When determining the roster of films I'd be making my way through for this year's month-long series of horror movies reviews, I considered a number of the slasher films that so defined part of my generation's growing-up experience, and among those was THE PROWLER. I first saw it when it came out and even at the tender age of sixteen it struck me as nothing more than yet another entry in the slaughterhouse deluge meant to cash-in on the unexpected box office success of FRIDAY THE 13th (1980), but over the years I'd heard it reminisced about with fondness on several occasions so I figured I'd give it a second chance from the perspective of my forty-seven-year-old sensibilities. Hey, for all I knew I could have ended up with a pleasant re-discovery like I had when I watched the gore-restored version of THE BURNING a few years back...
THE PROWLER (also released as ROSEMARY'S KILLER) starts out promisingly enough in a flashback to 1945 with cheery black-and-white World War II newsreel footage announcing the return of victorious American G.I.'s at the conflict's end, and abruptly cuts to a voiceover reading of a "Dear John" letter to a returning soldier from his girl, Rosemary, who dumps him after declaring that she's breaking her promise to wait for him because the war went on to long and she was young and she should be living her life, and you get the idea. Following that the film shifts location to the town of Avalon Bay on the night of a graduation dance — high school or college is not made clear — that Rosemary's attending with her new rich kid boyfriend. When the pair leave the dance to do some fairly chaste fooling around at a secluded gazebo, they find themselves on the business end of a double-impalement by a pitchfork wielded by an unidentified figure in what appears to be military gear.
35 years later, the murders remain unsolved and have become part of local folklore, and the graduation dance is being held for the first time since the now-legendary killings. As is wont to happen in films of this nature, the second the graduation dance is in full swing, the murders begin, and a deputy cop (Christopher Goutman) is left in charge to deal with things when the sheriff (Farley Granger) goes off on vacation — despite some random perp having just robbed a store in a nearby town, killed a teenager and stole his car, and is now believed to be heading to Avalon Bay. As the killings progress, the cop is accompanied by Pam (Vicky Dawson), a pretty student with whom he shares a mutual attraction, and the two wander from old, creepy house, to girls' dorm, to cemetery and back to the dance, always one step behind the masked murderer. It all comes to a head when Pam is trapped alone with the pitchfork-wielding psycho and the murderer's identity is revealed...
Well, after sitting through THE PROWLER for the first time in just over thirty years, I'm kinda sorry I wasted my time because I came away from it with little or nothing. There's absolutely no suspense to speak of and the plot, such as it is, once again serves as nothing more than an excuse for completely reasonless slaughter and the film's leisurely pace drags listlessly, making it feel like much of the running time has been mercilessly padded out. (It has.) It also contains a plethora of completely un-suspenseful POV shots, sometimes from the murderer's perspective but all-too-often meant to fake us into thinking we're seeing things through the killer's eyes, an aspect that almost immediately wears out its welcome. But for me the most grievously annoying aspect of the film's by-the-numbers mayhem is its over-reliance on too many cheap "BOO!" scares, the kind where they abruptly throw in something meant to startle and fake-out the audience, and in all the times I've seen that done in countless movies, I have never once found it scary. In this film, the "BOO!" element is gratuitous to the point of near-self-parody, and I don't mean in an amusing way.
On the meager plus side, THE PROWLER does benefit from some of the best gore effects of quintessential 1980's gore-meister Tom Savini's finest efforts. The murders depicted here are of an especially intimate and sadistic nature, often shown in tight closeup and in situations where the victims never stood a chance. The standouts include a brutal shower impalement of a nude student, a savage throat-slashing in a swimming pool, and one of the best shotgun blast to the head effects that it has ever been my pleasure to witness. And all of this is featured in what is one of the best-put-together/ best-shot entries in the entire slasher sub-genre, and it's a damn shame that those aspects weren't bolstered by a better script and better pacing. To tell the truth, the only reason I stuck with it was to find out exactly who the killer was, and once that reveal happened it was a colossal collision of "that's incredibly fucking stupid" and "who the fuck cares?"
Bottom line: THE PROWLER is of interest for '80's-era slasher movie completists only, although its kill scenes would make for a decent highlights reel. If you must see a slasher entry from that golden era, go straight to THE BURNING.
Poster from the original theatrical release.