Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It Will Freeze Your Blood

Screenwriters Glenn Leopold and Neal Barbera, whose credits are mainly in Saturday morning cartoons, open THE PROWLER with a flashback to 1945, when a young couple was gruesomely slaughtered during the annual graduation dance, presumably by a returning G.I. upset over the girl’s “Dear John” letter.

Thirty-five years later, a string of similar serial killings occurs the same night as the first dance since the first murder. With Sheriff Fraser (Farley Granger, a long way from Hitchcock’s ROPE) out of town on a fishing trip, it falls on young deputy Mark (Christopher Goutman) and his girlfriend Pam (Vicky Dawson) to trap the killer before all of their friends turn up dead.

The psycho, played by first assistant director Peter Giuliano in a World War II uniform, helmet, and mask, dispatches his victims in juicy ways that allow gore guru Tom Savini to get creative with sharp instruments like pitchforks and bayonets. Leopold and Barbera introduce a whodunit element to the film that allows the audience to play along with the mystery and figure out which of the cast will be unmasked as the killer. Director Joseph Zito, who went on to work again with Savini on FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER and RED SCORPION, does an okay job keeping the viewer guessing, but really should have injected more energy into the scenes where somebody isn’t being slaughtered.

One of dozens of early-‘80s slasher flicks inspired by FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE PROWLER is slightly more distinguished than most of the others due to the outstanding makeup effects designed and perpetrated by Savini, who did the same on FRIDAY THE 13TH. The splashier effects, of course, fell victim to the MPAA censors’ scissors, though the restored “X-rated” version released on DVD reveals Savini’s gore effects to be extremely gruesome and effective. Part of the fun is trying to figure out how Savini performed his “magic” (the jumping and gasping it inspires may throw you off your game). Because THE PROWLER is lethargically paced and indifferently acted, the kills provide the necessary visceral thrills.

The leads, Dawson and Goutman, spend most of their screen time tiptoeing through dark houses and dark cemeteries and are not distinctive. None of the other young actors are around long enough to make a mark, though you may recognize Thom Bray as the nerd detective on RIPTIDE and Cindy Weintraub from HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (where her character fared better). By 1981, it was not unusual for classic movie star Granger (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN) to appear in trashy horror films, and he cashes an easy paycheck in this one. Another name from the ‘40s, Lawrence Tierney (DILLINGER), is a bizarre red herring.

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