Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Creature Double Feature Night 9: PROM NIGHT 2: HELLO MARY LOU, WAXWORK (+ ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT)


Tonight - Two teenager-centric but effects-driven gems of the realm... okay maybe cracked plastic tiaras and cheap wax exhibits instead of actual gems, but don't turn your back on them - though they may be cheap, they aren't wax... for long. And when the tiara represents ascendence to prom queen, don't f--ck with Mary Lou! And when it comes to virginal crushes don't turn your back on the Marquis de Sade. Severin! Your servant comes in bells / please don't forsake him!

 PROM NIGHT 2: HELLO, MARY LOU
(1987) Dir Bruce Pittman
**1/2 / Amazon Image - C+

The first Prom Night was a flatly-shot Halloween-wannabe Canadian melange of red herrings (a suspicious janitor? Take off, eh?!), glass windows, stoners, dated police methods, one of the most sparsely attended proms ever, dimly unfinished plywood sets and Jamie Lee Curtis. This name-only sequel has the incomparable Lisa Schrage as a vicious 50s high school diva killed by fellow senior Michael ("Revok! Darryl Revok!") Ironside via a stink bomb prank gone awry that burns her alive during her big onstage Carrie prom queen of 1957 moment. Flash ahead thirty years: now Ironside's the principal and the school's gearing up for a special vintage-style prom. An unassuming but cute blonde senior named Vicki (Wendy Lyon), looking for a prom decoration ideas, finds an old trunk in the attic that happens to contain Mary Lou's crown. Whooosh! The spirit of Mary-Lou is released into the oxygen-rich late-80s and Vicki starts having crazy dreams while John Zaza's knowingly eerie music gooses things into weird termite corners. Eventually Vicki finds herself sucked into the blackboard wherein she drowns into the swirling ink and chalk like Cocteau-style. At home, Vicki has a poster of Picasso's Guernica on her bedroom wall and a big hobby horse that starts to turn demonic, leering at her with its big phallic tongue and staring through red eyes. Everyone name-checks the Exorcist and "Linda Blairsville" when Vicki starts wearing bobby socks and "talking like she's in an Elvis Presley movie." "Give her a break, guys, says her Hopper-browed boyfriend, "she's just trying to be an individual."

Though she now fits right in with the punk hairspray aesthetic--even if she uses words like "swell,"--the other girls are confused by the new Vicki. Bespectacled old Ironside meanwhile, is trying to keep out of trouble and is in no way eager to accept the prospect of his 30-year's-gone prank victim returning to wreak vengeance (the scene where Mary Lou/Vicki sashays into his office and onto his lap, and he recognizes her is pretty intense). Destroying anyone who so much as looks at her cross-eyed via an arsenal of telekinetic powers that make Carrie White seem anemic, it's only natural she should seduce and destroy Ironside, as well as all her new rivals before she steps to the podium, and her speech shall be truly euthanizing.."Mary Lou Malone...has come back!" Her seemingly limitless abilities include being able to sense when the vote tabulating tech guy changes the count to favor the girl who just went down on him, and kills him by sticking her hand near a phone jack and zapping him through his computer screen (after threatening him in two different fonts). Another girl gets crushed to death inside a locker after rebuffing a lesbian advance. Vicki's mom gets blown throw the screen door for saying shit about her making out with her dad. Thanks to FX-wiz Jim Doyle (Nightmare on Elm Street 4). lasers come out of eyes and during the big climax, Mary Lou's charred corpse shambles forth from Vicki's chest once she's crowned, and in a Carrie-trouncing prom queen moment, she begins to reconstitute herself while the student bodies die from falling neon lightning rods.  It's all pretty fun and imaginative, rich with propulsive underscoring and smartly paced; high school drama cliches are, for the most part, sidestepped. Even the acting is mostly good, especially Wendy Lyon as Vicki, who runs emotional gamuts like a boss. (PS - if you don't have Prime it's regularly on free PlutoTV.)

 I remember it looking better on DVD but the Film Rise print on Prime looks wan and washed out, cropped like a videotape. The nudity is naturalistic (no augments or spray tans) but, as I get older, high school locker room nudity becomes no longer sexy but disturbing. Yet there's empowerment in a naked Vicki/Mary Lou doing the 'menacingly singing while strolling naked towards her prey down the locker aisles' thing. We need more badass female monster icons like her, confident, cool girls who show how sexual come-ons can be terrifying (she makes out with inappropriate abandon, including french kissing her own father). Too bad this film never earned any sequels, probably as it itself is an unrelated name-only sequel to the first Prom Night. But then again, any sequel to a movie with a powerful amoral sexually uninhibited female as the monster is going to get a "no" from wary gynophobic misogynist producers. Drown them in fire, Mary Lou, and ascend to thine podium again!

