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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, or: You Should See Me in a (Possessed Demon) Crown

I really wasn’t sure if Horror in March (not quite the same ring as Christmas in July) would backfire terribly when we settled on the theme. Some of our themes have been very hit or miss lately, though more because of world events and less because of the films themselves (but some have been pretty forgettable). Would a focus on horror deliver as expected or merely repeat a disappointing cycle?

Not to spoil this review too much, but I do feel horror has played a major role in making this month somewhat manageable. Admittedly the significant progress in vaccine rollout has helped too. Ultimately, I think the moral of the story here is to always choose horror, even (and especially) when your reality is rather nightmarish. It’s the right thing to do.

The Film:

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

The Premise:

Decades after her fiery death, a prom queen returns to seek vengeance against all those who cross her path.

The Ramble:

On a dark and stormy night, a veiled woman arrives at an empty church, seeking to make a confession. What else does one do on a dark and stormy night? Our mysterious young woman reveals that she has committed many sins with many boys and loved every minute of it Oh my.

Who is this figure but the spirit of the titular Mary Lou, 1957 high school it girl and prom queen? Except Mary Lou never got to wear her crown, a fact her restless spirit will never forget. Something of a 1950s rebel, Mary Lou is busted at prom making out with bad boy Buddy (totally the name of a ’50s teen living life on the edge). Humiliated boyfriend Billy opts for a petty revenge scheme, throwing a lit stink bomb towards Mary Lou just as she’s about to undergo the prom queen coronation. This goes horrendously wrong, and Mary Lou literally goes up in flames. Though Billy regrets this immediately and Buddy does try to help (sort of), Mary Lou burns to death–but not before sending a rather murderous glare towards her boyfriend.

Mary Lou, a young woman with dark hair, screams in agony as she burns in a fire.

Thirty years later, Billy is principal of the high school and a father to teen Craig. Good to know your life probably won’t be significantly derailed when–oopsy–you pull a prank that results in the actual murder of your girlfriend. (I know this is totally beside the point, but we NEVER have a single mention of Craig’s mother; it’s possible she died or divorced Billy, but I suspect he may have just sprung from nothing, Greek myth-style.) Goody two-shoes Vicky is dating Craig, who is considered a bad boy because he has a motorcycle, puts sugar in his coffee, gives his girlfriend a cross necklace. You know, all of the typical bad boy indicators.

Vicky, a teen with long blonde hair, cuddles up to her boyfriend in the booth of a diner.

Meanwhile, Buddy has chosen the life of a priest to atone for his sins, but mostly to set up some dramatically tense attempts at exorcism.

Vicky has been nominated for prom queen, so you know she’s a popular girl. However, she is also on friendly terms with that weird kid who tried to invent a potato radio and Jess, the troubled teen with an unwanted pregnancy…so she’s not that kind of popular girl. Helping to plan the prom, Vicky uncovers a chest full of 1950s fashions, including Mary Lou’s cursed prom queen crown. Shortly after, Jess stays late after school and ends up hanging from the ceiling lights, though we know her death isn’t the suicide it appears to be.

Worryingly, these aren’t the only sinister goings-on. Vicky has strange hallucinations about Mary Lou and eerie figures chanting her name. Her troubled state of mind bleeds into her life as Vicky tells off a rival for prom queen, talks back to her mother, and even slaps the shit out of a girl she mistakes for Mary Lou. Given all of Vicky’s strange behavior, her family and boyfriend Craig believe she needs help as soon as possible. Vicky’s mother concedes that an intervention is needed in the form of Jesus. When Father Buddy speaks with Vicky, he is sufficiently freaked out to warn Billy that Mary Lou may have the power to possess and kill her ex-boyfriend. Priests are completely immune to the influence of demons, of course, so no need to worry on that front, everyone. You can go ahead and scrub that idea from your mind because it’s not even in the realm of possibility for Mary Lou to bring about any harm to members of the clergy. Clearly.

Vicky, wearing nothing but a towel, looks sinisterly at her own reflection as she brushes her hair.

