“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Theatrical Release: 1981 / Director: Joseph Zito / Actors: Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Lawrence Tierney, Farley Granger, Cindy Weintraub ... / DVD released 2002-09-03 at Image Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, Colour, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC „
A film-only review. A region free US DVD is available through amazon for less than £10.
The slasher films that dominated 80s horror in the US are probably the most formulaic horrors of all. You know what you're going to get with a slasher film. I find them a bit too samey to watch many of them, but there are times when a slasher film is exactly what you're in the mood for. For those nights when nothing else will do, 1981 effort The Prowler might be just what you're looking for.
In 1945, a girl and her obnoxious boyfriend are murdered at a dance, and the killer never caught. Thirty years later, another graduation dance is being held - the first time since the murders that such a thing has taken place! Inevitably, someone starts to kill the party-goers in various bloody ways. Can the deputy sheriff and his girlfriend figure out what's going on in time to save anyone?
This does more or less everything that a good slasher movie should do. The town's experienced sheriff is on a fishing trip, so the only authority figure, the deputy, is almost as inexperienced as the kids he's trying to help. His girlfriend organised the dance, knows the history of the 1945 murders, and doesn't go in for the kind if drunk sluttiness that her friends enjoy, so is clearly earmarked as the one who will last longest. The sluttiest girl, of course, meets a grisly fate quite early on. The killer is masked and wears an army uniform, although he kills as many people with a pitchfork as with his bayonet. This also allows some rather pointless mystery about his identity to develop. No one cares who the killers are in these things, but we're given a wide variety of red herrings to choose from, including the wheelchair-bound father of the 1940s victim; a creepy, mentally unbalanced shop assistant; and a murderous fugitive.
There's nothing too surprising here, but that's not to say it's not both scary and fun. These films are meant to be like ghost trains - making you jump and then making you laugh at yourself for jumping. So it ratchets up the tension nicely by having prowling hand-held camera creeping up behind characters. There's one great bit towards the end where the killer plays a deadly game of hide and seek with a prospective victim. And it has plenty of good false-scares, where a tense sequence will be seemingly concluded by having someone completely innocuous turn out to the cause of the sinister footsteps. These moments can then be nicely cashed in as real scares. If you're in the shower and are scared by your boyfriend coming in unannounced, you can be pretty sure that the next time someone barges in on you it will actually be the killer.
There are a few really nice touches. I liked the cross-cutting between the girls getting ready for the dance with the killer getting ready for his spree - he tooling up as they did their makeup and put on their party dresses. There's also a really nice cut where one girl's scream morphs into the electric guitar squeal of the band at the dance.
The band are hilariously 80s, and the dance itself - surprisingly underused as a location - is very typical, with people spiking the punch and sneaking off to canoodle in the cellar or go swimming. (I wasn't even remotely tempted to go swimming at my own graduation dance, although I was sick on some unfortunate swans.) Any event at which you can get a lot of drunk, horny youths is going to be popular for slasher films, and there's at least one other graduation dance slasher film I know of, The House on Sorority Row.
Apart from the scares, the other big selling point in these films is the gore. The Prowler really delivers - the effects were done by gore maestro Tom Savini. There are skewerings, stabbings, throats being slit, and one of the best exploding heads I can remember seeing. The throat slitting is also especially good. There's surprisingly little nudity for film of this type, though. The cast are likeable enough in their stereotype roles. Farley Granger, star of Strangers on a Train, has a small part as the sheriff who goes fishing - more of a cameo than anything - and makes no impression at all. And Lawrence Tierney, the bald guy from Reservoir Dogs, makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance.
Although a decent, fun slasher movie, there are a few problems. The plot leaves several important threads dangling, seemingly forgotten as the film ends (we never even learn why the killer is doing what he's doing). And there's one annoying cop-out towards the end. Probably the main problem is that the body count isn't quite high enough. The film doesn't really drag at 90 minutes, but it could have easily got in another couple of killings if it had wanted to, and since they went to all the trouble of hiring Tom Savini, they could have made more use of him!
Still, it's a slasher film. It's not trying to reinvent the wheel, and The Prowler is a perfectly good film of its type.