I’m slowly making my way through the new season of The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder, a celebration of exploitation cinema and forgotten B-movies. Next up: The Prowler, a 1981 slasher about a World War II veteran viciously murdering a group of college students for…um…um…hold on, I swear there’s a reason…
Joseph Zito and Tom Savini are sick bastards. I mean that in a good way. As slasher movie makers, they’d have to be a little demented. Here, they combine to deliver some truly ingenious kills, making sure to have the camera linger extra long on every last machete through the neck and pitchfork through the back. The problem is every slasher has that, too. Maybe not as extreme nor as ornately orchestrated as here, but outrageous kills are what slasher movies do. That’s why it’s called slasher.
Other slashers, however, also have little things like at least a basic plot and some kind of backstory/motivation for the killer. The Prowler doesn’t. Not really. Take away the kills and there really is no movie. It’s college kids at a dance, a weird dude in a wheelchair peeping on some coeds, and a mysterious dude army fatigue-sporting WWII vet who may or may not be mad about a girlfriend breaking up with him over 35 years ago. Lacking anything more than that, The Prowler comes off as a real nasty piece of work, as if they were so excited to put some kills together they couldn’t even be bothered to crap out a script that would at least hit the already low bar of storytelling basics laid out by Friday the 13th. When we finally learn the killer’s identity it elicits a loud “Huh?” but then someone gets their head blown off with a shotgun, thus satisfying the bloodthirsty audiences of the early 80s.
Zito, of course, would then go on to make Friday the 13th Part IV, one of the best Jason movies in franchise history. Savini followed him there. It’s the far better “movie” – better script, acting, camerawork, etc. – than The Prowler, but as a piece of exploitation cinema The Prowler certainly has its appeal. Few slashers of the era are as transparent in their hollowness and gleeful in their gore as The Prowler.
-Immediate post-WWII opening equipped with period costumes, big band music and a dance lends the film a classy feel it quickly squanders
-Surprisingly solid original 80s rock from the band at the dance in the second half of the movie
-Gore galore from a shockingly unrestrained Tom Savini
-The shotgun scene
-More plotless than usual for slashers of the era
-A couple slips aways to have sex in a cellar and not only survive but are never even attacked
-Truly lame final scare
-WTF reveal of the killer’s identity