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Prowler, The

Blue Underground // Unrated // July 27, 2010 // Region 0
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 10, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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Being shuttled off to Europe to square off against the Nazis is bad enough. When a soldier from the sleepy little town of Avalon Bay gets a 'Dear John...' letter from his best girl back home -- one that says she hopes they can still be friends...? It's enough to make a guy snap. No one was ever able to pin the double homicide of Rosemary and her horny new beau -- skewered like shish kabobs with a pitchfork -- on any of the mentally ravaged returning soldiers, though. The murders stopped there, and aside from a complete disinterest in throwing another graduation night bash, life in Avalon Bay soon returned to normal. Flash forward from WWII to 1980. Avalon Bay is dusting off its dance floor for the kids' first graduation party since Truman was in office. It's the same story as what's happening up north in Valentine's Bluff, though: reopening the dance hall is also reopening old wounds, and a masked killer draped from head to toe in military gear is carving apart everyone in sight.

The Prowler doesn't set out to reinvent the slasher, and really, that's one of its greatest strengths. The core of the story feels comfortable and familiar, and then there's the sweet, virginal lass who you know from word one is perched to be the Final Girl, a shameless shower scene, a character prone to walking backwards until she stumbles into another jump scare, a small town whose festering wound has reopened after decades and is being plagued by a series of brutal murders once again... It's the makings of a straightahead slasher, obviously, but The Prowler fields it very well. So many of my favorite slashers hail from the class of '81, but even the best of them -- My Bloody Valentine and The Burning -- owe at least some of their charm to how dated and campy they sometimes feel. I never really have that reaction to The Prowler. There's nothing deliriously, unmistakably '80s about it. There is no comic relief. There are no stabs at humor or left-of-center quirkiness. No, The Prowler is bleak and brutal, seizing hold of a familiar slasher formula and using it as a foundation to craft something far darker and crueler. It doesn't need to coast on any nostalgic, campy charm...hell, it doesn't feel especially dated at all. The Prowler features some of Tom Savini's most accomplished splatter effects, and these too hold up exceptionally well nearly three full decades later and under the scrutiny of high definition. Many of the slashers of this era were hacked to ribbons, in no small part due to the skittishness of the MPAA. The killers almost always seemed to swoop in, strike quickly, and then there'd be a quick burst of blood or a flash of makeup effects before cutting away again. The Prowler, meanwhile, refuses to flinch. The murders here are more graphic...more visceral. Jason might skewer someone, sure, but it'd be over in one seamless move. The Prowler drags it out...revels in its kills. Its butcher's sadism is apparent from the very first attack, stomping on a pitchfork again and again to ram its tines straight through two teenagers. Savini contributes cacklingly depraved touches like air bubbles spewing from the severed throat of a bimbo in a swimming pool, and there's a slow-motion shotgun blast to the head that's as disturbing and spectacular an effect as most anything I've seen on film.

A lot of
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slashers from this era weren't entirely sure what to do between kills, and they tended to be slow, talky, and tedious. The Prowler has been accused of the same, but that's not my reaction at all. For one, I really like its approach to characterization. I'm not going to pretend that they're vivid, richly rendered, multidimensional people or anything, but these characters are drawn more by the way they carry themselves and by their actions rather than the usual reams of pointless dialogue. The Prowler is sleek and efficient when it comes to its dialogue, saying as little as necessary to make its point before moving on. Because of this, even slasher mainstays like the unrepentant slut feel more sympathetic, more believable, and much less annoying than usual. There's not a character scattered around anywhere in here that ever got on my nerves, and as much of a genre fanatic as I am, I can't point to a lot of slashers where I can say that. It's a likeable and talented cast all around too. There's one seemingly key character who I wish had a payoff -- trying to dance delicately around spoilers, he's someone who's talked about a lot but only appears briefly on camera -- but that's the closest thing to a gripe I have there. They also tend to behave more believably than the usual slasher fodder: we never see the victims chatting up the killer before he whips out a knife, there aren't any magical crime scene cleanups, the murderer doesn't suddenly teleport from one location to the next the way Jason can, and because all of the setup is dished out up front, you don't get the usual old-timer spouting off a couple pages straight of exposition. Its characters clue in very quickly that something's wrong, they do make an effort to get in touch with the authorities, and they're not distracted by any in-fighting or red herrings either. The Prowler has a good feel which slasher clichés are worth latching onto and which ones it should ignore.

The Prowler does a remarkable job fleshing out its unnerving sense of atmosphere, most memorably when Pam is walking down a barren street in the dead of night, and awnings in the background and her dress and scarf are quietly blowing in the wind. Thanks to the stylish visuals and likeable characters, I never felt as if the pace was dragging even in the longest stretches between kills. That's not to say that every performance and every sequence works brilliantly, but there's nothing in particular that drags The Prowler down. I'll also admit to being pleasantly caught off-guard by the reveal of who the killer is, and even though I knew one final scare had to be lurking in the shadows, I never saw that coming.

The Prowler may sound like a typical, straightahead slasher on paper, but even if the skeleton of its story and some of the beats in the action sound overly familiar, its sadistic streak, impressive body count, stylish photography, and a slew of Tom Savini's most spectacular gore effects set it apart from the glut of other dead teenager flicks from the dawn of the 1980s. This is a movie that's been underappreciated and overlooked for decades, but for those of us who missed it the first time around, The Prowler is well worth seeking out on Blu-ray...and it makes for a hell of a demented double feature with The Toolbox Murders. Recommended.

