In our on-going look at the work of Tom Savini, here’s Phil’s review of this very average slasher. Check it out on Netflix Instant, if you can’t find the DVD or Blu-Ray.
As a big fan of Tom Savini’s effects work, I’m surprised it took me all these years to see THE PROWLER, especially when some fans have told me it’s got Savini’s best stuff. In fact, it so impressed FRIDAY THE 13TH producer Phil Scuderi, that he hired director Joe Zito and Savini to make THE FINAL FRIDAY. Given this pedigree, I expected THE PROWLER to be one of the greatest slashers of all time. Sadly, the flick was a major letdown, and didn’t come close to living up to all those years of hype.
The plot goes like this: At a graduation dance, a jilted WWII vet returns to kill his lover and her new beau with a pitchfork. The town then bans all formal dances, a bummer I’m sure for its high school seniors. 35 years later, new college kids decide to have a graduation dance. Conveniently, a psycho killer has escaped a few towns over. As the dance begins, so does the body count. As the night goes on, the girl who organized the event and the young deputy try to stop the killer.
I can forgive THE PROWLER for suffering from the usual sins of its genre, which include bland acting, an overwrought score and silly dialogue. But I can’t be so forgiving to the plot. The script leaves so many loose ends that it plays like a first draft. Major Chatham, who seems early on to be a major player and even grabs the heroine by the arm, soon after disappears from screen entirely. The movie sets up the dance hall as its central location, and then drops it entirely as the leads hunt down the killer, arriving at Chatham’s house for not one long scene, but two. The last scene in the hall has another old pervert licking his lips as he watches two teens engage in sex in the basement; of course, there’s no payoff at all, as the audience never sees these three again. And please don’t give me the argument, “It’s just a horror flick; who cares about logic and plot?” Because when you do, you validate every argument that people make against our beloved genre. This movie needed at least one rewrite, and probably two or more. As it stands, this script of THE PROWLER should never have made it out of development. I know there was a rush to get slasher flicks out in the early 1980s, but this is inexcusable laziness.
Worse, the script gives Savini very little to do. Instead of focusing on a high body count and his trademark creativity in kills, THE PROWLER spends most of its time trying to build suspense as it follows its bland leads. The buildup is decent, but let’s face facts: a slasher film is defined by its killer and its kills, and they’re far too sparse here. When Zito lets Savini loose, his work is among the nastiest of his entire catalogue; a shower scene is particularly nasty, as is a knife through the head. If only there were more.
Zito’s work fares better. THE PROWLER is competently filmed, and he gets the best he can out of some average actors. He also does a decent job of eliciting scares. The flick falls prey to many of the conventions of the slasher, but I can forgive that, as almost every slasher does.
The main extra on THE PROWLER is a commentary by Zito and Savini. The track’s got some interesting anecdotes, including one about a used coffin. But be forewarned: Though Savini’s done some great tracks discussing films with George Romero, here he’s a mess. He forgets much of the script, and the names of several people involved in the project. Zito has to do a lot of work in reigning him in, and seems mildly annoyed with him at points. There’s also Savini’s behind-the-scenes recordings, which show a lot of the effects work in creation. Savini in his heyday was the best, and seeing him work is always an education and a joy.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this flick is part of the ever popular Horror Movie Relocation program; it also went under the name ROSEMARY’S KILLER. Though THE PROWLER is more generic, I prefer it to its kind of silly TV movie-of-the-week alternate.
In a market that was soon to become glutted by slasher flicks, THE PROWLER is one of the subgenre’s very average efforts. A sloppy plot that leaves too many questions unanswered and doesn’t provide nearly enough gore or kills produced a film that got Zito and Savini the fourth FRIDAY film. But it’s a pale shadow of even some of the lesser Vorhees flick.