In 1957, seventeen-year-old Mary Lou Maloney enters a church, where she confesses her sins to the priest, claiming to have disobeyed her parents, used the Lord’s name in vain and had sinful relations with various boys. The pastor tells her that “these are great sins and she should prepare herself for the consequences.” Before leaving, Mary Lou tells the priest that she loved every minute of it and leaves her phone number in the confession booth along with a written message: “For a good time call Mary Lou.”
Later, at the 1957 prom at Hamilton High School, Mary Lou is attending with Billy Nordham who gives her a ring with her initials on it. Shortly after receiving Billy’s ring, Mary Lou sends him off to get punch while she sneaks backstage with Buddy Cooper, where the two are found making out by Billy. Storming off after Mary Lou claims she used him, Billy overhears two boys preparing a stink bomb and, when the boys abandon the bomb in the trash due to a teacher approaching, Billy grabs it. When Mary Lou is crowned prom queen, Billy, having snuck up onto the catwalk, drops the bomb on her before she is crowned. To the horror of Billy and everyone in attendance, the fuse of the bomb ignites Mary Lou’s dress and she burns to death onstage.
Thirty years later, student Vicki Carpenter goes looking for a prom dress in the school prop room after being denied a new dress by her overly religious mother. While searching, Vicki finds an old trunk containing Mary Lou’s prom queen accessories and takes them, releasing Mary Lou’s Hell-bound spirit. After Vicki leaves Mary Lou’s clothes in the art room after school, Vicki’s friend Jess finds them and, after wedging a jewel out of the crown, is attacked by an unseen force and hung from a light by Mary Lou’s cape. Jess’s death is deemed a suicide caused by her despair over her recent discovery that she was pregnant.
After Jess’s death, Vicki finds herself plagued by nightmarish hallucinations and confides in Buddy, who is now a priest. Buddy, after hearing Vicki’s stories, believes Mary Lou may be back. Going to Mary Lou’s grave, where his bible bursts into flames, Buddy afterwards tries to warn Billy, who is now the principal of Hamilton High and the father of Vicki’s boyfriend Craig.
During a detention caused by her slapping her rival Kelly Hennenlotter, Vicki is dragged into the classroom chalkboard, which turns to liquid. Taking control of Vicki’s body, Mary Lou visits Buddy at the church and, revealing her identity to him, kills him by stabbing him in the face with a crucifix. Disposing of Buddy’s corpse, Mary Lou makes over Vicki’s body, and her new mannerisms and style of dress arouse the concern of Vicki’s friend Monica. After confronting Mary Lou in the girls locker room, Monica is murdered by Mary Lou when, after hiding from Mary Lou in a locker, she is crushed when Mary Lou makes the locker collapse in on her.
After Monica’s murder, Mary Lou seduces Craig and lures him away under the pretense of having sex, only to knock him unconscious and afterward confront and taunt Billy, revealing her identity to him. Finding the injured Craig, Billy takes him home and knocks him back out when Craig tries to go after Mary Lou. With Craig unconscious, Billy digs up Mary Lou’s grave and finds the dead Buddy in the coffin. At Vicki’s house, Mary Lou seduces Vicki’s father Walt and is found kissing him by her mother Virginia, who tries to stop Mary Lou/Vicki from leaving for the prom, only to be telekinetically smashed through the front door.
Arriving at the prom, Mary Lou enjoys the festivities while Kelly, in order to become prom queen, fellates tally counter Josh as a bribe. When Josh changes the outcome of the votes to make Kelly the winner, Mary Lou electrocutes Josh through his computer and changes the outcome. When she is crowned prom queen, Mary Lou goes up on stage, but is shot by Billy moments before getting her crown. Arriving after the shooting and approaching what appears to be the dying Vicki, Craig is knocked back when Vicki changes into a charred corpse and then into Mary Lou. In the havoc, Kelly is killed by a falling light fixture and Craig is chased into the school prop room by Mary Lou, who opens a vortex to the Underworld that begins to suck Craig in. Before Craig is pulled through the gateway, Billy arrives and places the crown on Mary Lou and kisses her, apparently appeasing her spirit, which vanishes, releasing Vicki.
With Mary Lou gone, Vicki and Craig leave with Billy, getting into his car. When Billy turns on the radio, Mary Lou’s signature song “Hello Mary Lou” plays. Billy, revealing he is wearing Mary Lou’s ring and apparently possessed by Mary Lou, drives off with the terrified Vicki and Craig.
