THE PROWLER (1981)

Movie Review by LL Soares

And here we have another review of an 80s slasher movie I always meant to see, but somehow missed. This one puts enough of a spin on the basic formula to make things a little interesting, but it’s still another excuse for a relentless murderer to pick off a bunch of party-going kids.

THE PROWLER (1981), however, begins during World War II, when a soldier gets a “Dear John” letter. We hear the letter’s writer reading it over the opening credits. This was common at the time, when a girl back home felt she had waited a long time for her boyfriend, and couldn’t wait any longer for him to return. After all, he might soon be dead, if he wasn’t already, and she wants to go on with her life. Rosemary Chatham (Joy Glaccum) is young and rich and enjoying her college graduation dance in the 1945, when a mysterious figure in a uniform kills her and an amorous boy in a gazebo with a pitchfork. The murderer is wearing a uniform and his face is concealed. He leaves a single rose at the murder scene. And that’s the set-up for our little story.

Jump to 1981. The local college hasn’t had a graduation dance since Ms. Chatham’s demise, almost 40 years previous, but maybe it’s been long enough for old wounds to heal. We’re in a small New Jersey town, and Sheriff George Fraser (Farley Granger of Hitchcock’s ROPE, 1948, and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, 1951) is just about to leave for his annual fishing trip, leaving his young deputy, Mark London (Christopher Goutman, also on episodes of CHARLIE’S ANGELS and BOSOM BUDDIES in 1981) to watch over things. Even though there’s word of an “escaped prowler” on the radio, the Sheriff says he doubts the guy will even make it to their town, and Mark should have an uneventful weekend.

Thinking it should be a piece of cake, Mark drives over to the college to watch over the dance and his girlfriend, Pam MacDonald (Vicky Dawson, CARBON COPY, 1981). Except it’s not as easy as it sounds when a killer shows up to slaughter college kids, such as Pam’s roommate, Sherry (Lisa Dunsheath) and her boyfriend Carl (David Sederholm) in a gruesome shower scene, involving first a bayonet through Carl’s head and then a – surprise! – pitchfork to finish off Sherry. While fleeing when she discovers a body, Pam finds a man in a wheelchair in the yard—neighbor Major Chatham, the father of the Rosemary character from earlier, and played by Lawrence Tierney of such classics as BORN TO KILL, 1947 and RESERVOIR DOGS, 1992), whose role is so short it’s one of the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” variety—who tries to grab her. Was he the killer, or someone trying to help? We’ll never know, because we don’t see him again. Even when Mark and Pam go to his house to search for clues, he’s nowhere to be seen.

The killer continues to stalk the kids and leaves a single rose near the body of each dead girl (he must have an account with the local florist!). Victims also include a teacher chaperoning the dance named Miss Allison (Donna Davis), and Pam’s friend Lisa (Cindy Weintraub), who at one point tries to steal Mark away at the dance. When Mark tries to call the Sheriff for help on his vacation, the motel clerk can’t even be bothered to look for him. The guy (Bill Nunnery) just puts the phone down for a few minutes, pretending to go look, and then comes back on to say he can’t find him. Thanks for nothing, Mr. Lazy! There’s also a crabby guy named Pat Kingsley (John Seitz) who runs the local hardware store and his creepy brother Otto (Bill Hugh Collins), who makes a surprise appearance later on.

The WWII connection, and those signature roses the killer leaves behind makes THE PROWLER a little more interesting than some of the other ’80s slasher films (there were a lot of them!), but the plot doesn’t do much with it. It’s just another chance to introduce us to more college kids who will get knocked off one by one. Goutman is good as Deputy London, and, as usual, the most interesting character is our female lead/”final girl” Pam, played here by blonde Vicky Dawson, who is fine as our protagonist, even if she isn’t given much to do besides running around, either looking for clues or fleeing from the mysterious murderer.  There’s even a jump scare at the end that no doubt was trying to cash in on the similar one in Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976). I’m just sad Dawson didn’t have a bigger career.

THE PROWLER was directed by Joseph Zito, who went on to make more famous films like FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984, a job he got probably because of THE PROWLER); the action movies MISSING IN ACTION (1984) and INVASION U.S.A. (1985), both starring Chuck Norris; and the Dolph Lundgren action flick RED SCORPION (1988). The script was by Glenn Leopold and Neal Barbera.

Not the best of the 1980s slasher flicks, but far from the worst, THE PROWLER is probably most memorable for graphic murder effects by the great Tom Savini, and worth checking out by afficionados of the genre.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

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