When Mary Lou does decide to completely take over Vicky’s life, she cranks up the dial waaaaaay beyond 10. Just in time for prom, Mary Lou is living(?) her best life, bossing people around when it comes to prom, using dated ’50s slang, and showing off nearly godlike murder powers. On a scale of 1 to witnessing one of your classmates burn to death onstage, just how fucked up is the big prom night going to be this time around?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I know, I know–a completely unrelated sequel to Prom Night that features none of the original cast and was released a full 7 years after the fact has no right being this good. But this is such a fun watch, and I don’t get why this isn’t at least considered a cult classic (as far as I know, anyway). The world wasn’t ready, I suppose.

First, I am always here for an ’80s lewk, and there are some strong statement fashions here. I appreciate when genres steal from other genres as well, and this film does things right on that front. It’s very much a horror film, especially as things escalate in the latter half, but we have some very John Hughes teen movie moments and characters, as well as some elements that feel right out of a soap opera. If horror isn’t going to be melodramatic AF, then what’s the point, honestly?

I do think some of the feminist themes in our film are incidental or applied retroactively. I choose to interpret this as a feminist masterpiece; however, all of Mary Lou’s behavior as a queen bitch isn’t necessarily set up as aspirational (in the way that, to me, it truly is). Most of the time, Mary Lou serves as an example of how one should not live life. Vicky seems to be the ideal prom queen: compassionate, monogamous, organized, high-achieving. As is so often the case, it’s much more fun to see Vicky exhibit supposedly bad behavior than live a wet blanket existence. She’s so repressed that it’s a relief to see her let loose as Mary Lou; I could see one interpretation of the film drawing a parallel between Vicky’s coming of age/sexual awakening and her embrace of Mary Lou’s identity, which so many people around her consider dirty and shameful.

No matter how you interpret things, Mary Lou provides plenty of entertainment and some delightfully creepy hallucinatory scenes.

Would my blog wife dial up Mary Lou’s number for a good time or snatch the crown from her undeserving skull? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Terror Train, or: Japes on a Train

*Spoilers below*

You know, I don’t think we’ve reviewed a single Jamie Lee Curtis film on the Blog Collab. Not for lack of interest; we simply prefer for our picks to fly under the radar a bit more than many of the iconic classics that feature JLC. This week’s pick may very well be a first then–a Jamie Lee Curtis feature, if not…er…quite a modern classic.

The Film:

Terror Train

The Premise:

A costume frat party on a train provides a perfect opportunity for a disguised killer to strike.

The Ramble:

It’s bonfire night for the rowdiest frat on campus, meaning the time for hijinks is nigh. Poor Kenny, the nerdy/sensitive one, is relieved he will shortly be able to ditch the unfortunate beanie all of the new pledges must wear. Kenny is eager to prove how cool he is by sleeping with gorgeous Alana, who is supposedly very into the sensitive young man.

A group of college students wear red letter jackets as they stand outside at a party in winter. Two of the group wear red and white beanies that mark them as uninitiated frat members.

Unfortunately, the frat bros know too well that Kenny is extremely creeped out by dead body parts (like a normal human, honestly). All of this elaborate setup is part of a pretty nasty prank involving Kenny cuddling up to a cadaver intended for the med students to use (which, btw, would likely get all those involved ejected from the program). Pressured into participating in the prank, Alana is clueless about the dead body involved in all of this, and expresses remorse immediately. She’s especially regretful when Kenny is ultimately hospitalized following the incident.

But that’s totally beside the point, right? Completely in the past, never to resurface again. Fast forward 3 years, and we’re ready to celebrate the new year and the impeding graduation of the frat boy/med. student crowd aboard a steam train. Obviously. Everyone is conveniently dressed in costume to amplify the homicidal chaos festive atmosphere.

Alana, a young woman played by Jamie Lee Curtis, sits next to her boyfriend on a train.