The Haunting of Hamilton High has undergone a name change courtesy of its U.S. distributor The Samuel Goldwyn Company, which picked up the Canadian production for release. In spite of the fact that, except for its title, HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT Il bears no direct link to the original. The actors are different, the director is different and the tone of the film is more supernatural horror than slash and gash, although some killings do happen. The absence of a masked killer, Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen wasn’t the only surprise awaiting horror die-hards when they went to see Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. There was top-billed Michael Ironside, who had become a cult figure for his extravagantly villainous turns in the Canadian chillers Scanners (1981) and Visiting Hours (1982), and he wasn’t a bad guy at least, not in the film’s present day.
Filmed by Toronto-based independent production company, Simcom Limited, the picture has set a Canadian record for pre-sales, netting approximately $5 million (Canadian) from the Goldwyn company. That’s not too shabby on a budget of $3.9 million(Canadian). Directed by Bruce Pittman, written by Ron Oliver and with an extensive special effects team headed by Jim Doyle, the story’s tale of the supernatural has former prom queen Mary Lou Maloney return from the grave to possess the new prom queen and take revenge on the jilted boyfriend-now school principal-whose prank caused her death at the prom thirty years before. The idea for the film germinated in 1985 when the head of Simcom Limited, Peter Simpson, proposed a sequel to PROM NIGHT involving the element of high school possession. It was then handed to John Sheppard (BULLIES) to flesh out, but he wasn’t able to get a grasp on it. After numerous revisions by writer Ron Oliver, the production was shot in six weeks in August and September 1986 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, home of Canada’s Stanley Cup Champions.
Special effects man Jim Doyle also supervised the work on Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Working with a budget that ballooned to nearly $300,000 (Canadian), some of the effects Doyle created included a mechanical rocking horse that comes to life. Its eyes move, its tongue comes out, it salivates, snorts and snarls, all done by remote control requiring three operators to work. There’s also a revolving room where a girl gets sucked into a swirling vortex of a blackboard, a priest’s impaled head, and a locker scrunching scene where a student is killed.
Unfortunately, two of Doyle’s more complicated gags were dropped in the final edit, not because they looked hokey but rather because, according to line producer Ray Sager “they didn’t look dramatic enough. In context of the story they lacked impact.” Sager is a former actor who appeared in films for Herschell Gordon Lewis. “One featured a girl floating down the hallway of the school,” he said. “The other showed an undulating wall that rips open.” Time consuming, expensive sequences, yet all went for naught.
There were also a number of reshoots of scenes already filmed by director Bruce Pittman, the additional inserts shot by screen writer Ron Oliver, Simcom president Peter Simpson and Jim Doyle, who was flown up from Los Angeles. These were done in Toronto at the end of 1986. Pittman said he was always available to handle the additional work but was not asked to participate. The scenes involved blowing up a gravestone, some explanatory shots, and a new ending which only manifested itself in the editing room.
“The movie was supposed to be a bit of a satire,” the actor reveals. “It was intended to be very tongue-in-cheek. It was kind of spoofing Carrie, Prom Night and a lot of other films. The producers wanted to sort of stick a finger in the eye of those movies; I mean, when you think of that girl coming into my office and dropping and squatting on top of me, and the blood running down my forehead and a hearse going down the hall that was all supposed to be over-the-top.
“Then the distributors got a hold of it and decided to try and turn it the other way,” Ironside continues. “They thought there was a slot for a teenage horror film, so they cut a lot of the dialogue back and reshot stuff. I reshot two scenes the following spring, I remember, in Toronto somewhere. I don’t recall which ones we’re going back quite aways but it was the interior of a very wealthy house.”
A good portion of the initial shoot took place at archbishop O’Leary High School, a Catholic institution in Edmonton, Alberta. “I believe it was one of the first feature films shot in Edmonton,” Ironside says. “We brought about eight or nine key people up there, hired a local television station’s crew and taught them while we were shooting.”
BEHIND THE SCENES/INTERVIEWS
Interview with Director Bruce Pittman
Have you ever watched the first Prom Night, with Jamie Lee Curtis?
