The Prowler (1981)

For two whole minutes, The Prowler is intriguing.  After that, it completely falls apart.

We begin in 1945.  Cleverly recreated newsreel footage covers the triumphant return of some 15000 American sailors from Europe following the surrender of Nazi Germany.  The narrator informs us that for some of these men the process of re-entering civilian life will be difficult.  For one thing, there is the serious matter of PTSD.  For another, it’s coming to terms with being dumped via a “Dear John” letter.

One year before the end of World War II, a young woman named Rosemary breaks the heart of one such soldier this way.  She reads aloud her complete note exposing incredible selfishness despite continuously claiming her ongoing concern for his well-being.  (She’s young, you see, and doesn’t want to be tied down any longer despite promising to be loyal.  Jesus, toots, would it kill ya to wait one more year?)  On the night of her college graduation dance, he kills her and her new sleazy boyfriend with a pitchfork.  Not cool, dude.

Exactly 35 years later, another class of college grads are preparing for their own dance, the first one allowed in Avalon Bay since the murders.  Sure enough, as night falls, that disgruntled soldier picks up where he left off as he systematically eliminates some of them one by one in the usual gruesome ways.  As a twisted tribute to his ex, he leaves behind a rose for every victim.

Since the town Sheriff has curiously decided to go off fishing all of a sudden, his flirtatious deputy Mark (Christopher Goutman) is in charge.  When smitten college journalist Pam (Vicky Dawson) barely escapes the psychotic killer (she’s written about him in her final school newspaper) after returning to her dorm to change her punch-soaked dress (nice going, Mark), he’s the guy she wisely turns to for help.  (She’s still mad she dances with someone else instead of her, though.  In his defense, the other woman wouldn’t let him go.)

Unlike most slasher pictures, The Prowler isn’t completely stupid.  Mark hauls ass to the school dance to order everybody to stay inside thereby saving dozens of lives.  Unfortunately, one such student leaves before hearing the announcement.  She meets a grisly end during an impromptu dip.  When a chaperone goes looking for her, well, we can’t have any witnesses now, can we?

When Pam flees the murderous veteran, she’s temporarily stopped by Major Chatham (Lawrence Tierney from Reservoir Dogs).  He’s the reason there hasn’t been a graduation dance in 35 years.  Rosemary was his daughter.  Now retired and confined to a wheelchair thanks to a serious stroke, he has zero lines of dialogue.  He also mysteriously disappears after the bizarre, unexplained encounter with Pam.  (Was he killed?  Did he have another stroke?  Where the hell is he?)  Maybe he was hoping to meet her roommate who humourously flashes him from her bedroom window (he lives across the street) in an earlier scene.

After leaving the school dance and jailing a drunken grad, Mark and Pam break into the Major’s house looking for answers.  Unbeknownst to them, they have company.

It’s a testament to how bored I was that I didn’t even bother to guess the identity of the killer.  (His face is concealed for the entire film.)  But if you’re paying attention, you’ll probably figure it out.  A number of possible suspects are presented – the disgruntled grocer, his weird employee, the pervy old guy who watches a young couple make out in the basement at the graduation dance – but they all seem too obvious.

At one point, thanks to a tip from the disgruntled grocer, Mark & Pam head out to the local cemetery where they discover Rosemary’s defaced tombstone and her missing body.  (A fresh one has taken her place.)  A second trip to the Major’s home solves that mystery.

Not knowing much about its history before pressing play, I didn’t expect much from The Prowler.  But because of its unconventional start, I was thrown a bit.  Where is this going, I wondered?  Unfortunately, after a briefly appetizing beginning, the film disappointingly descends into convention as it rips off Psycho, Vertigo, Halloween, Friday The 13th, Carrie and My Bloody Valentine.  How I wish it was more ambitious and original.  God knows it starts off that way.

Vicky Dawson & Christopher Goutman, the two likeable heroes of this story, are unexpectedly fine here, as they lead a fairly decent cast, a rarity in 80s slasher flicks.  They have an easy chemistry.  It’s too bad they spend most of their time quietly exploring their bland surroundings very slowly.  In general, though, the acting definitely elevates the subpar material more so than it really deserves.

But decent acting can only take you so far.  Without a good, suspenseful story and a strong villain (beyond his shellshock & pissed off attitude, there’s not much else to the disgruntled soldier), there’s just no escaping the fact that The Prowler is an average movie that isn’t particularly scary.  What a waste of potential.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 11, 2016
8:16 p.m.

Published in: on June 11, 2016 at 8:16 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] the arrival of a new TV and my first Blu-ray player in June (thanks Mom and Dad!), it was on to The Prowler, one of the many slasher films from the early 1980s.  Despite screening it on the best possible […]

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