The Film: The Prowler (1981)
The Principles: Joseph Zito (Director), Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Lawrence Tierney and effects by Tom Savini
The Premise: A WWII soldier doesn’t take kindly to being dumped while stationed overseas. He decides to kill anyone who attends a local graduation dance for the rest of his mortal life.
Is It Good: Any film that special effects artist Tom Savini calls his best has to be good. Released during the slasher flooded early 80s, the film has often been overlooked for better marketed genre films, most of which don’t hold up nearly as well as The Prowler. It’s not perfect, as the mystery is very predictable as to who the killer is and there is a dropped storyline that was built up and then forgotten, but there is no doubt it is a gem.
I had seen The Prowler so long ago that I did not remember it at all. This revisit came as close to a new watch as anything ever will. In the modern age of film time where slashers are often regarded as funny and pointless, but this is as good of an example as you can find that slashers are fun in their own right. The Prowler by no means sticks to all the common plot points that modern day slashers do. If you don’t have the clamshell near you when you put the DVD in, you may question whether you have the correct film. It starts with one of the war propaganda films from WWII and makes one think of a war or an aftermath of war film. The film then gives a breakup narrated breakup letter followed by a college/welcome home dance in 1945. It doesn’t really separate itself until close to the 10 minute mark where the POV shot watches a frisky couple in a Gazebo.
One of the nice things about the pace of the film is that once the blood starts to flow, it doesn’t rush the kills together but stages them into almost evenly spaced plot points that are ever bit the focus of the story as they are a method to keep the plot moving forward. Even though the killer is predictable (through a series of over focused foreshadowing), the speed of the film gives it a feel that makes it something that remains fresh 31 years later.
The actors and actresses in the film do as good a job as any slasher cast. The screams are there, the ineptness to truly analyze situations are there and sexual desire in the face of fear is also there. The teens are pleasant to look at but it may honestly have the most normal looking cast of characters of any of the 80s slashers. Half of them look like people from my high school and not actors and actresses. It definitely does not fit into the definition of the modern day slasher that normally contains busty buxoms with their shirts almost always revealing cleavage and teasing a rating higher than the inevitable PG-13. This was the 80s, there wasn’t silicone, but there were bare breasts, and as any slasher aficionado knows, to have the knife you have to have breasts.
Enough talk about the least important items of the film, let’s talk about the pairing of Zito and Savini. There can be arguments every which way about how significant this film is, but in all reality it never got the recognition it deserved. The biggest accolade would come 3 years later when Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter became the fan favorite of that lengthy franchise. Most Crystal Lake fans either quote that third sequel or the original as their favorite. Without The Prowler, there is no way Zito would have made his way to helm that film. Add to that the already established relationship with the master effects artist in the genre and you have a recipe for slasher heaven.
Savini often cites his work on this film as his best. There isn’t a high body count or a majority of time spent on effects. More refined than most of his other work and much more front and center, the effects that are there are masterfully done. Savini has many documentaries and talk show appearances where he has demonstrated the partial knives that can be used to slit a throat and the overlay of latex to make it look as if the flesh were being stretched at the same time. Even though it has been shown often it is on display in true perfection in this film. The double pitchfork would later be substituted with a spear used by Carl Fullerton in Friday the 13th Part 2. The boot to the face pool scene also lives in infamy as it took 18 takes of kicking actress Cindy Weintraub in the face with a rubber boot. The effects are all a perfect demonstration of practical effects at their best by one of the greatest gore hounds who ever lived.
Is It Worth A Look: Definitely. One of the better 80s slashers. It follows all the normal genre rules and still manages to produce something completely different than the majority of 80s slashers. It’s able to effectively split 40 years of time effectively by capturing the look and feel of each generation of college coeds. The transformation from 1945 to 1980 works effectively due to the short but effective earlier period. It was done well enough that I almost wish we could have had the entire film occur in the 1945 period.
Watch this movie to see a perfect example of how good 80s slasher were before they became a parody of themselves. Watch this to see a horror film that took place before they had to drowned out in humor to please every demographic. Most of all, watch this movie to witness practical effects done by one of the masters of the industry in ways we don’t see anymore due to laziness and budget (sorry, I understand the practicality of CGI effects, but they will never replace the creativity these guys had to utilize to do what they did, and most the time they pale in quality).
The self distribution by The Prowler‘s producer hurt the box office success and eventually made this an undiscovered gem to slasher fans.
Assistant Director Peter Giuliano played the prowler in all the scenes except the final reveal.
Cinematic Soulmates: Halloween, Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, Mother’s Day, New York Ripper, Happy Birthday to Me, Prom Night, Maniac