Bruce Pittman: I’ve never seen the film, and I haven’t seen the other sequels that came after Hello Mary Lou. When I got the screenplay from [producer] Peter Simpson’s company, they were doing three films, and they sent me the scripts for all of them. I really loved the one for The Haunting of Hamilton High, which was the original title, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with Prom Night; it had totally different characters. I just liked the take Peter had on it, because it I was very tongue-in-cheek, but was still in the vein of the horror films of the time. It had a wonderful balance of comedy and serious horror. I just fell in love with it, and I always tell people that what interests me in a film is the script, the script, the script. I’ve done films in every genre, and it always has to be a good story worth telling. Is it worth all the time and effort and pain that go into making these things? You make the decision based on that. They never asked me if I had ever seen Prom Night, because this movie had nothing to do with that. It wasn’t until the film was absolutely finished and they were getting ready to market it that Peter Simpson felt it would get bigger sales if they called it a sequel based around a prom. I thought the title was sort of silly. It had a budget of around $2.5 million, and it got a nice American release.
You shot the film, or portions of it, in an empty furniture store.
Bruce Pittman: Right. We built sets in that place. That place was 300,000 square foot. We shot the film out in Edmonton. The money came from Alberta and we needed a number of sets because we wanted to do all of the effects in camera. We needed all that space for that reason. It was a very large space and we also used a few different locations around town too.
The thing that I admire most about HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT 2 is just how striking it is visually…That end sequence where the camera almost sort of fast forwards in movement through the high school and ends on the grave stone is really wonderful….
Bruce Pittman: Thanks. Peter Simpson, The Producer was really great about allowing us to go and do things like that in PROM NIGHT 2. His company wanted to do three budget movies and the idea behind that was that most films are financial failures but we figured that out of three films we might be able to have at least one success. Simpson thought that I’d make another script that he had at the time which was a serious drama, but then I read the great script that Ron Oliver wrote. That script was wonderful, it was very tongue-in-cheek and it really played with a lot of horror conventions that were around then and still around today. It was originally going to be called THE HAUNTING OF HAMILTON HIGH. We had a great special effects guy on board with us. I had a great cameraman and designer on board.
That Ron Oliver dialogue is so fun in HELLO MARY LOU as well…
Bruce Pittman: Exactly. I would agree with you. His script was so good.
I love how PROM NIGHT 2 opens with Lisa Schrage as Mary Lou in the confessional booth and how you force perspective in that opening with the actors looking directly into the camera. The way you frame those opening shots is really incredible…
Bruce Pittman: Well, I was just doing what a director does. I was trying to shoot the film and cut it in the camera too while gathering the best possible shots for the editing room. I still go after the master shot but I do tell actors to save emotion for the close-up. It has to do with being very prepared going in to shoot the film because it was a low budget film and I had a plan to go after what I wanted, and I had to do that because of the budget and because our shooting schedule was only 30 days.
PROM NIGHT 2 also has this wonderful lucid dream-like quality about it…
Bruce Pittman: It’s as if all of the characters in the film are living in the milieu of the horror movie really.
The script has a deft balance between horror and humor, and there are winks and nods to other movies, like Carrie and The Exorcist.
Bruce Pittman: Exactly! There were a lot of films from that period that inspired it. Nobody was ever happy with the ending; we never got that quite right. When it was all finished, Peter went back and they rewrote the ending, which I liked, actually. Writer Ron Oliver was there throughout the production, and he has gone on to direct stuff. It was really good to have Ron on hand, because he was steeped in the whole genre. He was there to clarify all the references, and was a huge help.
He is clearly well-versed in the genre, since many of the characters are named after famous horror filmmakers (teachers Mr. Craven and Mr. O’Bannon, students Kelly Hennenlotter and Jess Browning, etc.) . A year before. Night of the Creeps did the same thing, and what’s refreshing is it doesn’t interrupt the flow of Hello Mary Lou’s storyline.
Bruce Pittman: That’s why I liked it: The in-jokes don’t can attention to themselves. I don’t think it hurt the film at all to have that stuff in there. I quite liked it. Aficionados of the genre get it. The references kept the horror fans happy, and the people who weren’t well-versed in it didn’t mind at all.
It would seem Oliver grew up Catholic, because the scenes in the confession booth are both hilarious and sacrilegious.
Bruce Pittman: I never asked him, but your guess is probably right. Richard Monette, who plays the priest, was the director of the very prestigious Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. I knew him vaguely and asked if he would like to do the film, and he was absolutely delighted.
