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August 1, 2010

The Prowler

1981, Dir. by Joseph Zito.

I like to say that I don't like slasher movies. I think it's my way of convincing myself that, deep inside, I'm still the kid who scoured books by Leonard Maltin and Roger Ebert, and who later ate up film courses in college. In short, I'm trying to convince myself that I'm still invested in that long lost art of "quality cinema". But I won't deny that I submit to a slasher flick from the early '80s quicker than a timid Jenny Craig follower submits to fried foods at the county fair. I guess there's something to be said for the simple excesses in life.

And that's how I got to The Prowler, a 1981 slasher from Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), which I'd long heard is one of the better slasher films of its era. I was also drawn in by the fact that the killer, as shown on the poster, looks a lot like the machine gun toting evil dudes from David's nightmare in An American Werewolf in London. Ties to an '80s horror with Corey Feldman and a John Landis film? I'm sold.

The Prowler starts, like many slashers of the time, with the setting event that prepares us for future killings. In this case, it's another killing, as the masked man (presumed to be just home from World War II), shows up at the year-end graduation dance and promptly puts a pitchfork through a pair of lovers on a gazebo. (Between this, The Innocents, The Dead Zone, and a few others I'm probably forgetting, I'm starting to think that nothing good ever happens on a gazebo.) From that point forth, we move up to modern day, where a party is being planned, a creepy old man is watching girls undress, and the sheriff (Farley Granger, 40 years removed from starring in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train) is heading out of town for the weekend. None of this is new when compared to the movies of that year, but it's the way The Prowler handles itself that really won me over.

The setting drew me in from the start, as most of the action takes place in a couple of big houses that remind me of the Bates home from Psycho. This setting works extremely well for what the film offers, because it provides a contained environment that still seems to have sufficient room to spread the action out. The kills do spread out a little - there are a couple of memorable scenes in and around the pool - because, let's face it, kids who've just graduated NEVER stay where they're supposed to. But for the most part, the film uses its space well and provides a welcome alternative to the campgrounds we're used to seeing in these films.

The highlight of the film, beyond compare, is the makeup/effects work of the legendary Tom Savini. The kills are mostly committed via pitchfork and sword. and look about as grisly as is humanly possible. While I'm not sure I'd say this is Savini's best work - he's done so many great things that it's impossible for me to say which is my favorite - but I won't dispute the idea that they're extremely well-done.

The Prowler might just be another simply plotted slasher from the heyday of the movement, but I've got a feeling that it'll sit well with me longer than a lot of its companions. The killer has an original and memorable look, it's never dull, and there are even a couple of effective jump scares. I'd say that's more than enough for me to recommend it as a diversion that's among the best of its kind.

(Also, I viewed this via Blue Underground's newly released Blu-Ray disc of the film. The presentation is far from what you see on modern films released via the medium, but all accounts tell me this is the best the film's ever looked, and it doesn't appear to have been tampered with to get there. Not a bad presentation, considering the age of the film.)


Matt-suzaka said...

The Prowler is one of the best Slasher films from the 80's...certainly in my top five, and I am a big fan of the genre. It does everything right in what is a basic Slasher film, and, as you pointed out, Savini's effects are tops.

Fred [The Wolf] said...

I'm not the biggest fan of THE PROWLER due to the story. It's not really that good, to be honest. The setup is fantastic and it just meanders until the end. But I do love the splatter effects by Savini, the directed by Zito, and the acting is pretty decent as well. It's an above average slasher film that's more hit than miss. And yes, the kills are still very memorable and probably the major reason to watch this movie. Great write up.

Morgan said...

Great review! The Prowler is not my favorite slasher flick, but I really enjoy it. Savini's effects were excellent!

The Mike said...

@Matts - I think it could end up one of my favorites too, but I'm not sure where I'd even begin that list. Maybe someday...

@Fred - I agree about the story, and see your point. I didn't touch on it much...because I didn't think there was anything too interesting to say about it.

@Morgan - Thanks! Since you seem to know all of the '80s slashers, I'm assuming I must have done OK. :)