The Prowler (1981)

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AKA: Rosemary’s Killer

In 1945 a love-struck GI is sent a ‘Dear John’ letter by his girlfriend while he’s serving overseas. The lonesome GI takes it in stride, forgives her and starts to rebuild his–…Just kidding. He comes home and stabs his ex and her new beau through the chest with a giant pitchfork during the night of the college graduation dance (they used to have college graduation dances?) Inexplicably, he is never caught.

Thirty-five years later the college has decided to re-introduce the graduation dance after a 35-year hiatus. Rosemary’s father, Major Chatham, banned the dance after his daughter’s murder, but after so many years the old man’s protests have finally been ignored. To add to the fun, the local sheriff tells his deputy that a robber in a nearby town has cut up a young man, stolen a car, and could be heading their way. Showing exactly where the town fits in his list of priorities, the sheriff then skips town to go on his annual fishing trip, leaving his lone deputy, Mark, in charge on what looks to be the busiest night of the year for this sleepy little town. Unsurprisingly a ‘prowler’ shows up (shock!) and begins slaughtering hapless 20-somethings in a similar fashion to what happened 35-year ago. So now it’s up to Mark and his (maybe) girlfriend Pam to use their wits and figure out what’s going on. 

prowler_2The town is doomed.

The Prowler begins rather strangely. It starts with adapted newsreel footage of a ship full of servicemen returning from WWII with a narrator talking about how the men are going to have to rebuild their lives. It then shifts to a view of the infamous ‘Dear John’ letter and a new narrator, presumably Rosemary, as she reads it. It’s so well-done and sudden that it’ll make you think you accidentally put on the wrong film. Of course, it’s a bit confusing at first, but it’s also a nice, quick intro and explanation about the killer’s motives. If only the rest of the movie moves so swiftly. 

prowler_3‘Shit, did the streaming service have a stroke?’
No, that’s how it’s supposed to look.

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I want to preface this next bit by saying that I liked The Prowler. The slasher bits are probably some of the best slasher bits the slasher genre has ever given us.

That said, this movie is sluggish as hell. It starts off well enough, with Rosemary and her date getting swiftly knocked off within the first 10 minutes. Then we jump ahead, meet the new characters, get a couple of excessively gory kills, a decent chase scene, and after that it kinda feels like the movie… loses its momentum. Once you get past Pam’s first encounter with the killer, he doesn’t show up again for another 20 minutes. And after that, you really don’t see him again until the climactic finale. So after about the half-hour mark the film goes from watching a lot of running and slashing, to watching Mark and Pam slowly walking around various locations trying to figure out what’s happening. It almost feels like an alternate title to the film could have been “Lets Wander Around In The Dark,” cause that’s pretty much all the two of them do. They wander around outside houses, inside houses and, for a change of pace, around graveyards. Hell, I’d argue they do more prowling than the actual Prowler. 

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prowler_6That prowling bit was only half joking. They actually do break into an old man’s home. Twice.

The movie does spend a little bit of this time having them flesh out light plot points and throws in a couple of weak attempts at possible suspects, but for the most part their job is to wander. If it wasn’t already so obvious who the killer was, or they tossed in a couple of surprises along the way it might have made for a nice mystery/slasher. But they didn’t, so these scenes just scream ‘USELESS FILLER’ and wind up grinding any tension and excitement the film had already established to a painful halt.

prowler_7Okay, I fibbed. They do take a break in their prowling to have a spot of tea.
prowler_8But then it’s back to wandering in the dark.

All that said, while there are some serious pacing issues, what The Prowler does well it does really well. And what is does well, are the death scenes. Tom Savini had a hand in these moments and they are glorious in both their length and brutality. Savini himself said that this was his best work and I can’t think of a single reason anyone would have to argue with the man. These are not quick stab and slash moments. These are cruel, realistic and drawn out. In other movies, you might see the killer slash at someone and then the camera will cut away to a smather of blood streaking across a wall. Not with The Prowler. Here, when someone gets their throat slit you can see them getting their throat slit, you can see the knife embedded and slicing through their neck. The camera does not pull away. In fact, it cuts to give you a better angle. You are made to watch every excruciating detail and it is both mesmerising and horrific.

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As for the characters, while they are completely serviceable, they’re also horribly bland. No one here is going to stick out or be memorable in any way. Not even the main characters. The film tries to set them up as this pair of almost/maybe/not quite lovers, but their absolute lack of characterization and chemistry makes their interactions dull at best and painfully awkward to watch at worst. Despite that, none of the characters wind up being overly obnoxious or annoying, either. Which is a nice deviation considering the typical tropes found in such films.

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So is The Prowler any good? Well, yes and no. Slasher devotees will love it for Savini’s work alone. The deaths are just that good. They’ll also appreciate the chase scenes at the beginning and end, as they are both tension filled and well shot. But for everyone else it’s going to be hard to get past all the obvious padding consisting of Mark and Pam. There’s just too much down time in this movie and, believe me, no one wants to see that much Mark and Pam. They’re just not that interesting. Not even breaking up their meandering scenes with a double kill and a jump scare could really help those moments. Add in a bunch of meh characters and a predictable script and you have a decent, yet flawed film. But if you’re a slasher fan, that’ll probably be just fine, as there isn’t anything here you haven’t encountered before, so The Prowler will likely feel like horror comfort food with a side of extra gore. But people looking for a little more umph will likely want to look elsewhere.

The Prowler is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

It is also available on Bluray and DVD

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Michi

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