A mysterious killer returns after a 35 year hiatus and terrorizes a small town at the annual spring dance. Sluts rue the day they were born.
Joseph Zito’s (Bloodrage, Friday the 13th part IV: The Final Chapter) third film is arguably one of his best, at least in terms of his horror entries. Presumably due to its graphic violence, The Prowler created its own share of controversy in England when it was seized by police upon release although it was never actually prosecuted or placed on England’s ridiculous “Video Nasty” list.
The story goes: after a Dear John letter received while fighting during World War II, a soldier returns home and brutally impales his ex and her cocky new boyfriend with a pitchfork at the annual spring dance. 35 years later the town decides to have that same dance again, and guess what? Sluts keep getting butchered by some maniac in military gear with a bayonet and pitchfork. Not the most original premise (although to be fair this came out at the beginning of the American 80s slasher boom before such storylines were done to death), but it works and manages to not be some vapid “find the teens fucking and stab them” affair. It’s also nice to see some familiar faces as well courtesy of Zito regular Lawrence Tierney (Bloodrage, Abduction) as the wheelchair-bound creepy Major Chatham, Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train, Rope, Amuck) as the Sheriff and Cindy Weintraub (Humanoids From the Deep) as Lisa, one of the campus sluts. The Prowler has often been compared to My Bloody Valentine, which was released in the same year. While both films boast some very brutal imagery and are considered slasher staples, The Prowler is superior based on the believability of the storyline and the more serious atmosphere; not to mention it doesn’t have the stench of Canada rubbed all over it.
The settings are used to full effect, the darkened abandoned rooms of the mansion across the street from the dorm, the rickety halls of the dorm itself – these all lend an ominous atmosphere to the film that is often strived for but seldom reached in a slasher film. Zito manages to keep the jump scares to a minimum while creating some truly frightening and well-crafted moments to go along with the extreme graphic violence that the film is known for. Indeed, the kill scenes in The Prowler are nothing short of spectacular. They’re well planned out and cruel; often drawn out to the point where it seems like the filmmakers enjoyed offing these sluts a little too much (not that there is such a thing). I’m almost loathe to mention the gore effects here because Tom Savini is such an insufferable cunt, but they are exquisitely implemented and very convincing. It’s certainly some of his best work, from the height of his career and well worth the price of admission alone. That’s all the praise I can muster for Savini before I’m forced to bite off my own tongue. Incidentally, apparently Joseph Zito was at a theater that was screening the film and after informing one of the security guards that he was the director, was asked if he actually did kill the victims in the movie. Surely one has to be functionally retarded to think such a thing, but it is testament to the efficacy of the violence contained in the film.
The killer himself is also a very imposing figure, dressed head to toe in army fatigues (including his face which remains concealed until the final reveal, naturally) that adds to the film’s uniqueness. There’s nothing gimmicky, no crazy masks, weapons or supernatural elements; just a really pissed off psycho with a bayonet and a pitchfork which adds a definitively sinister aspect to the film. In effect, this could be because the killer in The Prowler represents so many different aspects of tyranny; military/government oppression, male rage, and misogyny to name a few. He’s a faceless incarnation of human turmoil and revenge. The fact that this whole rollercoaster of hate started with a Dear John letter like so many soldiers received when serving their country during war time speaks volumes of the selfishness and cowardice that plagues much of humanity and begs the question: what exactly are we even fighting for? Is a society that protects the weak and the vapid even worth saving?
The Prowler certainly isn’t without its flaws, the ending really makes no sense and is left up to interpretation; it appears that the filmmakers were going for some sort of shock-trauma sort of thing but it’s far too ambiguous to know for sure, and borders on ridiculous (purportedly it was inspired by the conclusion of Brian De Palma’s Carrie). Some of the characters are dumb as posts and there are times when the film drags, leaving the viewer waiting for the next filthy slut to feel the sting of the killer’s bayonet or the all-pervading death of his pitchfork. Fortunately, the kills are inventive and bloody enough to atone for the transgression.
Love it or hate it, The Prowler is certainly considered an archetypal example of the American slasher, and should be considered essential viewing for anyone interested in horror and slasher films in particular.
Official COSDS Nunspank Rating:
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Duane co-founded The Church of Splatter-Day Saints in 2005. When not immersed in film he's enjoying good whiskey, smoking meat in the backyard or thinking about sluts. He makes a damn fine habanero fire sauce.