Amongst the glut of early 80s slasher flicks following in the wake of Friday the 13th it was hard to stand apart from the pack but that's something The Prowler actually manages to do right off the bat. Opening with an old newsreel telling us about World War II soldiers returning home this soon takes us to a small town 1945 Graduation dance that ends with a couple who have snuck off to make out in a secluded gazebo being pinned down together with a pitchfork while blood gurgles from their wounds. So far, so awesome.
Fast forward to thirty-five years later on the day of another dance. In fact, it's the first one to take place since the murders all that time ago and while we're introduced to a few of our young charges, including wannabe reporter Pam (Vicky Dawson), there's a whole slew of red herrings thrown out as multiple townsfolk look on in disdain and remind everyone of the past. Also in the mix is Pam's policeman boyfriend Mark (Christopher Goutman) who has been put in charge to make sure the weekend goes smoothly as the Sheriff has taken off on a fishing trip.
This being a slasher flick, we know that's not going to be the case, and soon enough a few teens are bumped off in gory ways while the script by Glenn Leopold and Neal F. Barbera piles on a whole lot of foreshadowing and suspects early on before completely dragging down the flick's pacing midway through by having an extremely drawn out sequence with Pam and Mark creeping around in dark houses trying to piece together clues and figure out who's behind it all. It really does slow the proceedings down but I was able to forgive it thanks to the fact they've peppered in enough brutally bloody deaths (with effects by maestro Tom Savini) to keep our attention, there's a killer who has a pretty distinct and menacing look with his Army fatigues, bayonet and pitchfork, and the finale offers up a handful of well done suspense.
Like most 80s horror flicks that contained them what makes The Prowler so distinctive to this day is Savini's practical effects work. Here's a guy who stunned us with various "How the f*ck did he do that?!" moments in Dawn of the Dead and the original Friday the 13th and his work here is pretty amazing. There's a knife driven through a head and creative usage of various sharp weapons that looks pretty gruesome thanks to Savini's detail-focussed work. They are definitely the star of the show here and, thanks to Blue Underground releasing this uncut on their 2003 DVD release, elevates what could have been a somewhat dull affair into something almost special.
This also proved to be a training ground of sorts for director Joseph Zito as he'd follow this up (and bring Savini along with him) by helming the fourth Friday the 13th entry. Unlike The Final Chapter, which throws out the deaths every five minutes it seems, he has to try and build mood here and does show a good grasp of how to create tension. The Prowler might just be one of the best directed 80s slashers.
As our "final girl" Dawson really isn't given a lot to do but act all Nancy Drew-ish and look concerned until having to defend herself in the finale. Thankfully, she is pretty cute in the meantime and reminded me most of Amy Steel's Ginny from Friday the 13th Part 2. This would prove to be her last movie appearance. Goutman is pretty standard as our macho male hero and didn't make much of an impression on me having to spend most of his time calming Pam down and walking around with a flashlight. Cindy Weintraub has a few fun moments as the slutty Lisa while Lisa Dunsheath gladly fills our nudity quota. It was also cool seeing long-time character actors Lawrence Tierney and Farley Granger here.
The Prowler does a lot of things right. It has some amazing gore, there are a few decent moments of suspense, and the back story is better established than a lot of its ilk. In fact, it's probably one of the better slasher entries of its timeframe. I can't completely place it on a pedestal because of the aforementioned dull stretches in the middle and it could have used a few more kills and less wandering about but I also don't hesitate from recommending it to anyone who is into the sub-genre and wants to see an entertaining example of 80s slice 'n' dice goodness. (Chris Hartley, 10/14/14)
Directed By: Joseph Zito.
Written By: Glenn Leopold, Neal F. Barbera.
Starring: Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Lawrence Tierney, Farley Granger.
aka: Rosemary's Killer.