Silly Ed is dressed as Groucho Marx, though his comedic stylings are more in line with classic dad jokes. Mercifully, the truly terrible jokes don’t last long–Ed is the first to go, stabbed before the train even leaves the station. Ed falls perfectly onto the train tracks, though not before the mysterious killer claims the costume for upcoming use.

As the train takes off on its novelty journey, Alana and bff Mitchy are thrilled, vowing to be friends forever. Yikes. Meanwhile, David Copperfield is lurking around, prepared to do magic and stand around dark corners. Doc, voted most douchey in the class, is eager to remember his best prank, the one targeting Kenny. This is rather a sore spot for Alana, who (wisely) hasn’t been a fan of Doc since that night. Unfortunately, Doc is very much part of the friend group, as he is dating Mitchy and is a close friend of Mo’s.

The magician David Copperfield performs a magic trick with a rose for the benefit of Alana, who looks on in amazement.

Predictably, Doc is determined to be an asshole, making it clear to Alana that the idea for the party train was all his. Mo, who made the entire evening seem like a surprise planned for Alana, is SOL, and the two get into a fight. Unbeknownst to the group of friends, they are down another med. student–Jackson, dressed in a lizard costume.

This is more or less the way our film unfolds: drama between various couples, David Copperfield magical interludes, more and more grisly murders. Interspersed are scenes with the train conductor and crew, who end up as amateur detectives when they begin to realize something is amiss.

In one of our more dramatic sequences, Mitchy sees Doc and Mo head off to a separate train car with two foxy magician’s assistants. Upset with her boyfriend’s infidelity, Mitchy bumps into lizard man Jackson…or does she? Seeking romantic vengeance becomes a dangerous pursuit, especially when Mitchy realizes just how cold Jackson’s hands are.

A young woman with blonde hair sits on the top bunk in a sleep car, a man in a green lizard costume standing in front of her with a clawed hand on her knee.

Once the number of murders on this train ride becomes impossible to ignore, the crew has the brilliant idea of stopping the train to search for the killer. Because that’s sure to help. Alana has put two and two together, warning Doc that she suspects Kenny is the killer on the train, seeking revenge against all in their group of friends. Can they unmask the murderer before it’s too late?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s no escaping the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis looks damn good as a lady pirate, and that alone carries perhaps 75% of this film.

Beyond that, I didn’t hate this. I can certainly see why this film hasn’t become a horror classic in the way that other JLC vehicles have. There are a LOT of scenes of 20-somethings just standing around in various costumes that aren’t particularly necessary. And while I do appreciate the effort made to make the train crew more than nameless, faceless background characters, most of their scenes are a bit boring IMHO.

Given the opening scene of the film, it’s pretty obvious who the murderer will turn out to be. However, David Copperfield is creepy enough here (and probably generally, to be honest) that he makes for a pretty convincing red herring, especially when he seems to take a shine to Alana. Lines of dialogue he utters to her include “Do you believe in magic?” and, shortly after, “I’ll have to convince you.” Shudder.

I will say, even when it was obvious where the film was going, there were still a few surprises. An extremely spoiler-y one is that Kenny’s most dramatic disguise is that of lady assistant to David Copperfield. Which does leave me with more questions than answers–like for how many years was Kenny an assistant to DC? And does David Copperfield just not believe in background checks, because supposedly Kenny killed someone, perhaps while institutionalized, before becoming an assistant. However, the more important focus here is that it’s problematic to depict people who dress in drag or are gender non-conforming as criminals who are out to trick others. It feels gross, honestly–and not necessarily an attitude that’s a complete throwback. These ideas and depictions are very much alive and well today.

On a final, petty level, I was annoyed that Alana didn’t get the last swing at Kenny. I feel if you’re terrorized by a murderer who kills the vast majority of your friends, you should at least be the one to hit him with a shovel in the end. In horror movie land anyway.

Would my blog wife guess this one’s card correctly or make it disappear altogether? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Aquaslash, or: You Get out of My Park

You know how it is, right? Some days you enjoy a nice day at the water park, and other days you witness a bunch of high school students emerge from a water slide in chopped up body chunks. But seriously…that is the plot of this film. Are you ready for it? Are you really, though?

