Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Meltdown 04: Sequelthon (Part VII)

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990) dir. Ron Oliver  


First up is the hokey Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, which (to my surprise) continues to mine the Mary Lou Maloney story from Hell Mary Lou (though still, of course, ignoring the original film). This fact makes the film a bit of an anomaly--it's a sequel to a sequel, rather than a second sequel to an original film. It's almost as if Prom Night II and III have broken off and formed their own autonomous franchise, leaving Jamie Lee Curtis back on the disco dance floor. (A quick aside: Have you, loyal reader, ever encountered a series that's taken the same strange track that the Prom Night series has, in re: the above musings? I can't recall any off the top of my brain, but don't feel confident to proclaim the Prom Night series to be one of a kind. Leave me a comment if you think of any. I'm intrigued).

So, yes, we're set up for more of Mary Lou's murderous supernatural shenanigans from the start (which are provided in abundance), but we're also introduced to the new general tone that the film adopts: a pair of opening scenes featuring a heart popping jukebox electrocution and a school orchestral band playing a dreadul off-key rendition of "La Bamba" at a ribbon-cutting ceremony (while the groovy principal cuts his own thumb off instead) assure us that the following film will be a comedy, through-and-through. Sure, Hello Mary Lou was more than occasionally chuckle-inducing, but it still had a conventional spine of dramatic sincerity propping it all up. (That was a weird sentence to type). Prom Night III forgoes all those thrills and bouts of dramatic tension, allowing Mary Lou to crack wise and play dress up with her victim's corpses instead. (She slits one open from end to end and makes him into a banana split rather large for one serving). Again, like its immediate predecessor, it's aping the Nightmare on Elm Street series, letting Mary Lou follow the latter day Freddy's predilection for role playing his murders: Mary Lou dispatches folks while dressed as a soda shop clerk, a football coach, and a manicurist. The film also finds a bit of new ground by applying aspects of the psychotic love subgenre. In lieu of possessing a new, nubile female body like she did during the last go-around, Mary Lou opts for killing people and simply finding a boyfriend to clean up her mess. A boyfriend she finds in waffling high school flunkie Alex, who is glad to "dig a few holes and boff a ghost" for all the good she's doing him (getting him onto the honor roll and into his parents' good graces) but eventually grows concerned over her possessive behavior and interference in his extra-ghostly affairs (like when she starts trying to kill his other, corporeal girlfriend). As a sort of blank parody of the psychotic lover trend in genre thrillers, it somehow succeeds in making both men and women look utterly ridiculous, and so is a bit less misogynistic in its view of gender relations than most of the standard offerings are. (Alex's notion of a romantic dinner is burgers and fries at the drive-in, which would only be romantic if his date were me).

It's an hour and a half of elaborate murder set pieces and goofy jokes (Alex's living girlfriend doesn't get angry, she bakes anger cookies; no one involved seems to care much when Ms. Richards shows up dead because, after all, "it wasn't a person; it was a guidance counselor"). Director Ron Oliver would go on to direct a whole slew of the better (and some of the most frightening) episodes from the classic '90s children's horror anthology television programs, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps. That feels entirely appropriate. Blood, with Laughs for Free: Prom Night III.

Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil (1992) dir. Clay Borris

Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil is the first of the series to go sans prom. True, it begins with a needless prom sequence set in 1957 (a loose callback to Parts II & III? In any case, reliable Mary Lou is nowhere to be found), but this setting is incidental, used merely to introduce the possessed priest who will be our sinner-slaughtering antagonist. In addition, our current day crop of early '90s teens have a prom to go to--they even hire a limo to take them there--but it wasn't clear to me if they ever actually spend any time at the event (we never see them do so) or simply drive by the school instead (and moon their schoolmates) on their way to one of their fathers' unoccupied summer home (bizarrely converted into one after a past life as a seminary) for a night of mild debauchery. The brief time we spend with our teens in the limo produces the film's most inexplicable moment, with the foursome giving a toast to "prom night" and "Jamie Lee Curtis." (Do not let this scene fool you; the film is more self-deluded than self-aware).

