Film Reviews

Film Review: The Prowler Sees No Need for Plot

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.

Points for:

-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

Points against:

-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

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5 comments

  1. LOL, I’m not the biggest Slasher horror fan but watching this over again with the help of Joe Bob Briggs makes it so much better. His Re-Animator info was awesome.

    1. I haven’t made it to Re-Animator yet. I just finished Daughters of Darkness and moved on to the Herschel Gordon Lewis movie. Daughters was ok. It’s an arthouse Euro vampire movie. There are only so many jokes to be made about it. Joe Bob’s story about the fist fight on the set between the director and actors was hilarious though. So far, one of my favorite parts of the season is whenever Joe Bob goes off on an old man rant that has nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with Joe Bob just being pissed about something, like cell phones or the subway in LA.

      In terms of films, the highlight of the season remains Sorority Babes. I’m still laughing about that little imp saying “crispy critters!” when the dude’s face gets pushed into the fryer.

      1. That was funny stuff. His rants are amazing. His cell phone rant thing made me lose it. I was actually drinking milk when the fan mail thing asked him who played Frankenstein after Karloff. His reaction to not knowing the actor made me spit milk out my nose.

      2. He did seem extremely annoyed with that question. BTW, since the episode mentions the mail girl’s Twitter handle I looked her up. Turns out, she’s an ex-pornstar who has become a bit of a horror movie queen now. Plus, she loves House 2, which was one of my favorite horror movies to watch as a kid. Good for her.

        The cell phone rant was amazing for how it just kept on going and going far longer than you’d expect, building to more and more elaborate scenarios leading to the “No, because you were diddling with your phone” punchline.

        This is going to sound deeply naive, but did you know Joe Bob Briggs is just a character the guy is playing, like Cassandra Peterson and Elvira? They were talking about this on the latest episode of the Shock Waves podcast. Joe Bob was on there recently and they received some negative feedback from some fans who were offended by some of his jokes. So, they explained how Joe Bob is just a character the real film scholar underneath it all is playing. It fits so perfectly in the Elvira and old Midnight Movie hosts tradition, but somehow I never knew that about Joe Bob. I genuinely thought he was who he presented himself to be, with the only exaggeration being the costume. I didn’t necessarily think he dressed like that all the time.

      3. Yea I guess he was originally going with boo boo Rodriguez but chose joe bob Briggs because it was more cliche for a redneck name

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