Have you seen The Prowler? No, not the respected 1951 Joseph Losey noir: the luridly violent slasher. Let’s wave goodbye to October with this one.
Joseph Zito’s horror cult classic starts, as all great slashers do, with newsreel footage from WWII. Once you’re done double-checking that you have the right movie on, we get into the meat of the prologue, which actually is standard slasher territory: establishing a grievance that the killer will carry for years. Our Prowler–memorably costumed in a head-to-toe combat uniform and armed with a pitchfork–is a soldier whose girlfriend broke up with him while he was overseas. Apparently he doesn’t take rejection very well.
He takes his revenge at a graduation party in 1944, brutally murdering his old girlfriend and her new beau, and for a long time, he’s apparently content to consider things settled. But, like the killer of My Bloody Valentine, he’s strongly opposed to any parties that will remind him of his trauma. When the town finally decides, over thirty years later, that they’re ready for another graduation celebration, you can feel him seethe. Kids these days have no respect for their elders.
That’s the skeleton the plot hangs on. It’s not bad, and Zito fleshes it out pretty well: in particular, both the 1944 and the ’80 party scenes are lively and convincing (the music, the cheap cake, the rivalries, the hook-ups), and give the film a nicely grounded and specific sense of time and place. There’s at least one clever, well-structured misdirect. The characters are … well, both Final Girl Pam (Vicky Dawson) and her sheriff’s deputy boyfriend (Christopher Goutman) are mostly dull and unremarkable, but we also have Farley Granger and Lawrence Tierney in the supporting cast, which makes for a nice bonus. The costuming is good, even if nothing can upstage the Prowler’s killer ensemble. A fair number of sequences have atmosphere, fluid direction, and an implicit sense of humor.
But this isn’t Halloween, Black Christmas, or A Nightmare on Elm Street; it’s not good enough to recommend to people who don’t care for this sort of thing. But if you do care, then all of the above is just gravy: you’re here for the gore effects of the masterful Tom Savini. Savini’s a horror effects legend, and he does some of his absolute best work here, creating brutal, memorable, and often eerily convincing death scenes. There are plenty of slashers that are rollercoaster rides rather than true horror movies: they’re looking for a thrilled gasp at their creativity (my favorite example being the grocery store slasher Intruder), not horrified cringing. The Prowler goes for terror and alarm in its kills, and it often gets exactly what it’s after. It may be sadistic, but it’s not lazy.