In 1945, following the return of thousands of soldiers from Europe, a young woman and her boyfriend are murdered. Thirty-five years later, a killer, dressed in WWII-era fatigues and armed with a bayonet and, rather incongruously, a pitchfork, stalks a group of teenagers celebrating their graduation.
The set-up isn’t terribly original, but The Prowler is a superior Slasher film, a product of the Slasher Golden Year, 1981. The Prowler was directed by Joseph Vito, who also directed Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, one of the best entries in that series. It also features the underused but welcome acting talents of Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train) and Lawrence Tierny (Reservoir Dogs). Oh, and did I mention the practical effects are courtesy of one Tom Savini?
Needless to say, The Prowler is a great looking film. The kills feature some of Savini’s best work (Savini has even said that it is his best work), including a stabbing scene which is topped only by the knife’s extraction from the top of the victim’s skull, a shower kill that manages to offer something new, and a rather surprising exploding head.
That said, this film isn’t only about the kills. Thanks to moody photography and expert pacing, The Prowler is genuinely suspenseful. Even the music, by Richard Einhorn, serves to build on the tension, ensuring that even while the screen is blood-free the viewer’s attention is held fast.
The killer’s motivation is a little thin and his identity rather obvious, but he’s got an undeniably original look, complete with helmet, undone chinstraps dangling. Still not sure why he carries a pitchfork, but that’s largely immaterial; he definitely knows how to put it to good use.
1981 was a great year for Slasher films, arguably the genre’s most important year, and The Prowler is certainly one of its most important films. It is a must see for Slasher fans and an example of how things go right when great talents come together.
Length: 89 min