The Film:

Aquaslash

The Premise:

A killer lurks in the dark and tampers with water slides during celebrations at a water park for a group of graduating seniors.

The Ramble:

To most people with good judgment, the stairs leading up to a massive slide in a closed water park would not be a particularly romantic place to hook up. But don’t tell me you started reading about a film called Aquaslash because you expected any of its characters to behave like rational people with any survival instincts whatsoever. Perhaps not so shockingly, the couple at the beginning of this tale is doomed–bodies disappearing after being hacked to pieces. Worryingly, the unknown attacker has also used the opportunity to tamper with the slide, inserting razor-sharp blades into the middle of the ramp.

Shortly thereafter, a graduating class of high school seniors arrives at the water park to celebrate all of the academic honors and prestigious awards they have earned. JK–they’re a bunch of rich kids who are here to snort coke, have naked raves, and inexplicably enjoy an ’80s theme. You know…teen stuff.

A group of teens in a mix of beachwear and graduation gowns stand at the entrance of a water park.

Obviously there’s a mysterious caretaker of the property lurking around, dispensing cryptic advice. Throw in a group of employees that includes the controlling boyfriend of a high school dropout, the park owner (having an affair with a high school student), and the park owner’s wife (seeking petty vengeance with random high school dudes), and you have achieved soap opera levels of melodrama. Which, btw, doesn’t mix well with a water park unless your goal is to take a bubble bath.

So anyway. The park used to be a real attraction in the area, but it’s lost some prestige lately. Possibly the murders that happened 35 years ago to the day didn’t help matters. Then again, the park owner is usually on speed, hitting on teen girls, or arguing with his wife in public…which is also not a great look.

In a dimly lit restaurant, a red-haired woman, Priscilla, sits across from a dark-haired man.

Tensions are high among the teens too, as emo band leader Josh (who we’re supposed to sympathize with since he looks like a budget Andrew Garfield) sees his ex Kim for the first time in years. Kim, to whom some unnamed but terrible thing happened, is now dating Tommy, winning combo of abusive/possessive/short-tempered. All Josh and Kim want to do is be together…but they can’t. For…reasons.

Josh, a teen holding a guitar, sits on the edge of a small outdoor stage with Kim, a teen with long hair blowing in the breeze. Behind them, two bandmates set up musical equipment.

Meanwhile, queen bee and chief mean girl Alice is looking forward to time alone with her boyfriend, park owner/manager Paul. The two make no effort to conceal their affair, and you’d hope that at least one of the teens would report that shit to a teacher. However, obviously there are no teachers in sight to supervise. Unsurprisingly, Paul’s behavior enrages his wife Priscilla, notable for being hot. Priscilla seems to enjoy accumulating lovers, as she is meeting in secret with Josh’s dad, who happens to be rich (and appropriately obnoxious). At the same time, Priscilla has been prowling the graduating class looking for a hookup.

Of course, it’s at the evening’s bonfire and anticipated ’80s tribute concert that all of the secrets come tumbling out into the open. In the ensuing chaos, anonymous knife-wielding attacker gonna…attack.

Tensions are at an all-time high during the next day’s sea snake competition, a 3-person water slide race. What will happen when the competition begins, and the teens take carefree turns down the water slide…of doom?

The Rating:

1.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I can’t quite justify a full 2 stars (YIKES), but I did get some enjoyment from this. I will give credit for the originality of the premise; however, at the same time, I strongly suspect the entire concept was merely a typo.