The part where Vicki, fully possessed by Mary Lou, starts making out with her father is taboo stuff and walks the line of getting into hot water with the MPAA.
Bruce Pittman: There was some talk about that. We said, “Let’s go ahead and do it, and see what happens.” It was so niftily written, and the way Wendy Lyon played it was marvelous. She was terrific! She did a very good job changing characters. There wasn’t much discussion about should we or shouldn’t we; the stuff was good, and it worked.
Michael Ironside is a fan favorite, going back to his role in Scanners. How did you get along with this infamous big-screen baddie?
Bruce Pittman: He was great! We were looking for a Canadian name that would work in the States, and that’s the reason he was hired. He liked it because the film showed a more gentle side of him, and I was the one who suggested he wear the glasses to give him the whole school-principal feel. I got along very well with him; he was just wonderful. He was always on, and he really understood the camera. A lot of the time, you work with younger actors and they’ll come in and do great scenes, but they don’t always hit their marks. There are certain technical things you have to know; you have to be aware of the lens and your movements. He was a joy to work with.
Horror fans know the name Ray Sager for his work with Herschell Gordon Lewis. But some don’t know that Sager was one of the producers on HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT 2…How did he become involved with the project?
Bruce Pittman: Ray and I had known each other through a producer that I had worked with previously, and Ray was friends with Peter Simpson and he suggested me to Peter as a director of one of the three low budget films that he wanted to make.
Again, the film is so visual…and in particular the death scenes in HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT 2 and how the camera captures them. Did you storyboard any of that stuff out prior to shooting?
Bruce Pittman: No I didn’t create storyboards, but I did sit down with the special effects guy to figure all that out. We wanted each character to die very interestingly. My big idea for the film was to put the girl into the locker and then have it collapse from the outside to squash her.
That’s a great scene…
Bruce Pittman: Thanks. It took us about six times to get that right.
So how much of that uniqueness was in Ron Oliver’s script? People comment on references to US horror films in HELLO MARY LOU, but I see many references to Italian horror films by Mario Bava and Dario Argento in the film as well. When actress Wendy Lyon is in that giant spider web. That’s straight out of Mario Bava, and then there is that Argento-esque scene where the girl is strangled by the sheet from the ceiling and the giant paper cutter blade attacks her. There’s a Euro sensibility to the film.
Bruce Pittman: Well, if you look at my other films…I think you’ll see more of that. But Hitchcock had a Euro sensibility in his work as well… He was from Europe, and Hitchcock has always been a huge influence on me as a filmmaker. In some ways we were really making up a lot of that as we were going along, but not on the day we were shooting the scene. It was very important to me that we were always making Ron Oliver happy as the writer of the film. It was Ron who really kept me on track with the original tongue-in-cheek humor that he put into his script in the first place.
Going back to that whole thing with the look of the film and deaths being Mario Bava and Dario Argento-esque. The lighting in the film really feels in that spirit too.
Bruce Pittman: Right. I had worked on two or three films before HELLO MARY LOU with a Director Of Photography named John Herzog. With lights I’ve always thought that less is more, and that shadows are much more interesting. John was really on board with that idea and he really kept that consistent across the shooting.
Can we talk about the casting of the film?
Bruce Pittman: Well, Michael Ironside was wonderful. He was a real pro. Most of the others were really unknowns at the time that we shot the film. Three actresses were brought in from Toronto and the rest of the actors in the film were locals from Edmonton. It’s a really good cast too.
I’d agree. It’s interesting. It seems like this film couldn’t have been made in the United States. It has a very unique, Canadian sensibility to it. The actors, in particular, the boys the choice you made for the male characters, they all sort of visually blend together, meaning that you can’t really tell them apart from one another but yet you can at certain times. If that makes sense? It adds a very special element to the film.
Bruce Pittman: I understand what you’re talking about. We had some great talent that we put into the film.
I think Wendy Lyon is really wonderful in the film.
Bruce Pittman: I’d agree with you. Her performance is really great. It wasn’t an easy role because of how she had to handle the comic elements but also have the character do a complete 360 degree change in personality as well.
How much of the FX were done on set?
Bruce Pittman: The only optical effect was when Josh [played by Brock Simpson, the producer’s son who appeared in all four Prom Nights] touches the computer keyboard and the electricity goes crazy; everything else was in-camera and done for real.
Were there any safety issues with pyrotechnics when it came to Mary Lou’s fiery death in the prologue?
