Thursday, February 21, 2013

#920. The Prowler (1981)

Directed By: Joseph Zito

Starring: Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Lawrence Tierney

Tag line: "The Human Exterminator"

Trivia: The movie was filmed in the city of Cape May, New Jersey, and included the use of some of the city's Victorian buildings

Throughout the ‘80s, make-up artist and special effects guru Tom Savini lent his talents to a number of genre classics, and in the process created some of the most unforgettable screen kills of all time: the Kevin Bacon throat stab in the original Friday the 13th; the shotgun blast to the head in Maniac; the raft scene in The Burning, and many, many more. 

As far as I’m concerned, though, the on-screen slayings he concocted for 1981’s The Prowler are the most impressive of his career.

We open with a flashback to 1945. An American G.I., on his way home to Avalon Bay, New Jersey after serving in World War II, receives a “Dear John” letter from his best gal, Rosemary (Joy Glaccum), saying she can’t wait for him any longer. This doesn’t sit well with the soldier, and on the night of the graduation dance he murders Rosemary and her new boyfriend (Timothy Wahrer) with a pitchfork.  

As a result of this tragedy, Avalon Bay hasn’t held the graduation dance in over 35 years. But the powers-that-be, feeling enough time has passed, decide the town's youngsters should start dancing again. Some locals fear that the return of the dance will bring the killer (who has never been caught) out of hiding, and, sure enough, that’s exactly what happens. 

Decked out in his old Army uniform, the killer re-emerges to once again take his frustrations out on the young people of Avalon Bay. With Sheriff Fraser (Farley Granger) off on vacation, the task of bringing this mass murderer to justice falls on the shoulders of his deputy, Mark London (Christopher Goutman), whose girlfriend, Pam (Vicky Dawson), is one of the many graduates attending the dance. 

Will Mark figure out who this elusive madman is in time to save Pam, or will she become yet another victim of the dreaded Prowler?

Many of the kill scenes in The Prowler are mind-blowingly realistic. Two particularly gruesome murders happen early on, and in quick succession, as Sherry (Lisa Dunsheath), one of Pam’s friends, is getting ready for the dance. While she’s in the shower, Sherry's boyfriend, Carl (David Sederholm), turns up. Figuring they can have a little fun before heading out, Sherry invites Carl to join her. Carl rushes into the bedroom to remove his clothes, but as soon as he sits down on the bed, the killer comes up from behind, grabs his head, and plunges a long knife into the top of his skull, penetrating so deep that it pops out the bottom of his chin (to add to the effect, Carl’s eyes roll backwards, making for an extremely disturbing image). 

Once Carl is dead, the killer heads into the bathroom, where he impales the unsuspecting Sherry with his patented pitchfork. These are just two of the kills Savini designed for The Prowler, and all the deaths that follow them are equally grisly.

Directed by Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), The Prowler is a good slasher film, with moments of high tension (the scene where Pam doesn’t realize she’s in the same room as the Prowler is a nail-biter) and a memorable killer to boot. 

What carries the movie a step above “good” - bringing it closer to “great” - is the work of Tom Savini. The gore effects he created for The Prowler are second to none.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

Back in the days when I wrote for comic books I was in an editor's office and we were talking. I looked down on his desk and there was a human nose on it. A chopped off human nose. Of course I realized that it had to be fake but it was the most realistic looking prosthetic nose that I had ever seen. I asked the editor where he'd gotten it and he told me that Tom Savini had given it to him. Then he told me a story about how Savini was trying to stay awake to meet deadlines for a movie so he got into the shower and turned on the water and slapped some kind of clay on the wall of the shower so that he could sculpt while the water woke him up. The nose was sculpted during that moment and he made a cast of it but for some reason didn't like the results and gave it to the editor.

He had to have been a crazy perfectionist at that time because--as I'd already said--it looked real to me!