The Prom Night series is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to horror franchises. Every series has that one movie that stands out and doesn’t have much of anything to do with the others. Halloween III: Season of the Witch is the most often cited one of the bunch. It goes out of its way to make sure it can’t be construed as in any way connected with the films that came before it. It is its own story. Jason Goes to Hell is a part of the series, but only barely and shares very little connection with the rest of the franchise outside its use of the titular character. The Leprechaun franchise is notorious for this. None of those features are connected in any way, shape or form outside of Warwick Davis as the little monster. Even then, there are times when he almost has to be portraying a different Leprechaun than he had played in the previous entry. But, Prom Night II is a different beast, entirely.
With the Prom Night series, the feature that sticks out, the one that has no place in the franchise is the original. Prom Night was a slasher hit when first released, cementing Jamie Lee Curtis’ place as a scream queen. There’s an element of mystery to it and a fairly solid cast. And, to be sure, there were much worse slashers that followed in its wake. Still, there’s not a lot that really makes Prom Night memorable. Even when only looking at the films Curtis was a part of, it’s a far cry from Halloween and lacks the innovation and style of Terror Train.
Related: Prom Night (1980) is a Revenge-Soaked Slasher FilmProm Night II: Hello, Mary Lou is a completely different and unrelated movie. It’s much cheesier, but at the same time it’s full of life whereas the original really wasn’t. It’s hard to care about the lower budget when you’re having so much more fun with it than the first.
The plot swaps out a Halloween rip-off for a Carrie rip-off, but a clever one at that. The story centers on Mary Lou Maloney, a prom queen accidentally killed by her boyfriend during the prom in 1957, who comes back for revenge 30 years later and targets her former lover’s son. It’s hard to do a prom-centered horror without drawing comparisons to Carrie, so Prom Night II simply embraces those parallels and references. Ironically, in doing that it’s easier for the feature to stand on its own and do its own thing.
Every good horror series needs a good villain. That’s one of the major keys to a franchise’s success and longevity. The killer in Prom Night was certainly serviceable for a fairly standard slasher, but he didn’t stand out. He didn’t have a strong look to be passed down to another killer or motive enough to warrant a return in a sequel. Mary Lou, on the other hand, is full of personality. She’s a perfect blend of Carrie White and Freddy Krueger, which the sequels capitalized on.
Even though she draws comparisons with Carrie, these are really only circumstantial. She happened to be killed at the prom. In terms of her character, though, she could not be more different. Whereas Carrie was quiet, repressed and hated by her peers, Mary Lou was loved by everyone. She was a vivacious, crude and lustful young woman. She had a larger than life personality, as we see in the opening flashback, that lends itself well to her eventual return as the villain of the piece.
More than anything, Prom Night II: Hello, Mary Lou is a ghost story. But it’s a ghost story by way of Waxwork. It has a campy, but fun tone and a solid sense of humor. It has all the makings of a low-budget horror series, regardless of the fact that it is itself a sequel. Ultimately, the fact that it is Prom Night II is almost irrelevant. It’s easy to see how and why it shaped the franchise from that point on.