Released during the heyday of the slasher genre — those formative years spanning 1980 and 1984 — The Prowler (aka Rosemary’s Killer) is pure, unapologetic schlock with absurdly graphic displays of shocking violence. In any other movie, this would be seen as a defect and a weakness within the script, but in the hands of Joseph Zito, who went on to helm Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (our favorite F13), what could have been standard horror fare is infused with a spooky atmosphere and a somewhat believable plot.
Conventionality is put to great use in this seldom mentioned cult classic, which is often compared to the similarly themed My Bloody Valentine. This underrated feature, however, is a skillful mix of suspense and brutally realistic special effects, which is also one of the movie’s most notorious aspects thanks to the first-rate wizardry of Tom Savini.
Regularly celebrated by fans as a textbook example of the subgenre, The Prowler is near rhythmic in its movement from one plot device to the next. The film starts by showing some stock footage of soldiers coming home from World War II. At the end of the reel the narrator explains that some of the young soldiers are only going to be coming home to Dear John letters and sure enough after the highlight reel is over the viewer gets to see and hear a Dear John letter written by a young girl named Rosemary.
It isn’t long before the viewer is introduced to Rosemary and her new beau while they attend the dance. It’s only a matter of a few minutes before the two young adults find their way outside to a gazebo for a quick make out session. They aren’t alone however in their throes of passion, there is someone in the distance watching them dressed in military fatigues and armed with a pitchfork. During a segment that is very drenched with atmosphere the stalker eventually finds his way to the young couple and impales the two of them together with his pitchfork.
The Prowler uses the flashback of Rosemary and her lover’s death to set up the tone for the film which starts up again, only this time it is thirty-five years later. The local college is once again having its graduation dance which has left some of the locals pretty upset. One local in particular becomes so upset that we get to watch this person put on military fatigues and arm themselves with various knives and, of course, a pitchfork. As people get picked off one by one, the question of who it is that’s lashing out on the unsuspecting victims becomes just as important as how to find and stop him from striking again.
As previously stated, this film benefits greatly from makeup effects guru Tom Savini’s first-class carnage, particularly when the titular maniac jams his pitchfork through a naked chick while she’s showering – the blade-into-flesh impact looks startlingly real.
If you’re the kind of slasher fan who watches these flicks for the quality of the kills, then The Prowler should be on your radar pronto. While they aren’t the most imaginative and far-fetched slayings you are ever going to see, the elongated and messy nature of them bring believability to the notion that these attacks could actually be deadly.
All too often in horror flicks, people are tapped lightly with a grain of salt, which somehow kills them instantly. OK, so maybe that doesn’t happen, but you get the point. Kills in horror are hardly ever truly believable. The Prowler doesn’t mince metaphorical words when it comes to that though, as the blood pours from open, gaping, and generally realistic wounds, and our killer makes sure his prey is finished before moving onward.
In short, The Prowler is indeed the perfect example of an early slasher film; this is well before the franchises began to take over. The cast of relatively unknowns all handle their roles well and the pacing between the grisly murders is flawless. The Prowler also doesn’t mess around with its final scare as it truly is a terrifying last shot that will cause even the hardest horror fan to take notice. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, The Prowler is more than worth 90 minutes of your time.
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