We all know Tom Savini and Joseph Zito would go on to make slasher magic with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, but how about their first pairing – the little seen bodycount bloodbath, The Prowler? Well, the back of the Blu-ray boasts “One of the Slasher Genre’s Finest Moments” – and as it should, that quote’s from us! No sense in keeping the cat in the bag any longer than it needs to be – The Prowler Is a taut and grim little number with set-piece after set-piece of splendid Savini spectacle. It bears a lot of resemblance to that other excellent 1981 slasher that just sort of slipped through the cracks during the post-Friday the 13th slasher glut, My Bloody Valentine. Along with some really gruesome death sequences (although The Prowler’s were always kept intact), both involve a man in a dark rubber suit who went crazy after being dumped in the forties, only to return once more when his small town decided to re-establish the annual dance. While both films are nearly equal in their panache for churning a ripe tale for blue collar comeuppance into a grisly, intense little sleeper, The Prowler still isn’t getting the respect it deserves. My Bloody Valentine’s stock has gone up a lot recently thanks to the 3D remake and, more importantly for slasher buffs, an uncut DVD and Blu-ray from last year. Looking to match, Blue Underground is re-releasing The Prowler (which, along with Shock Waves and The Toolbox Murders, was their first ever release as a company) on Blu-ray. Let’s see whether this upgrade deserves a rose for its restoration or a prompt pitchfork to the paunch.
Avalon Bay, 1945: The war is over and the town is ready to celebrate at their annual high school graduation ball. The soldiers are back home, and there’s a newfound sense of optimism in the community. There’s one citizen, though, who ain’t so smiley. After a vintage montage of wartime propaganda, we’re then read a somber “Dear John” letter. Despite her promise to the contrary, Rosemary just couldn’t wait around anymore. She leaves the unnamed soldier behind in order to take up with one of the city’s bourgeois boys. The new man even chastises Rosemary because her father isn’t as rich as his. Needless to say, he’s going to die. The soldier comes back in full uniform, and while the couple are necking on the dock takes his weapon of choice, the pitchfork, and plunders it through them both. He leaves a rose in Rosemary’s bloodied and lifeless hand, and needless to say, the town doesn’t hold a dance for a very, very long time.
Thirty-five years later, though, the town of Avalon Bay is ready to move on. Pam MacDonald (Vicky Dawson of the steadfast, doe-eyed Amy Steel variety of Final Girls) and her friends are heading plans for the new dance. Problems are a brew elsewhere, though, since a robber from a town a few miles over just slaughtered his victim and is still at large. This seems to have been the red herring du jour, since Prom Night also relied heavily on a sub-plot about an escaped felon a few towns over. Not only is a killer at large, but the sheriff is also off for the weekend for his annual summer fishing trip. When asked why he doesn’t stay in light of the recent threat to society, he responds simply that he’ll get grumpy if he misses his trip like clockwork. Sounds like a good reason to me. Oh, and there’s also a creepy old man from across the dorm who likes to watch the girls change. Rosemary’s father never did take to her killing so well, either. That enough suspects for you?
Wasting no time, the killer starts to inflict his pain well before the dance even starts, making a house call to dispel, again by pitchfork, one of Pam’s looser roommates. Her boyfriend gets a dagger through the skull. Before Pam even gets wind of any of this, though, she’s on edge about that robber at large, and instills the protection and help of her wannabe love interest, Deputy Mark London (Christopher Goutman). When he finally arrives at the dance to protect her, he accidentally spills punch on her fresh pastel dress (looking at it now, does it really make it any worse?) and she storms off in a hissy to go home and change it. That becomes the last of her worries, though, as the soldier in suit takes out his victims one by one to make sure Avalon Bay will never forget the contributions of their enlistees.