For most of the film, we are simply checking off a bunch of teen horror tropes…though it’s sometimes difficult to discern how genuinely self-aware this film is. I’m sure my analysis of human behavior in this film is completely beside the point, but here are a series of thoughts that occurred to me throughout the first 85% of the film (which is almost entirely teen spring break behavior and virtually no horror):

  • Being in a band doesn’t make you less of a douche just because the jock stereotypes around you are complete tools
  • Not even 10 minutes in, and I’m already tired of the water park being called Wet Valley
  • This high school is a hell of a lot nicer than mine if they have an overnight trip anywhere to celebrate graduation
  • For real, the only Black character with more than one line of dialogue is a jock and the class bully? GUYS.
  • The water park logo looks a lot like the Wonder Woman logo. Coincidence?
  • How does no one notice the high school girl making out with the dude in his 40s in broad daylight? Even if both parties are legally adults, it would still not be allowed on a school trip.
  • Wow, almost every person in this movie is a bit too into slut shaming
  • Literally every high school student here is an unhinged psycho

I will admit the ending of the film is fun to watch in a gleeful horror kind of way…but don’t expect it to make a whole lot of sense. And having to sit through an hour or so of painfully stupid teenagers making poor choices isn’t necessarily worth it in the end.

Would my blog wife enjoy a casual splash in the pool with this one or remorselessly push it down a murder slide? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

We Summon the Darkness, or: That’s So Metal

*Significant spoilers below*

It’s March. It’s 2021. In a nightmarish year (that does have some glimmers of hope ahead), what else are we going to do on the Collab but dive into horror? October is much too far away for us to wait, so be prepared this month for some creepy isolated houses, plenty of gore, and…hairspray I guess?

The Film:

We Summon the Darkness

The Premise:

Despite the dangers of an at-large Satanic cult lurking in rural Indiana, three young women invite a group of boys back to their isolated cabin following a 1980s metal concert.

The Ramble:

In 1980s Indiana, metalheads Alexis, Val, and Beverly are off to a concert they’ve been eagerly anticipating for weeks. The girls seem to be thrilled not only for the evening out, but also for the freedom of driving along for miles, stopping for emergency supplies as needed (i.e. Hostess snacks), and teasing out their ’80s hair to new heights.

With big '80s hair, teen girls Alexis, Val, and Bev drive along a highway in Indiana. Alexis is driving, Val is applying make-up, and Bev is eating a Ring Pop.

Along the way, the girls receive a cryptic warning from a gas station attendant, who cautions them about the existence of evil. He’s not entirely off-base here; there have been a series of Satanic ritual murders across the state lately, with the perps still at large. Standing in opposition to Satanism/the moral decline of the nation is fear-mongering pastor John Henry Butler, your standard Mike Pence clone.

It also becomes increasingly clear that the friendship between our leading ladies isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; leader Alexis and flirty Val quite often take sides against “the quiet one,” Bev. I’m guessing that’s not going to create any further tension later.

Despite all of this, things are going quite swimmingly until an ’80s stoner van passes our main trio on the highway, tossing a brown liquid from the window, which temporarily obstructs driver Alexis’ view. Stopping by the side of the road to assess the damage, Alexis discovers the liquid is only a chocolate milkshake; however, it’s enough to draw her ire.

In the lobby of a concert venue, three young men wearing metal- and grunge-inspired clothes talk to a group of young women.

Arriving at the concert at last, the girl gang spots none other than the van involved with the milkshake incident. Deciding to pull a prank on the group inside the van, Val lights a firecracker and tosses it inside. As three guys scramble out in a panic, their mood shifts from irritated to apologetic when they realize how they have wronged fellow metalheads with impressively styled ’80s hair. Bev in particular bonds with mulleted Mark, the drummer in the dudes’ band (because of course they’re in a band).

Following the high of the concert, Alexis impulsively invites the guys to join the girls at her father’s isolated cabin in the woods. And by cabin, she actually means mansion. As everyone settles down outside the massive house with a red Solo cup in hand, Bev seems to get the jitters after discovering a switchblade in Mark’s jacket. When Alexis reassures Bev that they are sisters and will be okay, the two rejoin the party for a round of “Never Have I Ever.” The festivities take a dark turn when, after Alexis claims she has never drugged anyone’s drink, all three girls take a sip. Y I K E S. One by one, the three guys lose consciousness as they realize they, in fact, have been drugged.

