I've never been a big fan of slasher pictures. For a long time, I hadn't been convinced that there were more than one or two winners in the bunch. And really, can you blame me? By design, slasher pictures have almost identical plotlines. They have the same gaggle of victims, the same clich�s and are often filmed in exactly the same way.
But you can't be completely dismissive of the genre. You may be spared the groaners of PROM NIGHT, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V. But you would also miss out on some winning films like BLACK CHRISTMAS, HALLOWEEN and BAY OF BLOOD (a.k.a. TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE).
THE PROWLER (a.k.a. ROSEMARY'S KILLER) is not up to the standards of those last three films, but it is much better than most of the slasher output in the early 80s. It has plenty of clich�s, but also infuses some genuine suspense in an ordinary scenario.
The film starts off with a surprising dramatic touch. Newsreel footage of brave soldiers returning home from World War II[p is shown as a woman reads a Dear John letter in voiceover. This is one of many letters received many of our soldiers of course. Many women were left home alone and lonely with their men fighting the good fight overseas ("Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" didn't mean a whole lot in the 1940s). Many of them fell in with men who were unwilling or unable to serve in the military.
Naturally, one of these soldiers, possibly already battle-scarred from the last just war snaps. A socialite sneaks out of a town dance with a real horse's ass of a boyfriend. The man is rich, snobby and talks down to those who were low enough to fight in the war. As they reach a bungalow to partake in some very un-WASPish behavior, a killer stabs them both to death. By their bodies, he leaves a red rose.
Folks haven't felt much like dancing since then, but the town elders feel enough time has passed to bring the traditional dance back, thirty-five years later. Before you can say, "my bloody valentine," a killer is sharpening his knives for another night of stalking and slashing.
He dresses up in hardcore military gear and starts slaughtering co-eds. Like before, he leaves an immaculate red rose by the bodies.
After the first couple murders, it is announced that there is a "prowler" on the loose and everyone is in danger. Deputy Mark London (Christopher Goutmann) and his girlfriend Pam (Vicky Dawson) seem like the only two people likely to save the day.
As far as killers go, the Major (Lawrence Tierney - RESERVOIR DOGS) seems a likely suspect. He seems bound to his wheelchair but it wouldn't be the first time someone faked their condition to rule themselves out as a suspect. Could he be the killer? Maybe, but don't count on it. These films always try to overload you with red herrings.
On the basis of THE PROWLER, Joseph Zito got the directing gig on FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER. That particular Jason slaughter-fest featured a big ending, but mostly contained the same derivative characters and storyline. THE PROWLER didn't have Paramount money behind it, yet it is a superior film overall.
THE PROWLER has the tough task of pleasing two audiences at once, and it succeeds with surprising results. The gorehounds should be happy to see some incredible Tom Savini effects. The killer enjoys using pitchforks and sabres. So, one victim gets impaled in the shower (quite a sight) while another gets her throat slashed open. Yikes! The body count is surprisingly low, but each killing is effective in making the viewer cringe.
Gore alone is not enough to please me. I need a story to back that up and they manage to throw one in here for good measure. The theme of shell-shocked G.I.s is a good one and the main characters at least seem to be a little more than just the usual red meat.
Of course, the same can't be said for the rest of the cast. Promiscuous girls who smoke pot don?t even need names in films like this. They may as well be billed, "Psycho Bait" #1, #2, #3, and so on?
Beyond the characters, the film has other trappings familiar to the subgenre. For one thing, these killers never run. If he had to chase every victim, the Prowler would never catch a screaming teen if they didn't always go for the 'ol run and stumble. It would be interesting for the killer to be unmasked and for once, turn out to be an extra who wandered off from an Italian zombie film. They do after all, share the same lack of speed.
THE PROWLER contains classic gaps in logic. If Mark is trying to protect his girlfriend, why is he always leaving her alone in the car while he investigates something? Did no one tell him that the motto reads, "to protect AND serve?"
But THE PROWLER seems aware of other clich�s and exposes one that always got on my nerves. A girl hears a strange noise. As she backs up cautiously, her friends come up behind her and ask, "Do you always walk backwards?" Let's face it, anyone who walks backwards is just waiting to get jumped. I personally, have never witnessed someone walking backwards unless they were making a spectacle of themselves or possibly moving heavy furniture.
Of course, sometimes these films would not be as much fun without their tried-and-true conceits.
THE PROWLER uses these familiar tunes almost by default. They take center stage but in the background is an interesting little suspense yarn. One classic touch is when Pam discovers her friend's body in the shower. She notices a door move. Simultaneously, she and the viewer realizes the killer is still in the room with her and leads her on a thrilling chase. It was an unexpected moment in a genre known for its banality.
Zito proves he is capable of creating a fun and illogical film that plays on our fears and expectations. But his real talent is building a surprising amount of suspense with a decent plotline. THE PROWLER is not a classic, or even a classic of the genre, by any means. But it is precisely what you would want from a film like this, an unexpected surprise.