The Prowler was written unceremoniously by the team of Glenn Leopold and Neal F. Barbera, who’d later go on to pen another slasher, Too Scared to Scream a few years later. If you recognized the Barbera name you’re right in assuming Neal is the son of Joseph Barbera – partner of William Hanna and the man responsible for most of the cartoons we all watched as a kid. Both of The Prowler’s writers would basically write only for all the Hanna Barbera cartoons for the remainder of their careers and it’s no surprise, because the story certainly isn’t The Prowler’s strong point. There are a lot of glaring inconsistencies in the story, like how Rosemary and a lot of the soldiers are attending the high school grad, despite the fact that anyone in the war would have been over eighteen when they enlisted and probably closer to mid-twenties at the time of the dance. The other big one is the identity of the soldier, who you’d think would play a pretty key point in the investigations but is instead overlooked by everyone, including the police. Wouldn’t he have been the key suspect in Rosemary’s murder? Certainly a wartime romance like that doesn’t fly under the radar, especially with Rosemary’s father, who they say still couldn’t put all the pieces together after the murder. The ultimate reveal of the killer is not natural – it’s a twist that was strained and achieved only by making the characters dumber than the audience. It should be clear right from the start who the killer is, right down to his ludicrous alibi.
There’s all that and the fact that the murder timeline and geography never quite add up. The killer seems to be in several places at once and many of the other character actions don’t add up. For being so scared of this on-the-loose robber, Final Girl Pam really seems to have no fear about wandering off onto the dark streets to change her frumpy dress, or repeatedly walking backwards into oh-geez-it-was-just-my-friend-sneaking-up-on-me jump scares. The film also squanders its potential for social critique, both when it comes to shell shock or war and its effect on culture, and even the class relations thrown about initially with Rosemary and her new lover. Despite a novel concept for revenge – a war vet scorned, the script serves as a pretty poor blueprint for the rest of the film. But of course, that’s not the reason why we’re talking about The Prowler thirty years later.
The Prowler stands tall as one of the genre’s elite because of the one-two punch of Director Joseph Zito and Effects Artist Tom Savini. Zito would go on to helm Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, of course, but more importantly he’d go on to direct a number of quality eighties action pictures. It’s his sensibility for tight pacing, taut action and visceral brutality that gave his action films weight, and even with an early picture like The Prowler, he really demonstrates his command for affecting storytelling. The Prowler moves at a quick clip – the killer doesn’t take much time at all between the 1945 double-murder and all the 1980 impalings. Even though he’s silent and suited, the killer is still able to exude a telling personality. He kills with an efficiency and a knack for weaponry that alludes to his history as a soldier. It makes sense. There are so many slashers out there where the killer has superhuman strength and a command for every weapon in the book (sorry, but retarded eight-year-olds don’t not grow up learning how to wield a weed wacker), but in The Prowler it actually makes sense.
One of the other strengths Zito really brings to the film is a playful sense of looseness between the characters and the audience. His actors often deliver some of the pun-laden dialogue (“DEAD tired”) with a sort of playfulness that doesn’t even cross the line but still acknowledges the audience (similar to Teddy and his silent-film watching in The Final Chapter). You can tell the kind of off the cuff quips by the characters or the natural looks, gestures and actions of the cast weren’t something found in the script. They clearly have the stamp of a director with a flair for finding the natural instincts in his actors. You can see Zito’s stamp all over this, from the camaraderie of his cast right down to individual scenes, like the bit where Pam’s girlfriend flashes the old man from her window, which bears more than a casual resemblance to Corey Feldman’s bedside eyeful in Zito's Friday. Zito recognizes the zest that defines youth, and even if all his actors look well past seventeen, or however old you need to be to go to a high school grad, he definitely is able to bring out the qualities that make young people in horror movies so engaging. It’s Zito’s way of making his characters’ exchanges seem natural and their demeanor open and engaging that help elevate the film above its rudimentary script.
