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 head blown apart by a shotgun blast in Maniac; the raft scene in The Burning, and many, many more. But as far as I’m concerned, 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, as 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… until now. Some locals fear the return of the dance will bring the killer (who’s 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 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. Can 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 in quick succession, as Sherry (Lisa Dunsheath), one of Pam’s friends, is getting ready for the dance. While she’s taking a shower, her boyfriend, Carl (David Sederholm), turns up, and, figuring they can have a little fun before heading out, Sherry invites him 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 one 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 (including an extremely convincing throat slash) are equally as grisly.
Directed by Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), The Prowler is a very 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 it a step above “very good”, bringing it closer to “great”, is the work of Tom Savini. The gore effects he created for The Prowler are second to none.