The Prowler
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isn't the sort of jaw-dropping revelation in high-def the way some of Blue Underground's most impressive releases, such as The New York Ripper, have been. That's okay, though; not every movie was shot the same way, after all, and this 1080p presentation appears to be very faithful to the intended look of the film. Its cinematography is a bit more polished than most of the movies from the golden age of slashers, but the overall look still ought to be familiar to genre completists: a fairly muted palette, lighting that casts everything in front of the camera in a diffused glow, photography that tends to skew soft... I like the look of The Prowler, but high definition eye candy it's not so much. When the camera closes in fairly tightly, this Blu-ray disc really does have quite a bit of fine detail to show off, but otherwise clarity and the like aren't anything to write home about. The weight of the grain feels natural and consistently filmic, and especially in more brightly-lit interiors, it's finer than anything DVD is capable of reproducing. Not surprisingly, the image is grittier and more coarse under low light, but that sheen of grain is never particularly distracting. Joseph Zito mentions in his commentary that he oversaw the color timing of this transfer, so presumably the presentation as a whole gets the director's thumbs-up. There's no sign whatsoever of any heavy-handed digital manipulation, and the image isn't dragged down by any wear or speckling either. Again, The Prowler is a movie that's intended to be soft and undersaturated, so this isn't the sort of disc you'll grab off the shelf to show off your shiny new TV. Go in with reasonable expectations, though, and I bet you'll walk away happy.

The Prowler is served up on a single layer Blu-ray disc, and its 1.85:1 video has been encoded with AVC.

The Prowler presents its soundtrack in three different formats: the original mono (Dolby Digital 1.0; 256kbps), a 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track, and a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 remix. The number of channels may have octupled with this lossless track, but it really doesn't take all that many liberties with the original monaural source. Most of the action is still anchored front and center. The surrounds are reserved more for ambiance than to ratchet up the intensity of the stalking-and-slashing. Although the remix does take care to ensure that background chatter at the dance and the blaring band on-stage fill every speaker, other sounds I'd expect to creep into the rears -- such as chirping crickets -- prefer instead to lurk up front. Frequency response as a whole is very limited, not that anyone would barge into a 1981 slasher expecting crystalline highs and foundation-rattling lows. Bass response is expectedly flat, and as much as the mix cranks up the kick drum when the band is on stage, it doesn't feel comfortable or natural. The only bass of note comes from the snarling, ominous strings in the orchestral score. The dialogue stems show the most strain, although as dated as most of the line readings are, they're generally still listenable. Some of the screams and more loudly shouted lines crackle, though, and when that band is rockin' out on stage, the dialogue is almost completely drowned out. It's a passable remix, sure, but I think I'll stick with the monaural track from here on out.

Along with these three English tracks and an audio commentary, The Prowler also features subtitle streams in English (SDH), Spanish, and French.

  • Audio Commentary: Producer/director
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    Joseph Zito piles into the recording booth with make-up effects legend Tom Savini, and their commentary is just an inhuman amount of fun. The sheer volume of personality quickly starts bubbling clear over the top, and they spend almost the entire track quipping back and forth. Even better, Savini's memory about The Prowler is so fuzzy that he starts getting names and basic facts wrong, and Zito has to swoop in afterwards to correct him. That might sound like it gets tedious, but nope: it's all part of the charm of the track, really. Bringing onboard writers for a slasher whose day job was scribbling down dialogue for The Snorks, Savini accidentally dyeing an actress' face beet red for several days straight, possibly recycling a used coffin, Lawrence Tierney pretending to jerk off in a local museum...this is one of the most infectiously fun commentaries I've heard in a pretty long while. Even though Zito and Savini aren't stiff and serious about The Prowler -- they snicker at some of the slasher clichés and are honest about the movie's missteps -- they still manage to cover an enormous amount of ground and paint a detailed picture of a small, talented, well-funded group of relative amateurs hammering out their very own slasher flick.

  • Tom Savini's Behind-the-Scenes Gore Footage (10 min.; SD): This reel of footage from the set pulls back the curtain on Savini's splatter, from sloshing around a blood pump just out of frame to setting up some stabbing with a tipless blade. An exploding head, some goring, take after take after take after take of the slaughter in the swimming pool...definitely worth a look.

  • Trailer (4 min.; SD): Last up is a standard-def theatrical trailer that clocks in just shy of four minutes. As you could probably guess from its length, this clip plays like more of a highlight reel than a traditional trailer, even.

The Final Word
The Prowler is one of the darker and more sadistic slashers to carve its way out of the early '80s. There's no stab at comic relief or playfulness this time around: it's bleak, brutal, and unflinchingly graphic. There's nothing the least bit campy or so-bad-it's-good about it. The Prowler also benefits from a larger budget than most of the indie slashers that were being churned out at the time, showcasing more stylish cinematography, production design, and some truly spectacular splatter effects courtesy of Tom Savini. For slasher fanatics who haven't stumbled across it before, The Prowler is well-worth discovering on Blu-ray, and it should more than tide us over until Blue Underground's high-def release of Maniac later this year. Recommended.
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