The Prowler (1981) Review

I'm betting she isn't the final girl.  What do you think?

I'm betting she isn't the final girl. What do you think?

Another day, another slasher film.  During my regular rounds of combing the information superhighway for the most underrated and forgotten orphans of my beloved genre, it dawned on me that I had yet to pay humble tribute, in the form of a review, to one of the better and more classic slasher films of the early 80’s.  The Prowler is a furtive and taut little slasher film that stands out in the crowd thanks to its atmosphere, its back story is rooted in post-WWII small-town America, and its gnarly and rough stalk-and-kill sequences.  To go along with those three admirable qualities, we are treated to a loud, slightly overpowering, but fitting score, and elements of a mystery “who done it” film thrown in for good measure, which should keep most viewers guessing right up until the ends about who, exactly, is under those army fatigues.

35 years ago in a sleepy town in New Jersey (really?), a grisly double murder took place with the murderer never being found.  Decades later, as a dance (complete with awful house band) for college students is about to get underway, it seems someone has decided to don the same army fatigues and continue on with the spree.  As people get picked off one by one, the question of who it is that is lashing out on the unsuspecting victims becomes just as important as how to find and stop him from striking again.

The "Sheriff" Jeep.  Only in New Jersey folks.

The "Sheriff" Jeep. Only in New Jersey folks.

I’ll cut right to the chase on this one.  If you’re the kind of slasher fan who watches these flicks for the quality of the kills, then The Prowler should be on your radar pronto.  While they aren’t the most imaginative and far-fetched slayings you are ever going to see, the elongated and messy nature of them bring believability to the notion that these attacks could actually be deadly.  All too often in horror flicks, people are tapped lightly with a grain of salt, which somehow kills them instantly.  OK, so maybe that doesn’t happen, but you know what I’m saying.  Kills in horror are hardly ever truly believable.  The Prowler doesn’t mince metaphorical words when it comes to that though, as the blood pours from open, gaping, and generally realistic wounds, and our killer makes sure his prey is finished before moving onward.  Tom Savini, gore legend, provides much of the bloodletting and slashing effects for The Prowler, which means there is nothing I can really complain about since that man has always had a lock down on how to off folks in entertaining and gross ways.  The soundtrack, which also doubles to help make some of the cleverly placed boo scares really pop, is loud and somewhat oppressive.  At times though, this successfully has a nice effect on the viewer, as it builds tension and tightens nerves.  At other times, it is merely distracting.  Lighting is grade-A, with nothing being too dark or too over lit, but the real star of the technical package maybe be the locations, which are all filled with enough personality to be easily distinguished and enough similar hallways, doors rooms, and corners to validate and heighten the enjoyment of the few cat and mouse bits.

The Prowler.  Serial Killer.  WWII Veteran.  Germaphobe.

The Prowler. Serial Killer. WWII Veteran. Germaphobe.

So it all looks and sounds good, but hows the pacing and shot choice?  Quite good actually, thanks in part to noted director Joseph Zito being at the helm for this one in what would prove to be his warm-up directorial job before he went on to direct the then final chapter in the Friday the 13 series, inaccurately titled Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.  For anyone who thought that movie was their cup of tea (and how could you not?  that is easily one of the top 3 in the series) The Prowler shows Zito perfecting some of his methods witouth the safety net of working with an iconic cinematic figure like Jason Voorhees.  The pacing is top notch, and every time I watch this movie (this is the 4th time) I catch myself being sucked in and before I know it, it’s over.  In this particular genre however, being quick, clean, and efficient is a major blessing.  Zito moves things along like a busy mother shuffling through a grocery store, but never forgets to pick up the milk she knew she needed before she left the house.  The camera is mainly in observer mode, but Zito usually gets a little more daring when it comes to the kills and jolt scares, which is appropriately when he is at his best.  He also avoids showing the The Prowler too much or too little, something that helps to keep up tension since you may only see a quick glimpse of his at the top of a staircase or a shot of his boots near a shrub.  As far as colors or filters go, this one is kept pretty dark and natural, which lends nicely to the semi-militaristic vibe that is being supplied by the history of the town, it’s infamous double-murder, and The Prowler itself.  It wraps itself up in under 90 minutes, including credits, which is the way it should be unless you are filming one hell of a epic slasher picture.

No sex in the Gazebo godammit.

No sex in the Gazebo goddammit.

Last, but not least, is the acting.  Normally, this is the bane of most horror cinema, but here the acting seems fairly natural, and is very rarely completely out of place or awkward.  Maybe the relatively simplistic script helped them, or the guidance of Zito, but a handful of unknowns (and according to IMDB, still pretty much unknowns) carry the flick well enough and supply everything needed to flesh out the mini town and, of course, provide fodder for our hero…I mean The Prowler.  Main leads Vicky Dawson (playing Pamela MacDonald) and Christopher Goutman (playing Mark London) are likable and well suited for their roles and get the nod from me as the rightful stars of the show.  And how could you not like them since they roll around in a SHERIFF JEEP? Seriously, a jeep.  Back to the acting though, the cast is rounded out rather nicely, and we get the typical mean girl on campus, the bubbly slutty girl, the old semi-wise sheriff, the bitter general store owner, and so on.  This isn’t rocket science, but no one said it ever had to be, and what is here is done well without stretching it to the point where if you’re laughing, you’re laugh at it instead of with it.

You hanging in there, buddy?

You hanging in there, buddy?

It is swift, concise, and entertaining.  There are some very clever mechanics in there, call backs to earlier scenes and the like, and the identity reveal is satisfying, as is the final comeuppance.  It doesn’t waste time or parade around pretending to be something it’s not.  Chalk up another gem.  ATTEN-TION!

Rating: ★★★★☆

Is that a bayonet in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Is that a bayonet in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

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About Alex Seda

"I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall - looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it." ~Dr. Loomis email alex
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