Our review of The Prowler (Blu-Ray), published July 23rd, 2010, is also available.
If you think you're safe, you're DEAD wrong!
The early '80s were the peak of the slasher flick, those wonderfully silly stories about mass murderers running amok and killing stupid teenagers. The Prowler, also known as Rosemary's Killer or The Graduation, came out in 1981 and is considered a classic by those who adore this genre. Before the moves became cliché, this filmed helped lay the foundation by setting the rules:
• If you walk backwards, you'll first get scared from behind then
I've always liked horror and slasher films, and Freddy Krueger is my favorite psycho of the bunch—that boy has joie de la vie and personality to boot! For the most part, the genre has been ruined by so many movies using all the same tricks, so we are tainted by what is often thought of as a stale form of storytelling. Looking at this film, I must admit that I am surprised to learn that this film is considered a favorite of the early stalk-and-kill modus operandi, as I find that it lacks many of the charms of its counterparts.
Facts of the Case
It's the end of World War II, and a good American soldier is finishing up his tour of duty when he receives a dreaded "Dear John" letter from his girl back home, Rosemary. She has to break up with him, but she hopes that they'll still be able to be friends upon his return. And when he does return, he's not the same man. On the night of her graduation dance, he seeks his revenge against Rosemary by spearing her and her new boyfriend with a pitchfork.
Skip ahead to 1981 when the graduation dance will once again be held in that small and quaint town. The killer has never been caught, but it's time to move beyond that fateful night from three decades earlier. As fate would have it, the killer has returned and begins to prowl the hapless graduates. He stalks them dressed in his WWII army uniform, and kills his victims with his signature weapon, a pitchfork. For a change of pace, he also fancies a long knife for stabbing and slicing.
With the sheriff out of town on vacation, it's up to his assistant Mark and his graduating girlfriend Pam to track down the vicious killer. Why is he stalking the students? Who is he? Is he the same madman that killed Rosemary and her boyfriend back in 1945? As Mark and Pam move about the campus, the body count rises faster than they can piece the clues together. Will they be able to stop the Prowler before they become his next victims?
I've never flinched in going to see a horror or slasher film. It's wonderful escapism, as long as you're not bothered by all the fake death, mayhem, and violence. To me, it's a cathartic release of tension from the tedium and aggravation of everyday life. There have been so many slasher movies in my lifetime that I've become numb to the violence they extol. About the only thing in this type of movie that bothers me is seeing something gruesome happening to someone's eye. The thought of looking right at an instrument that is about to inflict pain and/or death upon you does make me a tad uncomfortable. I can still see that poor sod from Halloween, sitting dead in his comfy chair with a huge needle sticking out of his eye.
Part of the fun, if I dare use that word, is rooting for the killer. Those kids are usually so stupid in these films that you applaud the murderer for his instant application of Darwin's Theory. Beyond that, there used to be the inventive method of death. In what new way will he kill them? What will he use? How gory will it be? Fortunately, just when you think you've seen it all, a new film pops up with a great new way to kill someone. That's the reason I found Final Destination so much fun; the kids died in such new, fresh, and grisly ways! And then there's the camp factor that has trickled into a lot of these films. It's all so over-the-top and unbelievable, that you simply have to infuse some type of humor to glue it all together. That's why Night of the Creeps is a personal classic; it's such a stupid horror flick that it lathers itself in bad humor to keep it moving along. Really, who doesn't like the idea of a busload of stupid, horny fraternity boys turning into zombies?
But getting back to this film, I find that The Prowler is lacking in just about all of the above: the modes of death are rather mundane and there is absolutely no camp anywhere to be seen. Hence, the only "redeeming" factor is the thinning of the species. Yet, there is one other small factor that helps make this movie slightly memorable, and that would be the somewhat excessive show of death. Nowadays, when Jason or Freddy or Michael kills someone, it works like this:
• The killer comes up from behind.
It's all pretty routine by now. With The Prowler, the death scenes are a tad more grisly in that they give you an extended viewing of the pitchfork or knife doing its damage on its most recent victim. Our killer is a bit more sadistic. Not just content with putting a pitchfork into our victim, he takes a moment to step on the end of the pitchfork to make sure it completely impales them. Not just content with slicing someone's throat, our killer really drives the blade in deep and slides it back and forth. Not just content with stabbing someone, the Prowler takes a knife and slams it through the skull and pulls it in and out. It's not everyday you get a killer who really takes pride in his work. With such graphic detail, this DVD of the film is unrated as it restores many "cuts" that were deemed too graphic for movie audiences of the time.
