The Prowler
directed by Joseph Zito
(Sandhurst, 1981)

If you're making a list of must-see '80s slashers, The Prowler should definitely be one of them. Yeah, the plot isn't all that great, the pace of the movie drags in places and several questions ultimately go unanswered -- but I was genuinely surprised at the identity of the killer (who is pretty intimidating in his killing garb), the lead actress is fairly cute and -- as is always important for us gorehounds -- I was absolutely delighted at the spectacle of blood and gore on display. The filmmakers really let makeup/special effects genius Tom Savini go hog wild.

Where other slasher movies give you a quick cut shot of a knife slicing a neck open or a pitchfork going all the way through a body, The Prowler lingers deliciously on such gruesome sights. You get to see that last little convulsion as he raises a skewered body up, with the tines of the pitchfork scraping against the tile; you watch him working his knife back and forth as if he has trouble removing it from his victim's neck -- it's these little details that show you just how much Savini cares about his gruesome craft. Admittedly, one death is wholly and patently fake, but you still have to appreciate the effort and intent of the shot.

The story begins in 1945, when a young woman and her beau are ruthlessly murdered on the night of the big college graduation dance; while their killer was never caught, it is made quite obvious that the murderer was the young woman's former boyfriend, to whom she had sent a "Dear John" letter while he was fighting overseas. Now, 35 years later, the college prepares for the first graduation dance since that awful night. With the sheriff away on a fishing trip, only a pretty-boy deputy (Christopher Goutman) and his coed girlfriend (Vicky Dawson) are available to try and stop the returned killer's bloody rampage.

So, 35 years may have passed, but the killer is still strong enough to shove a knife completely through a young man's skull. Deputy London isn't every good at his job and drags his girlfriend from one dangerous scene to another, but fortunately his little cutie has a lot of spunk -- and she needs every bit of it as she comes face to hidden face with the killer, all decked out in his World War II army gear, on several occasions.

Unlike many slasher films, The Prowler actually tries to scare you a little bit, and it does succeed in generating a certain amount of tension in places. Still, the basic storyline isn't particularly noteworthy, and some viewers might complain about a few characters being introduced and then forgotten about for no apparent reason (it's not as if they're red herrings helping to keep the killer's identity a mystery). Speaking of the killer, I never really figured out who it was before the secret was revealed in the end, but a number of viewers probably won't be as dense as I was -- and that will obviously take away from their enjoyment of the film. No one can take anything away from Tom Savini's memorable special effects work, though, and that makes The Prowler a must-see film for slasher fans.

review by
Daniel Jolley

12 June 2010

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