The Prowler (aka “The Graduation” & “Rosemary’s Killer”) (1981)
D: Joseph Zito
Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Lawrence Tierney, Farley Granger
The year 1981 featured a glut of slasher films in the wake of Friday the 13th’s success. Many of them, like The Dorm That Dripped Blood, fall way below the entertainment Mendoza line. The Prowler, however, is an example of one of the better formula films thanks in large part to gruesome special effects by Tom Savini and smart direction by Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th, Part IV: The Final Chapter).
The film opens with newsreel footage of victorious soldiers returning from WWII. The “March of Time” narrator tells us that the vets will have to learn how to fit into U.S. society once more, and for those who received “Dear John” letters, they will have to do it alone. We also get an insert of one such letter (read in voiceover) from a woman named Rosemary.
That little bit of exposition gives us a pretty good motive for the killer, and sure enough, Rosemary and her new beau get run through with a pitchfork. So begins the mystery of Avalon Bay.
Fast-forward 35 years. Avalon Bay is preparing for its first dance since that tragic night. Pam (a likeable herione Vicky Dawson) is worried because Major Chatham (Lawrence Tierney, the character actor mostly known for Seinfeld and Reservoir Dogs) objects to holding a dance. Rosemary was his daughter, you see. Sheriff Fraser (Hitchcock fave Farley Granger) says he’s confident Deputy Mark London (Goutman) can handle Chatham while Fraser goes on his annual fishing trip.
Of course, while the Sheriff’s away, the killer will play, so we get the titular “Prowler,” someone dressed in the getup of an old dogface soldier, hacking and slashing his way through coeds. He does so in particularly brutal fashion, thanks to Tom Savini’s special effects. We get pitchforkings, bayonettings, and throat-slittings in all their unsavory glory – something a slasher devotee should love.
When Mark and Pam escape the Prowler’s clutches and investigate, they find Rosemary’s grave disturbed and her body replaced by a dead girl. Therefore, it has to be someone associated with Rosemary. Could it be her long lost spurned lover? Could it be the mentally handicapped handyman? (Lot of those in these movies.) Or maybe Major Chatham is trying to keep the dance from happening by any means necessary.
On the commentary track, Zito reveals a pretty simple formula for figuring out the identity of the killer, and it will probably be a real gobsmacking moment for most fans. Solving this one will take some quality guesswork for first-time viewers, though.
The Prowler is a criminally underrated slasher film. Given the parallels between this film and Friday the 13th, Part 2, one wonders if there wasn’t some sort of spy on the Paramount lot. While the poor “Prowler” never got a doll, a Halloween mask, or, more importantly, a sequel, it tops most of the Friday the 13th sequels in terms of suspense, fun, and likability of the cast.
The Prowler saw a high-profile (for the genre) uncut DVD release in 2002 and is one of the first “also-ran” slashers to be released on Blu-ray disc. It comes highly recommended for fans of whodunnits who don’t mind a little splatter here and there.
Previous films: The Initiation | The Dorm That Dripped Blood