I've mentioned before in previous posts that I've been going through a real horror movie dvd collecting phase--to the point that I have a stockpile of dozens (maybe even as much as a hundred) of movies I've yet to actually sit down and watch. To do something about this, and make it so I don't have to wonder what I'll post about on Sunday's, I've decided to do an online index of my collection, in which I'll write a post about one of these movies each week. To keep things easy for me, I've broken them up into different sub-genres, which I will focus on individually until I run out of movies and have to move on to the next one. I am going to start off with the Slasher genre, which will probably take me all the way to September or October to complete.
And for the premiere edition of this regular feature (and I mean it this time, damn it!) I've decided to take a short look at an occasionally-entertaining and frequently gory movie that was made in 1981 during the peak of the sub-genre's popularity.
For some--the psychological victims of war--it will be a long road back. These men will need time to rebuild the lives they set aside when Uncle Sam called. For others--the G.I.s of the "Dear John" letters--it means starting over, replacing what they have lost. They faced one challange and won! They can win this one too!
At this the movie then begins to pan down one of these "Dear John" letters as we hear the voice of a young woman, Rosemary, read it aloud, explaining to her overseas beau that she can no longer wait for him and needs to move on with her life. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the recipient of this letter is probably going to prove to be a little less than understanding.
With this set up, we are taken to a town called Avalon Bay and informed that it is June 28th 1945, 'The Night of the Graduation Dance." Given the movie's low budget, The Prowler deserves some credit for bringing some authenticity to this period sequence. Though Zito admits in his commentary that the costumes were all eight years out of date, having been found in a warehouse with tags labeled "1953" still sewn inside them, these scenes manage to avoid being as overtly anachronistic as others found in similar movies from the height of the slasher era. It helps that it's a short sequence that ends when the unnamed soldier her letter was addressed to arrives to impale Rosemary and her new boyfriend with a pitchfork, indicating that he didn't take the rejection as well as she had hoped.
We then jump ahead exactly 35 years later and are introduced to our heroes and future victims, learning in the process that they are about to hold the first Graduation Dance since the two kids were murdered all those years ago. It soon becomes clear that our two main protagonists are an amazingly bland blonde named Pam (Vicky Dawson) and Mark, the deputy sheriff with the embarassing 70s haircut she's been known to flirt with on occasion (Christopher Goutman, who later forged a career as a director of afternoon soap operas). Turns out that the dance coincides with the Sheriff's (Strangers on a Train's Farley Granger) annual fishing trip, which means that Mark will be on his own if any trouble occurs.
In an attempt to keep the mystery going, the filmmakers fill the town with as many creepy old men as their budget could afford, hoping to keep the audience from guessing the true identity of the killer. Personally it took me 20 minutes to figure it out, but I can be a bit slow about these things.
Returning to the dorm to change out of her punch-splattered dress, Pam manages to avoid discovering the bodies of her murdered friends, but does suffer a run in with the man who killed them. She manages to escape from him (largely because, like most slasher villains, he seems unwilling to catch his victims if it means running after them) and finds Deputy Mark, who is just shitty enough at his job to not only not find the killer, but also completely miss out on finding his first two victims as well.
On the whole The Prowler is a film that slasher enthusiasts can easily enjoy, but whose appeal will be lost on more casual genre fans. While it does not transcend its limitations, it manages to make for an entertainingly gory 90 minutes and is easy to sit through since its characters are more bland than outright hateful.
Body Count: 8 (4 men and 4 women)
Shower Scenes: 1
Instances of Nakedity: 1
Obligatory Has Beens: Farley Granger, Lawrence Tierney
Instruments of Death: Bayonet,Pitchfork, Sawed-Off Shotgun, Regular Shotgun
Moments of Inexplicable Female Jealousy: 1
Creepy (and therefore suspicious ) Old Guys: 4
References to Pot: 1 ("Do you have any rolling papers?")
Amount of Time Required to Correctly Identify Killer: 20 minutes
Exploding Heads: 1
Cheesy References to Other Horror Movies: 0
Utterly Pointless Trivia: The movie was co-written by Neil F. Barbera, son of the recently-deceased c0-creator of The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo and Tom & Jerry, Joseph Barbera.
Final Girl Rating: 5 out of 10