Bruce Pittman: That particular scene was handled by a couple of people. We had a stunt lady, and everyone was really nervous; the fear of suffocation was just as much of a concern as the fire. We had four different cameras rolling to get full coverage of the flames. We had to put them out very quickly, after five to six seconds tops, and they did a great job with it. That was the only really dangerous stunt. At one point, I got shot in the leg by a blank. I was like, “Oh, I think I just got shot.” There was no damage or anything like that. I believe there was somebody in the rafters firing a gun 75 feet away; it was my fault for standing there.
No discussion about PROM NIGHT 2 would be complete without a mention of that nude locker room sequence.
Bruce Pittman: It was purely gratuitous…I just went to Wendy Lyon and told her what I had in mind for it. The other actress in the scene was a bit worried about it, but once she got the towel on she was fine. I said to Wendy, “What are you worried about a towel for? It would much more effective if you walked into the scene completely nude.” She said, “Let’s do it!”
How did you pull off the death scene in the girls’ locker room, with the gore spurting out and Lyon’s full nudity?
Bruce Pittman: It was my idea to do that, because we had a number of deaths and I wanted to do something different to get the full bloody effect. My guys had a pneumatic setup to push the lockers together by their ends to crush the one in the middle. The thing was, the gore had to come out properly. On the fourth try, we got the adequate amount of gore, the right texture and it came out of the right grooves. It was relatively inexpensive to put together, and fairly simple. We did the full-frontal thing almost on the spur of the moment. I knew it would have a weird effect and thought, “Let’s give it a try.” Wendy Lyon was game and said, “OK, let’s go for it.” It was a bit gratuitous, but it really makes that scene work. It’s very creepy. Good on the producer for sticking to his guns and keeping it in.
Well, the sequence is phenomenal because of how you shoot it too. There’s that literal steaminess in the visual of the scene, but also your choice of angle and the deep focus throughout the sequence that really makes it one of the best sequences in the film.
Bruce Pittman: Yeah, the deep focus was very difficult to do. I was always a big admirer of John Frankenheimer and his films and he always used deep focus. In particular, if you watch what he did in THE TRAIN (1964) you’ll see that nothing is out of focus there.
Did you have any issues locking down rights to the soundtrack songs?
Bruce Pittman: No, not at that point, because that was slightly before the music industry wanted $100,000 for this song or that song.
Were you ever offered the job to direct Prom Night III: The Last Kiss or Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil?
Bruce Pittman: No, I wasn’t, and I probably would have turned them down because I had been there and done that. Even though I didn’t read the scripts, I heard the stories were pretty flimsy. I didn’t think I’d be able to bring anything new to them.
How did the film do when it was released?
Bruce Pittman: Well, I didn’t see all of the reviews. It wasn’t like today where you can Google what a critic in Des Moines, Iowa thinks about your film. But I did see some of the reviews and they were mixed. The film was dismissed here in Toronto, Canada, but we got a really great review by critics in New York and Los Angeles. I didn’t think the film was a bad as the critics wrote that it was here in Canada, but I didn’t think it was as good as the critics said it was in New York and Los Angeles either. The nature of the beast though is that some people like the film and some don’t. I get emails from people today such as yourself who tell me how great of a film it is, and that’s a nice perk to receive as these years later.
While it did decent business at the U.S. box office. Hello Mary Lou really found its niche on home video.
Bruce Pittman: Just in the last five years. I’ve gotten calls from you and a few others; people have just caught up with the movie, and it has caught on and survived. When it first came out in Toronto, it got terrible reviews; it was dismissed entirely. But it got good reviews in The New York Times emd the Los Angeles Times’, the guy in LA really gushed over it. When you do these kinds of things, though, you don’t wait for the morning paper to read the reviews. What you hope is that people who are invested in the genre like it, and it holds up against the other films that are around at the time.
Some time ago, MGM put out Hello Mary Lou on a hare-bones DVD to coincide with the theatrical release of the Prom Night remake. If asked, would you take part in a more beefed-up special edition, with an audio commentary and all the other bells and whistles?
Bruce Pittman: I’d love to do an audio commentary; I’m easy to find!
Interview with Lisa (Mary Lou) Schrage
So how did you come to be cast in Prom Night 2?
Lisa Schrage: I auditioned in Toronto. I had been doing commercials up until that point. I had studied acting in various drama programs.
