Title: THE PROWLER
Year of Release—Film: 1981
Year of Release—DVD: 2003
DVD Label: Blue Underground
The early ‘80’s were the height of the Slasher movie craze, and 1981 was perhaps the high-water mark of the genre, with no fewer than thirteen different Slasher Movies being released. These ran the gamut from the superb—PIECES ~aka~ ONE THOUSAND CRIES HAS THE NIGHT and MY BLOODY VALENTINE, to the average—HALLOWEEN II; HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, to the execrable—HUMONGOUS; HONEYMOON HORROR. And a 17-year-old Unimonster was there in the theaters for most of them. FUNHOUSE, FRIDAY THE 13TH, Part II and HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE were just a few of the movies that I saw that year, by any measure a very good year for Slasher-fans.
But one that escaped my notice until just recently was Joseph Zito’s THE PROWLER, available on DVD from Blue Underground. My introduction to this movie came while viewing the superb documentary on Slasher films, GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER MOVIE [Starz/Thinkfilm]. THE PROWLER was one that the documentarians focused on, including interviews with the director and behind-the-scenes footage of the film’s special effects and make-up creator Tom Savini. What they described was a complete unknown to me, and it intrigued me enough to begin hunting for a copy of this movie.
It’s June 1945, and the war in
Europe is over. Hundreds of thousands of GI’s are returning to the States, most to pick up their lives pretty much where they left off. Others however, the thousands of ‘Dear Johns’ dumped by their wives and sweethearts while they fought for freedom, are coming home to piece shattered lives, and in many cases shattered psyches, back together. In , the former sweetheart of one such ‘Dear John’ is attending her graduation dance with her new beau. They slip out to share a quiet moment alone, only to be brutally murdered, impaled together on a pitchfork by a helmeted, masked killer in combat fatigues. Avalon Bay
Thirty-five years later, the school is preparing for it’s first graduation dance since the night of the double murder. The Sheriff (Farley Granger, in what amounts to a brief cameo…) is departing on his annual fishing trip, leaving the town in the hands of his deputy (played competently by Christopher Goutman). He and his girlfriend Pam (the lovely Vicky Dawson, in an underwhelming performance) discover that a killer is once again stalking the graduation dance, and that his next target might be Pam herself.
While the premise is nothing original, borrowing heavily from earlier entries in the Slasher genre, the execution is far better than most. Zito’s direction never lets events wander too far afield, and the pacing is well managed. The script, by Neal Barbera and Glenn Leopold, provides a better than average starting point for that direction, and the cast of unknowns does a decent job with the material they’re given. Though the film features a pair of former stars in cameo roles, (the above-mentioned Granger and Lawrence Tierney as Col. Chatham, father of the girl murdered in 1945…) their contributions are minimal. The true star of the film is the make-up effects of Tom Savini.
From the pitchfork murder of one young woman in her shower, to the swimming pool throat-slitting of another, to the climactic death scene, Savini’s effects work elevates this movie above it’s contemporaries. When it comes to blood and gore exploding across the screen, no one does it better than Savini; it’s a shame that he has apparently forgotten this aspect of his career in order to pursue acting and directing.
The DVD comes with several bonuses that are worth checking out, most notably a behind-the-scenes reel of Savini’s team setting up and performing the effects shots. Tidbits such as that are always fascinating.
THE PROWLER is a movie that escaped my notice the first time around, but I’m pleased to say that I have discovered it at last. For those who enjoy a good, old-fashioned Slasher pic, it’s one that’s hard to beat. I’d call it a definite rental; a buy for fans of the genre.