Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

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.

The ProwlerAlso released as Rosemary's Killer in Europe, The Prowler is best remembered today for featuring some of Tom Savini's more memorable slasher movie make-up effects and for being the film that got director Joseph Zito the job of putting together the fourth (and some believe best) film in the immortal Friday the 13th franchise.
Shot for $1,000,000 in New Jersey (which comes as a surprise, since it so clearly resembles many of the Canadian-made tax shelter films from that same period) The Prowler, like many other early slashers, attempts to be as much a mystery as a straight-ahead body count picture.  To this end the film begins with stock news reel footage of soldiers returning home from WWII, during which a narrator informs us that:
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!
The Prowler

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.

The ProwlerFor reasons that are left to the audience's imaginations rather than actually explained, the never-caught psycho ex-soldier responsible for the murders that night 35 years earlier decides to suit up once again and arm himself with a bayonet, a sawed-off shotgun and his trusty pitchfork.  He then proceeds to make his way to the almost-vacant dorm rooms and finds a young couple who are just about to get squishy with it.  The young man gets a bayonet in the head and his naked girlfriend gets pitchforked in the shower. 
Thanks to the efforts of noted make-up guru Tom Savini, The Prowler is probably one of the gorier examples of the sub-genre.  Not only are we allowed to see the murderer's weapons fully penetrate the bodies of his victims, but the camera is left to linger as they cut and stab their way through the foam and latex flesh.  Despite their reputation for bloody excess, the majority of slasher films (if only for reasons of budget) left much of this violence to the viewer's imagination, but The Prowler is completely content to show us everything it can. 
 The Prowler

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.

The ProwlerFrom that point on the movie does what its supposed to do and intercuts scenes of The Prowler killing folks with Pam and Mark trying to figure out what is going on.  The script does try to be a bit different by ignoring some of the more blatent cliches.  For example one couple (who ultimately serve absolutely no purpose to the film's narrative) are allowed to have sex without dying and the male protagonist is allowed to remain alive.  But even here the picture is a bit clumsy, since we are lead to believe The Prowler has killed Mark, but he is shown to be alive and unharmed after Pam finally manages to kill the murderer in typical Final Girl fashion.  This could have been cleared up with a single line of dialogue, but the filmmakers seem too eager to get to the film's last shocking surprise (which ends up being neither shocking or surprising) to bother tying up such an obvious loose end.
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.


Slasher Statistics

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