Clearly Mary Lou was having a blast and you seemed to be having a lot of fun playing the role. How did you approach the character going in? I ask because Mary Lou despite being a sorta mean person didn’t deserve that horrible fate. You almost feel sympathy for her even when she’s raising hell and I credit your performance for really getting that across.
Lisa Schrage: I don’t recall much about the audition itself but I do recall having a very clear picture of the character I wanted to portray. I agree that Mary Lou is having fun. She’s really enjoying her power. I don’t know if she is really mean, but a bit thoughtless perhaps. From my perspective, she really just wanted that crown. She didn’t get any pleasure out of hurting anyone, which would have made her cruel. She just didn’t want anyone to get in her way of the prized crown. Maybe that’s why one has more sympathy for her. She was naive more than mean.
Wendy Lyon played Vicki, but a good chunk of the film she’s possessed by Mary Lou. I really felt her performance synced with yours, did you guys talk beforehand about how you would play the character?
Lisa Schrage: I honestly didn’t spend any time discussing it with Wendy. We were not in the same scenes so we were not there at the same time, Any resemblance to my character is to her credit.
I’m going to go a little deep here and hopefully I don’t sound like a loon. Some have speculated that Prom Night 2 is an allegory. That Vicki is a young girl yearning to live more but is kept repressed by those around her. Mary Lou possessing her represents Vicki finally letting go. Is there truth to this or should I lay off the late-night burritos?
Lisa Schrage: I think you are spot on. That’s the arc. Once Vicky becomes processed with the spirit of Mary Lou she takes on a wilder side, to the shock of her very conservative family.
The scene where Mary Lou gets burned at the start of the film, how was that done? Looked really cool!
Lisa Schrage: The stunt woman did a fabulous job. I really don’t recall any fire around me. It’s been a long time and I can’t recall how they got those flames around my face. Remember there was no CGI in those days.
One of your co-stars was the great Michael Ironside. He is known for having a strong, “don’t mess with me presence” on film. How was he to work with?
Lisa Schrage: He was great as I recall. I enjoyed working with him. I will tell you something funny though. Years later, many years later I ran into him at a party. He was a friend of a good friend. I introduced myself and he didn’t remember me! Really!
Do you have any funny stories about your time on set (Which I believe was an actual school.) or a favorite moment?
Lisa Schrage: I remember going to lunch with Richard Monet while he was dressed in his costume as a priest. He was totally camping it up, smoking and drinking and we all go a kick out of being this fake priest. He was a very funny, talented man as I am sure you know.
Eventually there would be a less than stellar sequel a few years later in which someone else would take on the role of Mary Lou. Were you approached for that film to play Mary Lou again?
Lisa Schrage: They never approached me to do a sequel.
Do you think Mary Lou should make her return?
Lisa Schrage: Yes. The timing is right for a smart and strong female supernatural horror icon to have some fun with the boys. I think today it would be Mary Lou’s turn to rock!
In an abandoned furniture store in the city’s suburbs, others are creating chills of a different sort. The store has been converted into a combination stage/workshop by an army of workers. The 300,000 foot-square showroom gives the filmmakers more than enough space to build interior sets and shoot scenes at the same time.
High above the immense showroom, in an office reached by a flight of rickety stairs, makeup virtuoso Nancy Howe sits absorbed in her work. One of the best moments of the movie occurs when the ghost of Mary Lou, made flesh again, erupts through Vicki’s prone body. The scene invites comparisons to the famed chestburster sequence in ALIEN, but although there are parallels, Howe took care that this sequence stands on its own.
“After some preliminary sketches,” the makeup artist continues, “I made a life mask of Schrage. Once I had a clay bust of her face, I started sculpting and added plasticene ‘bits’ to the basic features. I ended up with six distinct heads, from the worst stage-ugly, burned-to the least stage-beautiful. The heads were the prototypes from which we molded masks for the actual scenes. Because of the set’s harsh, bright lighting, I went in for a lot of texturing on the masks. The producers gave me full theatrical and artistic license, but it turned out my original worst stage wasn’t nearly horrific enough, so I went back and did it again. My old worst stage is now about the middle of the transformation.”
