At Hamilton High School in 1957, bitchy prom queen Mary-Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage) burns alive onstage when a prank thrown by her jilted boyfriend goes horrifically awry. Thirty years later, plain jane student Vicki Carpenter (Wendy Lyon) is possessed by the vengeful spirit of Mary-Lou. After a string of nightmarish hallucinations, Vicki changes from mousy good girl to foul-mouthed slut in retro-Fifties fashions, much to the alarm of boyfriend Craig (Louis Ferreira) whose father, Bill Nordham (Michael Ironside) was none other than Mary-Lou's onetime beau, and now the school principal. Most of the school is too busy preparing for prom to notice Mary-Lou is bumping off Vicki's friends, one by one. Eventually her full homicidal fury explodes on prom night as she tries to reclaim her crown.
Whereas the original Prom Night (1980) starring a disco-dancing Jamie Lee Curtis was content enough to be another novelty slasher film, this campy sequel came out at a time when the horror genre had mutated into a more complex beast. Written by Ron Oliver, who went on to direct a string of family films for television including several high school comedies for the Disney Channel, the screenplay attempts an ambitious mix that does not quite come off: high school satire, a style of Fifties nostalgia prevalent in Eighties cinema from Back to the Future (1985) to Blue Velvet (1986) (to which this film was astonishingly compared by critics!), and surreal imagery very much in the style of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) the sequels to which were cleaning up at box office at the time. Bruce Pittman's inventive direction enlivens the half-baked plot. Some of the set-pieces are impressive, such as the scene where Vicky is sucked into a blackboard that transforms into a swirling whirlpool, or later when she is menaced by a rocking horse that comes to lurid life.
There are a handful of interesting ideas including the revelation that another of Mary-Lou's seedier conquests has reformed to become the local priest (Richard Monette), but for the most part the film is wildly inconsistent, often nonsensical and can't even adhere to its own internal logic. Early on the script hints at genuine concern for the plight of its troubled teenagers that might have made this a more probing high school horror flick, but then abruptly dispenses with pregnant Jess Browning (Beth Gondek), science geek Josh (Brock Simpson) and token self-involved prom wannabe Kelly Hennenlotter (Terri Hawkes) in a string of pointless novelty deaths.
Genre fans will spot the characters have been named after famous horror film directors (other characters sport surnames like Romero, Dante and O'Bannon), but the jokey practice is extended even further to concepts and sometimes scenes lifted wholesale from Carrie (1976) (strict religious parents, gratuitous shower nudity, prom night mayhem), The Exorcist (1973) (Father Cooper chants: "The power of Christ compels you!" to no avail), and the Elm Street films. Of course originality is not a prerequisite for a good horror film. More problematic is the severe shortage of sympathetic characters which makes it hard to care during the insane monster mash finale. Josh goes from goofy geek good-naturedly courting Vicky's friend Monica Waters (Beverly Hendry) to total sleaze when he forces Kelly to fellate him in exchange for securing her prom queen victory. The awkward cast, whose atrocious Eighties fashions have ironically dated far worse than the retro-Fifties outfits they mock Vicky for wearing, are among the least convincing teenagers in Eighties cinema. By far the best performances come from the ever-reliable Michael Ironside and Lisa Schrager, who makes a vivid impression throughout her too few scenes. Sadly Schrager did not return when Ron Oliver resurrected Mary-Lou for the second sequel Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990).