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Grisly but unimaginative
on December 27, 2003
When I learned of another horror film boasting special effects work from Tom Savini, I knew I had to see it as quickly as possible. Fortunately, Blue Underground gave the film, 1981's "The Prowler," their usual careful and comprehensive treatment. Founded by veteran horror director William Lusting ("Maniac," "Uncle Sam," and "Maniac Cop"), Blue Underground makes it their mission in life to dig up obscurities and re-release them uncut and with loads of extras. Perhaps my memory is deceiving me at the moment, but I have yet to see a DVD from this company that fails to provide a spectacular presentation. The movies themselves might be mediocre, as is the case with "The Prowler" in certain aspects, but for horror film fans the company has been a godsend. While I am slowly working my way through their back catalog, I look forward to future DVDs from Blue Underground.
Directed by Joseph Zito ("Missing in Action," Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter"), "The Prowler" meanders through territory instantly familiar to fans of slasher films released in the early 1980s. The folks of some small town out in the sticks abandoned their annual dance after a psychotic soldier went on a bloody rampage back in the 1940s. Turns out that his sweetheart sent him one of those obnoxious 'Dear John' letters and the guy flipped. He returned home, suited up in his army gear (uniform, mask, helmet, bayonet, and even though I never realized it was standard issue, a pitchfork), and proceeded to wreak bloody havoc on his ex-lover and her newly acquired boyfriend. We learn all about this in the typical opening sequence, the one that sets the stage for the obligatory flash forward to a group of modern day teenagers who will soon become cannon fodder for a series of outrages committed by the returning soldier. Sound familiar yet? It should, but fortunately for "The Prowler" most of what we see is well above average in the gore department, thanks to the tender loving attentions of Tom Savini.
O.K., flash forward thirty or so years to the modern day (in this case, 1980 or so) where we see a bunch of kids with hilariously feathered coifs--who look a lot older than your average teenagers--getting ready to throw the first dance since the unfortunate incidents of the 1940s. Oh, a few killjoys mumble ominously about the potential for new atrocities, but they fall mostly on deaf ears because kids these days just don't want to listen to their elders. Most people, however, just aren't all that worried about new killings. Heck, even the sheriff (played by Farley Granger) chuckles benevolently about the party and then promptly announces he is going to take a fishing trip. He decides to leave his young deputy in charge of the town, even though a report about a robbery/murder in a village up the road presents a slight possibility of violence moving into the area. Who cares, though? With the sheriff heading out of town, the kids expect to indulge in a night of alcohol, promiscuity, and dancing. No one gives the deputy much thought since he is a young guy just learning the ropes. Again, we have seen all of this before in one way or another.
The nightmare begins awfully fast as the soldier of yesteryear returns in grand style, sporting that trademark pitchfork along with a bayonet the size of William Wallace's sword. Kids die by the boatload before the alarm goes out, but one of the girls teams up with the young deputy (surprise!) and the two begin to search for the killer. In the meantime, the soldier goes on a massive killing spree, impaling people on that darned pitchfork and getting some mileage out of the bayonet. In one scene, definitely ranking as one of the grimmest in the film, the masked maniac drives his bayonet straight through a guy's head while the victim judders and jitters like some sort of demented marionette. Another gory scene takes place in a swimming pool, when a young lady decides to take a swim and runs right into our demented soldier. And wouldn't you know it? In vivid close up he swipes that old knife right across her throat with the greatest of ease. Yuck! The capper, though, occurs near the end when Savini attempts another exploding head scene ala "Maniac." Regrettably, the attempt pales in comparison to the effect in Lustig's grisly film, but Savini's heart is in the right place and it still looks nasty. Overall, "The Prowler" is a step up from other gory films of its period. Zito attempted to make this film more sadistic and colorful, and he largely succeeded. Unfortunately, the extended stalk and slash scenes run on far too long; so long, in fact, that any tension built up melts away while the scene is still unfolding. The tendency to overplay the suspense card, along with cardboard cutout characters we could care less about, significantly hampers the overall effectiveness of "The Prowler."
The Blue Underground DVD is awesome. Extras include a commentary with Joseph Zito and Tom Savini (!), a poster and still gallery, a trailer, and a behind the scenes look at Savini's gore effects. Attention: you MUST watch this behind the scenes footage. I know a lot of the featurettes on DVDs aren't very good, but this one is a winner. Not only do we see how Savini pulled off his grisly effects, we see them acted out in horrific detail. Even though you know what you are seeing is fake, it still looks gruesome in the extreme. Especially noteworthy is the swimming pool scene, which goes on for an eternity in the featurette. To top it all off, "The Prowler" is in widescreen. This isn't a unique film, but the DVD should appeal to horror fans everwhere.