Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie Review: The Prowler (1981)

The Prowler seems like one of those films that got lost and forgotten in the myriad of slashers released in the 80s - movies that came in the wake of classics like Halloween and Friday the 13th. And to some degree, it sort of deserves to be lost because in some ways, The Prowler just isn't that great. It falls victim  to the cliches of a lot of slashers - an empty storyline, one dimensional characters, etc. - BUT there are some places where the film succeeds, which has maybe saved it from obscurity over the years.

A plot of hack-n-slash: A soldier returning from World War II receives a Dear John letter from his lady, Rosemary, saying she's tired of waiting for him and has found a new man. This rightfully pisses soulja boy off, and he gets revenge by murdering the two of them on the night of the Graduation Dance. Cut to the present - well, 1981 - and the dance hasn't been held in Avalon Bay since the murders. This year it's back, and someone apparently has a problem with that because a "prowler" is stalking kids at the local college dorm and murdering them in gruesome ways.

The story is as thin as a piece of rice paper and never really tries to make any kind of sense. The characters are not interesting at all and you never care all that much when they are disposed of. I figured out who the killer was pretty much as soon as he showed up on screen, and the filmmakers never even really try to make anybody else a red herring. It's too obvious. So then his reveal at the end of the film is not dramatic or shocking but sadly anticlimactic. And his motives never make sense, either. I still don't get it. I did like that the sheriff was played by Farley Granger, though. That was awesome. Loved you in Rope, dude.

Watching all of the bloody and violent deaths in The Prowler, I'm immediately struck by the high quality of the effects. They truly stand out in this film because of how well they are done - and after I watched the film I found out why. Yes, that master of horror makeup Tom Savini (if his name was in the credits, then I must have totally missed it) was the mind behind the film's impressive prosthetic work. And it's a good thing they had Tom for this film because the director and editor seemed to like using lots of unnecessarily long lingering shots on the death scenes, which would have turned out much worse if the makeup hadn't been as effective.

Let's highlight these death scenes, shall we? The first one is Rosemary and the BF getting pitchforked (yes, it's a verb now because I want it to be) while they're making out. You don't see much in this scene, but don't worry, there's more to come. Then that one chick's boyfriend gets a knife through the top of his head which penetrates all the way to under his chin. It gets even more gruesome when his eyes pop open and all you see are the whites. Shudder! The only weird thing is that it takes him a really long time to die even though he gets stabbed directly in the BRAIN. Then the girl taking the longest shower in the history of the world gets pitchforked in the gut. This death is the best one, I'd say, because again, the director likes to linger and the shots of the pitchfork in her chest look very realistic. Thumbs up. 

The second best looking death is the throat slashing of the girl in the pool, which was awesome because he doesn't just slit her throat all quick like. No, he freaking saws that thing into her neck until the blade is almost all the way in, without the shot cutting away at all. Good blood spurting and good prosthetics. Although with the lingering thing AGAIN, there is a very strangely composed shot of the girl's dead body underwater that goes on for way too long, as if something was going to happen - but didn't. It's just weird. Back to the gore, the near-ending of the film gives us one fantastic head explosion courtesy of a shotgun at point-blank range. Nice!

This movie rips off way too many other more superior horror flicks and never once manages to do anything remotely original itself. The music sounds like Friday the 13th at times with the high, screechy noises during those oh-so-scary parts; the killer is a slow moving, emotionless stalker like Michael Myers; and the ending is pretty much completely bitten from Carrie. This annoyed me the most. The music is, again, almost exactly the same as from the ending of Carrie, with the slow, pretty music as Pam walks into the room which immediately escalates into high pitched chords as soon as the guy in the shower reaches out and grabs her arm. And what was the point of this ending anyway? Was this a dream, like in Carrie? Are we really supposed to believe that the guy in the shower could still be alive? And will somebody please turn that shower off because it's been running all night and you are wasting some serious natural resources right there!

Two more random questions: How the fuck did the killer's pitchfork break just by Pam pulling on it?

Why can Final Girls never get out of a door that is locked from the inside? Flip the lock, you stupid bitch!

I'm coming down on The Prowler a lot, but it kind of deserves it. It's an okay set up for a slasher flick that's been used in one way or another in other films, but this one doesn't have any good characters or plot progression to make it interesting. The no-name actors aren't terrible in their roles, which helps the film immensely, but the too-simple story and odd editing choices are mostly what hurt the film. I'd say watch this to admire Tom Savini's gore work - it's still good even by today's standards - and don't expect to be scared or shocked by anything else you see here.