Avalon Bay, 1945: On the night of her graduation dance, young Rosemary and her date are brutally murdered by a prowler thought to be a jilted soldier home from the war. The killer was never found. 30 years later, the dance is held again for the first time since that horrific evening - but something else may have also returned... Tonight, the teens of this sleepy town will meet their grisly ends at the hands - and pitchfork, blade and more - of The Prowler!
Also known as Rosemary's Killer, this gruesome shocker is one of the cruelest "body-count" movies of the 1980s, thanks to razor -sharp direction from Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) and graphic gore effects by Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Maniac). Hollywood legends Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train) and Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs) star in this rarely-seen sleeper from the golden age of slasher films - now presented completely uncut and uncensored!
Released during the heyday of the slasher genre — those formative years spanning 1980 and 1984 — 'The Prowler' is pure, unapologetic formula with absurdly graphic displays of shocking violence. In any other movie, this would be seen as a defect and a weakness within the script, but in the hands of Joseph Zito, who also went on to helm 'Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter' and 'Missing in Action,' what could have been standard horror fare is infused with a spooky atmosphere and a somewhat believable plot. Conventionality is put to great use in this seldom mentioned cult classic, which is often compared to the similarly themed 'My Bloody Valentine.' This underrated feature, however, is a skillful mix of suspense and brutally realistic special effects, which is also one of the movie's most notorious aspects thanks to the firs-rate wizardry of Tom Savini.
Regularly celebrated by fans as a textbook example of the subgenre, 'The Prowler' is near rhythmic in its movement from one plot device to the next. It starts with a flashback sequence just after World War II. A young G.I. has just been dumped the night of a graduation dance, leading to the murder of the girlfriend and her new beau. Thirty-five years later, the sleepy town of Avalon Bay decides to reopen its halls for another graduation ceremony. Sure enough, the killer returns, scarily dressed in full combat attire. This then commences the whodunit element of the narrative. But in this instance, the final reveal is pretty hilarious because we're never given any clues indicating the crazed maniac as the culprit. Then again, those last few seconds remain one of the most shocking things ever seen on screen. The other characters are obvious playbook archetypes, and the patsies are easy to distinguish from the survivors in the first few minutes of the second act.
Pam McDonald (Vicky Dawson) is the likeable good-girl of her class with chastity written all over her, and she has a crush on the town's deputy, Mark London (Christopher Goutman). Not surprisingly, her friends are a tad more disorderly and boisterous, and they verge heavily on the promiscuous side of life. To break free from some of the genre expectations, Zito adds great moments of tension where people seem genuinely cornered by the masked murderer. Rather than being caught in rooms where the lights inexplicably don't work, characters are caught off-guard in areas they'd normally feel safe. The mystery also provides reason for Pam and Mark to snoop around in places that clearly seem dangerous to viewers. Zito even adds a few nods to other horror favorites, most notably the shower scene from Hitchcock's 'Psycho'— the seminal slasher film.
'The Prowler' is widely considered by horror aficionados as one of the best demonstrations of its kind, from plot and characterization to production value and inventive kills. Part of what makes this movie so special is the incredibly convincing make-up effects from Tom Savini ('Friday the 13th,' 'Dawn of the Dead,' 'Creepshow'). Granted, other slasher flicks are arguably more violent, especially from a modern perspective, but none seem to provide this level of realism and shocking bluntness. Even though Savini would later work on the über grotesqueness of 'Day of the Dead' and 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,' the award-winning artist still considers this his finest effort. Indeed, the three films commonly appreciated for their effective brutality ('The Prowler,' 'Maniac', and 'The Burning') were all done by the legendary master.
It's easy to see the movie doesn't attempt to redefine genre conventions or add something remotely ground-breaking. But the combination of Joseph Zito's direction and Tom Savini's special effects turns a run-of-the-mill plot into a slightly above-average 80s flick with an enjoyably suspenseful atmosphere. 'The Prowler' is a sadly underrated slasher feature that should not be missed by any self-respecting horror fanatic. This is arguably the height of the subgenre—at its sleaziest, formulaic, realistically graphic, but all-around fun for fans of the golden age of slasher films.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Blue Underground brings 'The Prowler' to Blu-ray in the standard blue keepcase with cover art that's reminiscent of the original poster. At startup, the BD25, Region Free disc goes straight to the standard menu options while full-motion clips play in the background.
Previous versions of 'The Prowler' have ranged from awful to mediocre, which has more to do with the production's modest budget than with issues in the digital transfer. For this Blu-ray edition of the movie, Blue Underground's techs have done the best possible with a limited source. Meaning, this is the best home video presentation of Joseph Zito's slasher classic, despite it not looking much like the type of HD material we've come to expect from the format.
The cinematography comes with a unique hazy appearance that makes whites bloom often and noticeably mutes colors. Then again, reds and greens are fairly bright throughout. Although details are significantly affected by the stylized look, the image is as sharp as it could probably ever be, and there's not really anything to complain about. Overall, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) displays wonderful clarity and resolution with a thin veneer of grain, providing the transfer with an appreciable filmic quality. Contrast and brightness levels are very well-balanced with resilient blacks, but shadow delineation is more on the average side of things. All things considered, the picture quality is far from demo-worthy, but the Blu-ray is a fantastic improvement from previous releases. This is the best 'The Prowler' has ever looked — and the best it will probably ever look.
Blue Underground also throws in a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that is every bit the equal of the video presentation. In other words, engineers have done the best possible with the available source, creating an enjoyable and engaging lossless mix. While rear activity is silent throughout the movie's runtime, the front soundstage is fairly welcoming and broad, especially when the musical score comes into play. It may not be as impressive as other catalog releases, but it gives 'The Prowler' a good acoustical presence with well-prioritized vocals. Dynamic range is also noticeably limited and a bit flat but cleanly delivered nonetheless. Low-frequency effects are expectedly lackluster. In the end, the movie puts on a pretty good show, despite some obvious limitations.
For this Blu-ray edition of the slasher classic, Blue Underground ports over the same set of bonus features seen on previous DVD releases. The only thing missing is a short still gallery.
Full of graphic violence and a good dose of tension, 'The Prowler' is one of the finest examples of slasher films. Released at the height of the subgenre's popularity, the film is pure formula done effectively by Joseph Zito's well-paced direction and Tom Savini's masterful make-up work. This Blu-ray edition of the movie arrives with good but dated picture quality and an average audio presentation. Although the assortment of supplements is small, the overall package is still attractive for fans, and a sure buy. For neophytes, this sadly underrated cult classic deserves at least a rental, if not a purchase.