Wednesday, December 16, 2009

DVD Review: The Prowler (aka Rosemary’s Killer)

Joseph Zito's 1981 slasher The Prowler has a reputation as being one of the better offerings from the tired sub-genre. It boasts an impressive period look in its opening scenes (impressive for an 80's horror flick with little more than a million dollar budget), some of the best gore effects by Tom Savini, and one creepy looking killer. However, these minor pluses never materialize into a shocking or thrilling experience. Instead the film is nothing more than your average hack-and-slash film that offers up some visceral death scenes (thanks to Savini's gore effects), but doesn't succeed in actually thrilling the viewer in any way. 

The film's opening – an inspired set piece for a slasher film – places us in a small New Jersey town called Avalon Bay in 1945. It's the night of the big dance, and of course that's a recipe for disaster. A World War II veteran returns home to find a letter left by his girlfriend Rosemary. The letter informs him that she's moved on and found someone else. This of course enrages the killer and there you have your premise. The killer dons his battledress and an array of weapons (my favorite is the pitchfork) and sets his sights on the town.

After the killer pitchforks his way through his now ex-girlfriend (in one of the more famous scenes that was heavily cut during its initial VHS run) the town realizes that they can never have a dance again. This idea of a curse being put on a town, and specifically an event that takes place in that town, is eerily reminiscent to another 1981 slasher flick, My Bloody Valentine. The Prowler has better gore effects, but isn't nearly as good at eliciting a sense of dread or terror. Zito and his crew are too distracted by the tropes that so often bog down this particular kind of film, and I have to say that I was pretty disappointed as a horror fan.

Flash forward to 1980 and for the first time in 35 years the town of Avalon Bay is going to put on a dance. The sheriff doesn't like this idea and so he lets his deputy keep watch on the town while he takes a much needed vacation (hmmm). The plot is pretty standard by this point as the deputy and the Final Girl try to make sense of the murders that are happening around town as the killer has returned to wreak all kinds of bloody havoc on kids having fun. Unlike Halloween, The Prowler doesn't do a decent enough job of creating a good pace or atmosphere to distract you from the fact that you're watching a film that is essentially a lot of the characters running from the same set piece to the next.

Really, though, the story is never important in a film like this, and the truth is that the only reason people see these movies and think they're any good is because of the infamous Savini effects. Much like his other heavily cut early-80's slasher, The Burning, Savini creates some memorable slashings and impaling that show his craft in constructing convincing looking prosthetics and gore. Blue Underground has released the DVD fully uncut, so finally Savini's work can be seen the way it was intended to.

The Prowler is a pretty par for the course as far as slasher films go. It doesn't do anything new with the genre, and really it's only considered good by some fans of the genre because it came at the beginning of what became a tired, over-satiated sub-genre. Halloween, Black Christmas, and My Bloody Valentine set the standard for slasher films, and I think Zito never intended to make a slasher film on par with those genre classics. What he does succeed at – with the help of Savini – is making any fan of the genre want to see this below average film because of the infamous gore effects. Watching The Prowler gave me the same feeling as watching films like The Burning and other heavily cut "video nasties"…it just isn't as good as people want to believe it is. Just because the film is a gory delight doesn't make it a good horror film. Eli Roth really likes this film…that should tell you everything you need to know about The Prowler.


  1. I agree with ya, it isnt as good as some make it out to be. Its actually very boring at times, but the slayings are what make it watching. Tom Savini often states that this is some of his best work ever.

    If only the film had been better. It isnt a horrible watch at all, but it isnt all that memorable either. I did like how The Prowler looked, his whole get up is awesome.

  2. My GF and I watched this recently, hoping for an above-average slasher flick--and had the same reaction you did. Only the previously-edited pitchfork scene was impressive (much like the raft murders in the The Burning). I *was* surprised to see old Farley Granger, from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train and Rope, as the sheriff!

  3. Was a pitchfork standard issue in WW2? 23rd Hay Baling Division?

    Yeah, your thoughts on this pretty much mirror mine (shocking, I know, as we watched it together and commented throughout).

    Some other thoughts I would add or expand on:

    -- So many fake jump scares. A good horror movie might have one or two false scares, it's just going to happen. This had around 7 or 8, typically a sign that they didn't have any legit scares to offer.

    -- I thought Zito did an at least average job at the framing for most of the film, actually making some decent use of empty space here and there.

    -- But yeah, just too much of the film has just too little happening. A lot of Scooby Doo like investigative work that leads to clues that are never really expanded on. Did I miss exactly WHY the sheriff was the killer? I mean, where was his big expository explanation of why he had to do this to all the filthy fornicators.

    -- The look of the Prowler was kind of cool, with touch of a giallo influence to the overall style of he outfit.

    -- Amazing how this and MY BLOODY VALENTINE came out in the same year, as they are so similar. That seems to happen a lot where two seemingly identical movies about a similar subject are in production at the same time...I'll have to look in one of the Horror Encyclopedias to see if I can find out more info on that.

  4. The Film Connoisseur:

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, the look of the killer was one of the best things about this movie.

  5. Will:

    I too thought of The Burning throughout this movie, especially the infamous "raft scene". Both films have moments that are famous, but are surrounded by even more moments of sheer boredom.

    Thanks for the comment, Will.

  6. Troy: many jump scares. That was one of the worst parts of the movie. I also remember us thinging that the film had a horrible sense of place during some of the stalking scenes. It always seemed like they were just running around in circles. I don't think they ever explained why it was the sheriff, either, oh well...

  7. Nice write up. I too was underwhelmed by The Prowler (Effects aside) but I have to take issue with your dismissal of The Burning which is just too much fun.

    I love The Burning because its not just a slasher film its so prototypical its like THE slasher film. Boobs? Check. Gore? Check. Celebrities before they where famous. Check and Check. Gross Monster Make up? Check. Awesomely convoluted origins? Check. Written by the fucking Weinsteins? Really? Check.

    It just hits all the dubiously pleasurable beats of the genre so efficiently I can't help but love it a bit.

  8. Evil Dead Junkie:

    I agree with you that The Burning is your prototypical slasher, and I do find myself watching whenever I see it on IFC or MGM HD; however, it's not my favorite of the early slashers. I watched it again this Halloween and forgotten how boring it was. Like the The Prowler there's just a lot of walking around and stalling for the big gory moments...and the stalling isn't even leading to tense moments, it just seemed like they had 90 minutes to kill, so a lot of it felt like the filler we got in the REALLY bad slashers of the late 80's.

    I don't know, maybe I'm in the minority about that one, but I remember liking The Burning a lot when I first saw it, but subsequent viewings has soured me on it. But man is that raft scene awesome, hehe.

    Oh, and it was awesome to see George Costanza in the early 80's.

    Thanks for the comment.