The Prowler 1981 Review
The Prowler 1981
aka Rosemary’s Killer aka The Graduation
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Starring: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Laurence Tierney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here we have it my favourite ever slasher movie. (I don’t include Halloween in that, because well – that’s everyone’s favourite). I found out about The Prowler when I was at school and by the strangest possible means. My buddies and I used to have a sly cigarette in an old wooden shed that was in some woodland near where I lived and usually there were pages of porno scattered across the floor (great excitement for a thirteen-year-old lad, I can tell you). Anyway, one night I went alone there alone and as if by fate, lying on the grass was a ripped horror fanzine (maybe it was Fangoria, I don’t recall). Anyway I was already a huge fan of the genre and so I scurried home to study all the pages in the comfort of my bedroom. There in loving colour my eyes first met with the iconic image that is the current background of a SLASH above and one of the finest killings from the category, the swimming pool murder. And so began a hunt that much like I had with Graduation Day, would continue for much longer than my excitement would have wanted.
Now without eBay and Amazon, my methods for tracking down slashers were restricted to Boot and Jumble sales around the London area. I found lots and lots of titles during my travels, including Night Screams, Nightmare (Dutch uncut copy!) Ghostkeeper, Stormbringer,One by One, The Demon, Fatal Games and Psycho Puppet. However the one that I REALLY wanted remained elusive. It started to become an obsession and after months of trying, I finally came to the disappointing conclusion that I would probably never see the darn thing. Then through a twist of fate, I found a video-search agency that came to my aid with an almost pristine copy. The price of £30 was daylight robbery, but for me it was mission accomplished and I probably would have paid £50
Avalon Bay is getting set for the first annual dance since a young couple were viciously murdered 35 years earlier. The youngsters of the community are eagerly anticipating the event and spend the day preparing and decorating the town hall. The junior Deputy is alone for the first time as the Sheriff has gone on his annual fishing trip and stress levels are raised when it’s revealed that a wanted criminal that slashed two young females could be heading to the area. As darkness descends, it becomes apparent that there’s a maniac dressed in World War 2 army fatigues stalking the Bay. Can the Deputy muster the courage to stop him?
The Prowler is not only one of the best examples of stalk and slash cinema from the golden era, but it’s also one of the most underrated. The movie ticks every box in terms of the relevant trappings and instead of just ticking them, in a few places it completely surpasses them. I liked the World War 2 gimmick and I think the killer’s disguise was an absolutely brilliant touch. His calling card of leaving a rose by his victims was creepily effective and there’s a great moment towards the climax where he offers it almost romantically to the final girl before attempting to ram a pitch folk through her!
Joseph Zito’s pacey direction sustains an awesome amount of suspense and the film excels in its technicality with some beautiful photography and a focused score. The director achieves the difficult feat of setting an unrelenting sharpness in the first half and even when not much happens, you are fully aware that at any moment something could. I liked the staircase stalking sequence and in true popcorn fashion, the intended victim makes all the wrong directional choices, which keeps the scene taught.
Vicky Dawson makes for a great final girl and she works well with Christopher Goutman. For relatively inexperienced performers, they carry the picture very well and they share only one or two weak moments. I thought Dawson was especially unfortunate not to have built a lasting career in cinema as much like Amy Steel in Friday the 13th 2, she offers a sweet and alluring naivety, but shows a brave independence when left to alone to face the prowler. Before the final credits rolled, my girlfriend who was watching with me said, “tough girl” – my sentiments exactly. Farley Granger was a neat addition to the cast list, even though it’s confirmed that he had a horrible time and suffered some uncomfortable sweating during the make-up effects, which annoyed him profusely. Laurence Tierney’s on-board too, although I have no idea why, his character is barely used to much effect and was probably a waste of budget.
Despite all this, Tom Savini’s effects once again steal the show and there’s no denying that this is the best of his work. The gore here is especially gruesome and the swimming pool throat slashing even boasts an aftermath shot that’s uncomfortably realistic. It happens as the victim’s lifeless body sinks to the tiles below and her legs begin to twitch as her nervous system comes to terms with the fact that the lights are going out for the last time. The best part of the sequence was actually a slight mistake from Savini, because at the same time as the gallons of blood seep from her wound, some bubbles also appear under the water (from the pipe pumping the goo). Instead of taking a reshoot, the effects master recommended that Zito utilise the footage as it was and it makes it much more convincing as if the bubbles were the last gasps of her breath.
This movie has a similar structure to the same year’s My Bloody Valentine and the two would work superbly on a double-bill. Strangely enough, what one title lacks the other boasts in abundance and if you were to mix the two together you would have the perfect slasher film. Whilst MBV also has some great kill scenes (equally as gratuitous) and a good-fun factor that adds momentum to the plot, it lacks any decent suspense. The Prowler on the other hand is nail-bitingly tense in places, but has some serious problems with its pace. And that’s where the real flaws with this feature lie.
Now I picked my favourite slasher film when I was about fourteen years old and much like my love for the Arsenal (the closest team to where I lived), I must admit that it was a ‘teenager’s decision’. Adults have the ability to analyse; step back and view the bigger picture before making a choice. Young minds just do this instantaneously and I am not sure if I noticed the faults back then in The Prowler that I see now. As I said, it starts superbly and comes across almost like an anxiety marathon. My Mrs and I were watching it together in silence, knowing full well that there would be a shock at any moment (And I have seen this flick a lot of times). But then after about thirty minutes the rapidity dries up and the film can’t maintain the same thrust.
It’s not necessarily the fault of Joseph Zito, but the script wastes too many minutes building the mystery and most of this is spent in an overly-dark and contained location, which soon begins to lose interest. There are many parts here that should have been much shorter. I especially thought the length of time used when the Deputy was contacting the Sherriff was ridiculous and ultimately pointless.
Despite an uneven runtime, this is still easily one of the best entries of the golden period. It does drag a bit in the development of the plot, but the excellent kill scenes and two fantastic leads more than make up for it. You won’t find too many better slashers around and it manages to be something that many of its brethren could only dream of – truly scary. Believe it or not, Joseph Zito was widely tipped to be a future horror maestro after his work on this and Friday the 13th The Final Chapter (one of the better sequels of the series), but he foolishly attempted the transition to action-orientated flicks, which never made the most of his abilities and his career rapidly faded.
I still rate this extremely highly and recommend it to anyone with even a passing hunger for some peak-period slasher shenanigans
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√√