“The creature that comes out transforms in about eight stages,” Howe begins, “and in those stages, there’s a gradual progression from horrible to beautiful. To begin with, a hand puppet bursts from the urethane foam chest that I made from a cast of Wendy Lyon’s actual body. Then, though the progression will be smooth, we use a costumed mime to simulate the jerky’ movements of growth. The final cut is to Lisa Schrage, the actress who plays Mary Lou, now fully-grown and beautiful.
The diminutive Miss Howe laughed heartily about the scene’s filming. “I had scored the rubber chest of the prom queen dummy under the stage,” she recalled. “Jim Doyle is on one side of me, Gary Paller’s on the other, and they are running the cables on the dummy’s neck and mouth. Ray Sager directed this scene and somebody said it sounded like he was a doctor instructing a woman giving birth. He was yelling, Push! Push! Push! Harder now! Harder! I hadn’t scored the chest wide enough and the puppet wouldn’t come through. The puppet was covered in goo the consistency of hair gel. I’m underneath trying to push it through and it’s not working. I got on my knees to push and was sliding in the goo. It took about five minutes, but it felt like an hour.”The puppet, lovingly nicknamed Missy, is on display in Howe’s studio, a reminder of her day spent slippin’ and slidin’in Edmonton.
Though dwarfed by the huge dimensions of the building that houses it, “Vicki’s bedroom” is the principal set being used today. The set is rapidly peopled by various crew members, rested and content after a satisfying lunch. Wendy Lyon, who plays Vicki, is lying on her back in the middle of the prop bed. Her long blonde hair is spread fan-like on the sheets, radiating out to form a halo of golden tresses. She’s dressed in a yellow football jersey with the numbers “03” and the legend “Hamilton High School” emblazoned on it. Barelegged and barefooted, the actress strikes an unconsciously seductive pose and reveals a shapely pair of lower limbs. Regardless of its boxoffice staying power, this movie definitely has “legs!”
The scene about to unfold is in the early stages of Vicki’s ghostly possession. The script requires Lyon to grab a sketch pad, lie on the bed, then begin to draw with rapid, jerky movements. It seems her hand is controlled by Mary Lou, since the resulting artwork turns out to be a portrait of the long-dead teenager. Not long after, Vicki’s bedcovers spring to malevolent life, holding her fast within their enveloping folds and threatening to smother her as the blankets’ edges move ever closer to her head.
Moments later, after Pittman calls for a break, Lyon dons a striped robe that covers her gorgeous gams (alas!) and comes over to talk about the movie. Lyon, in her early 20s, is a virtual unknown in the States, though she’s a TV star in Canada. Prom Night II is her first feature-length starring role, and she’s very excited about the prospect. “My character changes from being a very sweet, innocent girl to being very aggressive as she becomes possessed, “Lyons offers. “I don’t think much about the transformation from Vicki to Mary Lou until I start walking to the set. Then, my walk, my energy-everything changes.”
This is Lyon’s first encounter with makeup FX, and she loves it on the whole. One set-up required her to drink from a fountain that suddenly becomes a scarlet torrent of blood. “It was really fun,” she enthuses. “The blood tasted like toothpaste, so it wasn’t something that offended the senses. It’s fun to have ‘blood’ dripping down all over your face!”
As Lyon speaks, FX wizard Jim Doyle is preparing for the bedcovers smothering scene. Later, when he’s not so busy, Doyle explains how he’s achieving this effect. “Underneath the sheet there’s a perforated plywood panel,” he notes, “and underneath that is a vacuum line that’s 10 inches in diameter. To achieve an evenly spread pull, the line is broken up into six distinct heads through the honeycombed plywood board. The sheet is backed with polyurethane to seal it and prevent air from coming in. As soon as the vacuum sucks the air, whatever is in the bed-including the actress-is wrapped real tight. It thus creates a vacuum form effect.”
When Pittman calls for a take, the vacuum works without a hitch. As the cameras roll, the bed covers creep over the helpless Vicki as she screams for aid, unable to halt their inexorable progress. “Stop it, Mary Lou!” she cries, and that seems to do the trick since the covers suddenly fall limp around her.
Directed Bruce Pittman
Produced Peter R. Simpson
Written Ron Oliver
Music Paul Zaza
Michael Ironside as Principal Bill “Billy” Nordham
Wendy Lyon as Vicki Carpenter
Justin Louis as Craig Nordham
Richard Monette as Father Buddy Cooper
Lisa Schrage as Mary Lou Maloney
Terri Hawkes as Kelly Hennelotter
Wendell Smith as Walt Carpenter