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July 13, 2013

Movie Review: The Prowler (1981)

First off, I have to tell everyone that I love the slasher sub-genre of horror films. I cut my teeth on them as a wee lad and have appreciated the minimalist effectiveness of the good ones. I’ve also lamented to the heavens about the bad ones. Through the years, beginning around 1978, the slasher took off and began to set box office records. Classics like Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine set the stage for a horror boon market that had a pretty good run. The slasher film quickly became derivative and a mockery of itself as the ‘group of teens in danger from a psychotic mass murderer’ formula began to play itself out. The mid-90s saw a resurgence in the slasher film, most notably from Wes Craven’s Scream, that saw the sub-genre become self-referential, almost a meta-film wherein the audience, and the filmmakers, were fully aware of the clichĂ©. The 90s also presented the world with prosumer home video equipment and that, my dear friends, is where the biggest issue lies. The slasher film, because of its budget-friendly nature, was the genre of choice for backyard hacks with a video camera and some dopey friends. This, more so than the original surge of product in the 1980s, has given the slasher film a bad reputation. It is good, though, to remember our roots and Blue Underground’s blu-ray release of The Prowler does just that.

The Prowler, directed by genre-veteran Joseph Zito (Bloodrage) in 1981 is an example of someone doing something a little different from the ‘damsel in distress’ formula and turning it into a surprisingly effective thriller. Unlike the bastard children of the modern era, Zito and his crew had to be competent filmmakers. Remember, this is 1981 so there were no video tapes, power cords and work lights. Films were, well, they were films, as in shot on film. Not only was this expensive, but using 35mm film was difficult and only trained technicians were capable of it. Lighting needed to be used effectively and it was much more of a process than turning on some headlights. All in all, in order to make even a bad film in the 1980s, one had to be a competent technician. That competence shines throughout The Prowler. Thanks to the beautiful print and the diligence Blue Underground shows to its genre releases, it is easy to see the subtleties involved in what is, truly, a very gory film. Tom Savini has called The Prowler some of his best work and I would have to agree. Pitchfork slayings, in the shower no less, bayonets, etc. New viewers of this film will no doubt be impressed with the ingenuity of death involved.
The Prowler is a little more than that, though. Like I alluded to earlier, the story itself is very interesting. Beginning in 1945, at the close of World War II, we find out that a woman named Rosemary has, cryptically, written a Dear John letter to her fiancĂ©e who was in the European theater. The War ends, the boys come home and at the Avalon Bay Graduation Dance a young couple is slaughtered by a prowler in a soldier’s fatigues. Flash forward to 1980 and Avalon Bay is having its first graduation dance in 35 years… cue the bloodbath.

A surprisingly good cast rounds out the production. Farley Granger, Vicky Dawson and Christopher Goutman turn out fine performances and we are reminded, again, that the lack of opportunities for actors in general meant that, even in the slasher flicks, the cast could be first rate.

Blue Underground has a hit on their hands here. There isn’t too much in the way of special features, although the commentary with Zito and Savini is interesting as is the Tom Savini behind-the-scenes gore footage. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is beautiful and finally presents The Prowler in a manner that the film richly deserves.

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