual touches, like the cactus shaped like a penis that keeps blocking the shot as Alex talks to the guidance counsellor; but, of course, some of it is terrible, like the PA announcer, whose lines feel like they were rejected from the worst, lamest “Airplane!” ripoff.
The entire “Prom Night” series qualifies as “unquels” – sequels that bear no relation to what came before. The first one is a largely serious slasher movie; part 2 is a wicked black joke of a horror, which introduces a new central character; part 3 keeps the main character but completely alters everything about them; and part 4 isn’t even set at a prom! The curious-ish thing is that parts 2 and 3 were written by the same person, Ron Oliver, who now does kids’ TV and romance movies. He also got to direct part 3, which is perhaps why its odder comedic elements get dialled way up.
Is this movie any good? It’s almost impossible for me to separate my enjoyment of it from the time I originally saw it, but its dark, almost post-modern take on the wronged-girlfriend-slasher movie seems refreshing, even today. As comedy fans are unlikely to stumble upon it, most of its press has come from horror sites, who seem upset that something which looks like a horror movie actually isn’t- the same treatment that the (far superior) “April Fools Day” also got. Very few horror-comedies get reviewed well, because I don’t think fans of either genre understand much about the other, and while I’m not saying I hold any unique perspective, as a fan of both I can appreciate the movies that get it right. Whether that’s a comedy with a horror setting, or a gory horror with a few dark laughs in it, or something in the middle.
Okay. It’s a long way from perfect, with an ending which smacks of “we ran out of money, will this do?” and a lack of normal human response to any crisis leaving things curiously hollow at times, but the the good outweighs the bad to a huge degree. Funny, a couple of great debut performances at the centre, a black heart at the centre of a light movie – it’s absolutely worth tracking down. Not for you if you like movies that take themselves seriously, but otherwise you’ll have a fine time.
Rating: thumbs up