In the past few years, there have been several films in which the special effects received more hype than the stars, the filmmakers, or the story. If this seems like a recent trend, then simply take a look at the early '80s when the creator of the special effects make-up would often get more recognition than the actors in a film. Once such film is the newly released "The Prowler", which features gore effects by make-up master Tom Savini...and little else.
Premiering in 1981, "The Prowler" came at the height of the "slasher" film cycle which had been started by John Carpenter's classic "Halloween" and bastardized by "Friday the 13th" and most of the other films that followed. Despite the fact that "The Prowler" attempts to insert some original elements, it has all of the cliched factors contained in most "slasher" films.
A pre-credit sequence from the past (a classic cliche) opens the film, in which a female named Rosemary reads a "Dear John" letter. It's the summer of 1945 in Avalon Bay, and the local college graduates are celebrating their accomplishments and the end of the World War II. Rosemary (Joy Glaccum) and her boyfriend Roy (Timothy Wahrer) sneak away from the dance for a little private cuddling. Once in the gazebo (Don't go in the gazebo!), they are murdered by a soldier dressed in full combat gear.
The story then jumps ahead to the present (well, 1981), where the college students are once again holding the graduation dance, which has been banned for the past 36 years. Sheriff Fraser (Farley Granger) is leaving for his annual fishing trip and puts Deputy Mark London (Christoper Goutman) in charge. Mark will definitely check-in on the dance, as his girlfriend Pam (Vicky Dawson) will be there. But before the festivities can even begin, someone dressed as a soldier begins to kill the college students. Mark and Pam learn what is happening and attempt to warn the other students before the body count rises any further. But, who could be committing the murders.
In most respects, "The Prowler" resembles the other films of the "slasher" cycle, with its virginal heroine, its sexually permiscuous victims, and the use of a mysterious masked killer. But, it also recalls an Italian giallo, as it gives the audience very few clues as to the killer's identity until the very end. (And, most everyone should be able to figure out who the murderer is before they are unmasked). This can be both frustrating and confusing. Also confusing is the fact that the pre-credit sequence is mentioned several times during the film, but it's never made absolutely clear how it ties into the modern-day murders. Yes, it's easy to figure out, but none of the characters every say, "Hey, this is tied to Rosemary's murder...blah, blah, blah." Screenwriters Gleen Leopold and Neal F. Barbera (son of Joe Barbera of Hanna-Barbera) have set up an interesting premise, but it goes nowhere. The final blow comes from the killer's uninspired costume.
The lackluster script isn't helped by Joseph Zito's uninspired direction. He may have breathed new life into a dying franchise with "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter", but here, he seems to be doing everything by the numbers. The only interesting piece of filmmaking comes when he cuts back and forth between Pam getting ready for the dance, and the killer dressing for their murder spree.
So, that leaves only Tom Savini's gore effects to save the film. And while they are impressive, most notably a shower-scene murder and the killer's demise, they certainly aren't enough to make this movie a must-see. This unrated version includes all of Savini's gory killings.
"The Prowler" is a perfect example of a mediocre film from the "slasher" cycle. But, there are many more movies from this era that are far more entertaining, for example, the similarly themed "My Bloody Valentine."
"The Prowler" stalks onto DVD courtesy of Blue Underground. The film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen and has been letterboxed at 1.85:1. The image is sharp, but often grainy and hazy as well. There are halos around any bright, white object, and some defects from the source print are evident. Still, the colors are good and the image is stable. All in all, this looks like a low-budget film from the early '80s.
"The Prowler" DVD is encoded with a Dolby Digital Mono audio track. This track provides clear dialogue, with practically no hissing. The music sounds good, and the track is well-balanced, but a stereo or surround track would have been preferable.
With its initial batch of DVDs, Blue Underground proves that it's serious about DVD, as it provides many extras on its titles. The extras here open with an audio commentary by director Joseph Zito and special effects make-up artist Tom Savini. This is fun and good natured chat, as this pair has now worked together many times over the years and are apparently very close. They share many stories about the making of "The Prowler" and clearly enjoying making fun of one another for lack of memory. Zito reveals that "The Prowler" had a bigger budget and a longer shooting schedule than most low-budger horror films of the day, which makes one wonder exactly what went wrong here.
The extras also include 9 1/2 minutes of behind-the-scenes video footage entitled "Tom Savini's Behind the Scenes Gore Footage". As the title implies, this footage shows Savini and his crew setting up the gore effects for the film. But, it doesn't really give the viewer an idea of how the illusions were done. This is followed by the film's theatrical trailer, which has been letterboxed at 1.85:1. Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, which contains over fifty production still and examples of publicity material, some of which features the film's alternate title, "Rosemary's Killer".
Blue Underground has done a great job with "The Prowler" DVD. But, maybe next time they will laud their attention on a more deserving film.