Unfortunately, as sick and cruel and cool these murders are, the story is pathetically slow. In a slasher film, you want your maniac to be killing people left and right. However, our Prowler is very slow and kills just a small handful of people. In between those intriguing deaths, the movie tries to give you a plot but doesn't succeed. In fact, the time afforded for plot development seems like an eternity, as there really is not a plot to develop and our two wannabe heroes muddle about moving inexplicably slow from place to place. Until this film, I never thought it would be possible for someone to walk alone into a cemetery and live! Even worse, he wanders about for a good five minutes while nothing happens!
In a slasher flick, you're not going in expecting solid direction, stunning cinematography, or exceptional acting. Fortunately, you won't be disappointed with The Prowler as the direction is dull, the cinematography boring, and the acting sub-par. It's everything you'd expect from a film in this genre. In a misplaced moment of hope, our deputy actually looks to be developing a modicum of intelligence. Deputy Mark tells his girlfriend that she needs to stay behind so he can hunt the killer. Pam doesn't like that, gets mad, and says "Fine! Go ahead. Go play sheriff!" Well, that's exactly who he is and what he should be doing. Alas, he gives in and brings her along for the final confrontation. "Thinning of the species," indeed.
Blue Underground is an outfit that seems to be gaining some notoriety for their film work. They like to say they cater guilty pleasures for adventurous movie fans. I'm not sure how The Prowler falls into their catalog, but they did a nice job in putting this disc together. The video sports a widescreen anamorphic transfer that is good when considering its low budget roots and its age. There are quite a few problems with the video: on the whole, it is excessively grainy, the print does exhibit some light dirt and speckles throughout the print, there are some painfully obvious ghost images very early on, and the film feels just a touch blurry at times. In addition, while the colors are accurate, they are soft and not very vibrant; further, the blacks tend to skew towards the gray. Fortunately, I did not notice any transfer errors. The mono audio track doesn't fair much better as the dialogue, when not being overpowered by the background music or fluctuating in volume, is very hollow with too much treble emphasis.
Surprisingly, this isn't a bare bones disc and there is a decent assortment of bonus materials. Director Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Invasion USA, Red Scorpion) and Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini got together and watched their movie for the first time in twenty years and thusly recorded a commentary track. In spite of that little gap in time, the two do have quite a bit to say that is mildly interesting, as they share some nice behind-the-scenes stories and other information. But I have to say that I wasn't captivated by most of what they said, but I believe that it would probably be quite fascinating for a true fan of the film. Beyond the commentary, there is "Tom Savini's Behind-the-Scenes Gore Footage." Clocking in at about ten minutes, you get some snippets from Savini's personal video library showing the multiple takes and setup necessary for the various murders from the movie. This piece had the potential to be very interesting but lacks depth. Lastly, there is a photo gallery and the theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As a member of the early period of slasher films, The Prowler has a lot that will keeps fans of the genre thoroughly engrossed. It is a movie that helped establish the style with its entertaining mixture of gore, plot, and a solid "who done it?" mystery. While some films come and go, The Prowler easily stands the test of time and rises above those pale imitators of the succeeding years.
The Prowler has the potential to be better than others in its genre, but its plodding approach to telling its story is a weight that drags it down. With some quality editing, this movie would be very good and be a much better story; however, if said editing were to take place, the movie would probably clock in at only an hour. With that said, the limitations and the weaknesses of the overall movie do not encourage one to seek this one out. Again, I am bewildered that there is such a cult following on this film, as there are so many better slasher films out there. Thus, it is my opinion that this disc is not worthy of purchase except for those few who know it and love it. Thinking about a rental then? I wouldn't put too much thought on picking this one up.
Besides, who ever heard of a soldier using a pitchfork as a weapon?
Blue Underground is found not guilty on all counts. Their work in releasing somewhat obscure titles for genre fans is appreciated and commended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
• Commentary with Director Joseph Zito and Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini
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