Otherwise, the film rests somewhere uncomfortably between the series' initial slasher roots and the supernatural influence of its sequels. A stigmata-sporting, Satan-spewing priest named Father Jonas hacks up a couple of cavorting teens in '57 and is then put into a drug-induced coma by the church until '91, when a young priest put in charge of his care decides to try for rehabilitation over doping and winds up strangled for his trouble. This supernatural priest (who hasn't aged a day and is accompanied by his trusty stabbing crucifix) takes up his old habit--slaughtering "sluts and whores"--though what exactly Satan's problem is with horny teens is never established. The killer priest targets out heroes because they're crashing in his old seminary and, well, they appear as horny as any other group he could stumble across.

It's all fairly standard stuff, but I found myself admiring the final twenty or so minutes, those taking place in the relative seclusion of the oddly transformed seminary/summer home hybrid (look out for the grotesque, off-putting decorative paintings adorning the walls), as the supernatural elements fade in importance and we're allowed a stretch of conventional yet inspired slashing. A pair of rather horrifying burning crosses with victims' bodied strapped to them announce Father Jonas' intentions for the surviving couple, and then we're off in a spirited game of cat and mouse. The killer burns/explodes himself to semi-permanent death in the finale, but not before chasing the final girl around a bit (as she's dressed in her unflattering, puffy, velvet baby doll dress) and offing her boyfriend in a well-staged roof tumble. Sure, it's not a lot to savor, but what can one expect from a film in which much of the plot hinges upon the fact that the heroine repeatedly neglects to wear shoes around broken glass?

Night of the Demons 3 (1997) dir. Jim "James" Kaufman

Only slightly less fun than its predecessor, this third entry in the Night of the Demons series (the last before a reboot in 2009) resolves itself to be the most enjoyable aspect of my Friday night. We're missing the second film's emphasis on religion (no killer nun here-- blasphemy!) and practical effects wizardry (there's still some, though we're treated to almost as much low-end computer-generated fumblings), but otherwise the series' tone and general format remain consistent. Amelia Kinkade is still kicking around the annually popular, demon-infested Hull House as the sultry Angela, leading groups of teens to their sticky ends since 1988. Here she tangles not with a set of Halloween night partiers (her forte), but a collection of short-fused teens on the lam after a convenience store beer-run turned stand-off gone awry, which makes events more suspenseful (I guess?) but loses some of the more general levity. You can't bring a gun to a party without sacrificing some smiles.

I suppose that what distinguishes these teens from those of the earlier films is that not one of them is likeable. I figured Abbie, the meek poor woman's cat-suited Minni Driver, was to be our heroine, as she's the only quasi-sensible one among them (i.e. she wants no part of this whole "let's hide out in haunted Hull House" scheme), but that thought was jettisoned around the halfway mark when she decides that being sexy is a more valuable character trait than not being possessed by a demon. The other characters spend the duration yelling at one another, brandishing guns, and telling "Yo Mamma" jokes-- the hallmarks of lovable scamps. Without exception, they all act through the exclusive employment of exaggerated facial expressions. To loop back to Prom Night 3 and discover only one degree of separation between them, one of these teens, Orson, is played by Christian Tessier, who starred in several of director Ron Oliver's children's TV offerings, including the lead in one of Are You Afraid of the Dark?'s most memorable episodes, "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark." (For those curious: Tessier, all grown up, is still acting. He played Duck in the second and third seasons of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica).

But the film is an easy recommendation for its eccentricities. Witness the batshit CGI opening credits, featuring nondescript, hovering ghouls slithering across the air above a flaming cemetery. Or absorb a scene of extremely casual full frontal nudity between the two female leads while discussing college plans and cup sizes ("you think if I watered mine they'd grow?" asks Abbie). If those don't convince you, how about the scene where Angela fellates a gun barrel, sucking out all the bullets and suggestively spitting them back into Orson's palm? No? Well, there's always the sequence where one of the teen girls walks into a freezer and watches in horror as her arm turns into a giant snake head which then, instead of biting her, brings her to orgasm. Yes, I suppose this is a sexually charged film.

It is impossible to fathom that this came out in the same year as Scream 2. Night of the Demons 3 belongs to a different time and place, stunted in its growth, ignoring nearly a decade of horror that had come after the close of the 1980s. It's not a throwback, but a relic, blissfully unaware of the genre's recent meta recursions. It feels odd to say, but--even in consideration of its situational exorbitance--this is a rather quaint film. I see no harm in that.

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