When the boys are awakened, they are tied in a room marked with Satanic symbols. Are their abductors members of the Satanic cult committing murders throughout the Indiana countryside? Disappointingly, no.

In a dimly lit room, teens Alexis, Val, and Bev stand ominously, dressed in all black. Alexis twirls a knife in her fingers.

As it turns out, Alexis is the daughter of the Reverend Butler, who leads the religious cult Daughters of the Dawn. The followers of this cult have been responsible for all of the recent Satanic murders, operating on a rotating schedule for homicide duty. This convoluted plan is all in service of driving the unsuspecting public to the comforting embrace of a religious cult when faced with the evils of Satanism. As Alexis remarks using eerily Trumpian rhetoric, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true; it only matters if people believe it.”

Of course, the plan doesn’t go entirely as expected when two of the dudes manage to escape. Meanwhile, Bev, still new to the cult lifestyle, has an increasing number of doubts about her commitment to highly illegal and immoral activities in the name of God. Things only get more complicated when Alexis’ stepmother unexpectedly arrives home, and the girls must cover their tracks while simultaneously coming up with creatively homicidal uses for hairspray.

Who will survive when the lights go out, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” cranks out on the stereo, and a certain religious cult leader returns home?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I won’t deny there’s a lot to enjoy about this film’s setup. The ’80s metal looks are excellent, and I particularly relish all of the big (or crimped or mulleted) hair on display–and we’ve got some suitably evocative tunes to transport us. I’m here for a girl gang, especially if their bond is so strong they’ll be killing together in the name of Satan.

However, the number of twists just for the sake of having a twist is insufferable. Most importantly, I personally do not forgive this film for promising Satanic murder cults and then not delivering. The supposed big reveal is almost immediately taken away from us for the less intriguing/believable social commentary of religious extremists representing the true danger to our society. No arguments here, but…Satanic cults. Why give up that plot element for a religious cult?

On top of this, the major twist is not thought through. The film does give us a hint that the girls are not who they appear as Alexis struggles to remember the details of her first concert or identify basically any pop culture figures. However, beyond this, the film just demonstrates how poorly planned the cult’s actions are. One: rotating responsibilities for carrying out a series of executions is a recipe for disaster. More people committing murder for the first time = more people making amateurish mistakes. And, considering that part of the plan means giving repressed teen girls (young women? I don’t know how old these characters are supposed to be, honestly) a taste of freedom, it’s a wonder there are any members of the cult left.

There are also a series of confusing contradictions in the murder plan; first, Alexis claims the ritual will look like the work of a Satanic cult. Then, she tries to set up the boys’ deaths as a murder/suicide. Pick ONE. It also makes zero sense that the girls seem to impulsively choose their victims while at the concert. I’m not speaking from experience here, but it strikes me that the victims of your staged murder should be picked out well in advance. And there’s absolutely no reason they need to be metalheads; it’s stated quite clearly that the murders have nothing to do with their victims’ connection to the so-called music of Satan.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, the story ultimately undermines the characters’ agency and shows that their sisterhood is cheap. A group of teen girls committing Satanic murders is maybe not the most original premise for a film, but it’s one I would likely have enjoyed so much more than this. In the end, the girls are merely brainwashed to carry out someone else’s plan, which is deeply unsatisfying. Can women not even have a Satanic murder club without it being all about men???

Speaking of which, I really hated the end, and the degree to which Bev and Mark seemed to have some stupid unspoken connection. Bev was cool AF and the one I related to most with her constant snacking, but, in Mark’s position, I still wouldn’t trust her even a little bit. After Bev drugs him, plans his death, and is complicit in his friend’s murder, Mark is much too willing to believe her sudden change of heart and trust she will help him.

I did have fun watching this one, but I experienced a lot of frustrations along the way.

Would my blog wife bust out her trusty pentagram and stage a ritual murder with this one or come at it with a lighter and a can full of hairspray? Find out in her review!