--
13. WAXWORK
(1988) Dir. Anthony Hickox
**1/2 / Amazon Image - A

I still have never seen Gremlins all the way through, so strong is my disregard for Zach Galligan, but I have to get past it when it comes to Waxwork because no one in the rest of the cast seems too pleased about him either and he's not in every scene. There's also the amazing Dana Ashbrook (so great as Bobby Briggs in Twin Peaks) turning into a werewolf; Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl), and--as the sexually hungry girl who Galligan seems to think he owns since she slept with him one time,  Michelle Johnson (Blame it on Rio). There's also Patrick MacNee (in a wheelchair) as Galligan's grandfather, and the immovable David Warner (Time After Time) having a high old time as the fey owner of a waxwork museum that suddenly appears in a foreboding corner mansion: each tableaux is so lifelike it's clear it holds a real murderer or monster in suspended animation - and the exhibits suck kids into them as they pass- so the 'innocent' teens suddenly find themselves in period dress and about to be killed by some familiar movie monster in some classic (and very well-done) mise-en-scene. When they die they become part of the exhibits, which include a surprisingly vast array of roman-a-clef versions of famous horror films (Hickox knows his classics enough to mix them up, so The Elephant Man becomes the snake monster in SSssss, and an Alien-style monster winds up in a slasher film, etc. They're cool, these kids and/or they die fast --they smoke cigarettes (indoors!) and dress like pre-Pulp Fiction preppies and have a cool lived-in low-key rapport. Except for Galligan, with his oily black hair and smug expression-- he's the only wrong note. But hey, he suffers a lot and winds up running from zombies in black-and-white ala Romero's 1968 classic. Ashbrook winds up in pastiche of Hammer's Curse of the Werewolf meets Company of Wolves; Johnson finds herself in a very becoming white dress, bare shouldered with strange flower-feather adornments (the costumes are A+) eating raw meet and drinking blood in a sexy and strange Anne Rice-style vampire castle with some eerie sets and Byronic sinister lordly vampires. Virginal Foremen winds up tied to marble columns and lashed by the Marquis de Sade (a hilariously wry J. Kenneth Campbell) while lords and jealous ladies squirm in delight.  For some odd reason I find this scene almost revoltingly hot. Foreman, drenched in sweat, her back streaked with welts, moaning for the Marquis to keep going, even as the dandy prince is urging him to kill her. Whoa- what is this crazy kernel of kink (and the almost-as-strangely hot vampire sequence) doing here? This film is full of tricks and treats.

Then, like the kid your mom makes you bring along, into the whipping scene trundles self-righteous bossy Zach, to rescue Foreman, though she doesn't even want to be rescued. Yeesh what a kinky scene until he crashes it. She leaves with him, but the struggle within Foreman's psyche to let go of this new kind of overwhelming pleasure/pain and return back to the dubious joys of reality becomes one of the more tragic albeit key bits of the film. "you're just mad I gave her her first orgasm." De Sade caustically notes. It's as if the girl cenobite in Hellraiser decided to go home to her drab husband in the suburbs and give up her piercings. And hey, it all ends in a massive brawl with all the monsters, including such rare sights as Dirty Harry shooting the head off a vampire bat, someone shooting the baby from It's Alive, and Foreman tossing David Warner's little person sidekick into the open jaws of Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors. It's pretty sloppy by then--the walls of the sets seem to be falling down around them, but there's too many crazy things, happening to really complain, except... yeah, Galligan. Still, no one else seems to like him either, "kill the wimp" Warner says to De Sade when Zach loses their fair sword fight and then just gives up and waits to die. (Foreman saves him with an axe!)

The Amazon Print catches it all in rich detail.

Third Option:

ONE DARK NIGHT 
(1982) Dir Tom McLoughlin
**1/2 / Amazon Image - B-

Meg Tilly broke big with critics and audiences via her role here as a sensitive high school (or college?) kid whose initiation into a pretty lame girl gang involves spending a night alone in a creepy mausoleum. The mean girls mount spooky pranks (never pledge a sorority after you've stolen its leader's boyfriend Steve [David Mason Daniels]) but the corpse of a vengeful Russian psychic rises after they toss a lit roach through the cracked marble of his sepulcher. The way it builds up, Halloween style, from late afternoon in and around school, to after-school plan making, to driving around, to breaking in, from sorority prank scares to the actual genuine scares, is pretty seamless. And there's no sex or idiot snickering from the boys to dumb it down. The bitchy gang leader (Robin Evans) is grating on the nerves (you'd rise from the dead to smite her too) but her long dirty blonde hair looks terrific! Too bad her sycophantic sidekick (Leslie Speights) won't stop chewing on a yellow toothbrush, watching her too long I start to get a phantom gross feeling in my mouth - Demerit!

As the "dark" night plays on (the inside of the mausoleum is way too bright - demerit!), the psychic's estranged daughter, (Melissa Newman) listens to a tape left by a researcher of her late father's telekinetic talents and gets her own 'shining'-style flashes of Meg Tilly in danger from her dead dad's pissy corpse (weed makes him paranoid, I guess). Her husband (Adam West) doesn't do much to help her except snidely dismiss her worries, so she eventually has to go face her evil father's telekinetic (and possibly high) spirit to save the day or die trying.

Prime's print is fairly washed out but it is in HD but it works for the film as the intense white of the mausoleum carries a nice dreamy disconnect. The scares are fun but the real reason to see it is Meg Tilly of course who makes this into her big league calling card. She's so real and vulnerable that we feel instantly invested, anxious over her gullible nature (why submit to the petty whims of the girl whose boyfriend you just stole? Meg, what's wrong with you?) and terrifying predicament. You'll understand why every filmmaker in town who saw this wanted to cast her, leading to significant roles in The Big Chill and Psycho 2 the following year.

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