For everything Zito brings to the story to make it come through tense and natural, Savini does everything to match. His effects work here is of the same standard he set in Friday the 13th and Maniac, and may even do them both one better because of the sheer breadth of the massacres on display. The standout is certainly the shotgun blast to the face that graces the back of the box (and one he’d do for the first time a few months earlier on Lustig’s Maniac), but the pitchfork penetration in the shower, the knife in the head that shoots out right through the jaw and perhaps the most grisly and realistic throat slit in film, the poolside slash, are all equally memorable. Savini was a photographer in Vietnam, and it’s fitting that he’s able to embody the killer soldier with his flair for clinically astute and graphic death sequences. Of benefit to Savini and the film is the fact that unlike most of his other movies from the time, The Prowler wasn’t subject to ruthless snipping by the MPAA. His great gore work is fully intact here, and that’s probably why each of his deaths just seem that much more visceral than comparable deaths in comparable films.
The great thing about horror movies, and one of the main reasons that it still endures today as a starting point for so many young directors, is that often the skill of one or few can really carry a picture. It’s the Zito-Savini show here, and both use their respective talents to imbue what on paper may be a broken premise into a standout slasher. It may be tougher now for young talents to break out on their own strengths alone, given the amount of digital work required today, but these two guys here prove that a couple passionate artists can make magic the analog way.
This isn’t just a resolution upgrade. Blue Underground has gone back to the source material to really breathe new life into each and every sequence and frame. On all past home video iterations, The Prowler has always looked soft and lacking in overall detail. Part of the reason for this is that like fellow slasher Prom Night, it was shot with a continual fog filter to give the film a hazy glow. Finally, though, on Blu-ray that haze actually comes through as a flourish rather than a hindrance. The white glow is maintained, but the print is surprisingly sharp. I often felt the windowed 3D look while watching this, which is all the more surprising considering the haze. Blue Underground did a great job at really bringing out the fine points of the negative without introducing the digital noise that has impeded their solid restoration work on titles like The Stendhal Syndrome, New York Ripper and City of the Living Dead. There is grain here, no doubt, and sometimes it’s more noticeable scene to scene, likely because some of those dark scenes were pushed to get proper exposure. Still, it’s a lot more consistent and less of a factor than the previous DVD, but more importantly it really looks natural. The entire look of this transfer could be confused for an actual film print if projected big, and that’s always been the goal and the promise of HD and Blue Underground really has delivered here.
Comparing this Blu-ray with the DVD, it’s clear that Blue Underground really did a lot of work re-timing a lot of the scenes. Flesh tones and overall warmth are much more consistent scene to scene, with the blue tinting during the pool scene, for instance, changed to more of a natural orange balance that fits with the rest of the scenes. You’ll notice the colors are a lot more vivid too, right from that first shot of the rose being placed in the slaughtered victim’s hand (and on second inspection, it looks like they did some weird iris color work on just the rose itself on the previous DVD). Colors simply pop here, and the overall film just looks great. Even scenes that were overly dark or grainy on the initial DVD (which, by the way, is eight years old now) now ring a lot more consistent this time around.
In short, everything is better about this new transfer, and it’s exactly what you’d want and expect from a Blu-ray title. It’s been great over the years of DVD getting a lot of the obscure slashers we grew up with on VHS in their original aspect ratio on DVD, but with an HD restoration like this it really gets you hoping all those other bodycount movies make their way to HD, and stat!
While the marked improvement in the visual area was a welcomed surprise, the same cannot be said for the audio. Reading the specs for this release, I was happy to see the film would be expanded to 7.1 in a DTS-HD track. The previous DVD was mono, and it certainly showed it with a limited dynamic range. While this new track definitely exhibits a fuller, cleaner sound, it’s sadly restrained almost entirely to the center channel. There’s a bit of bleed into the other front channels, but nothing discreet, and the rears and sub are completely unused. There were a few times where dialogue seemed soft to the dance music in the background, but overall the entire track is certainly more than audible. Given it’s an old mono film, this is a nice mono transfer, but the DTS-HD 7.1 designation certainly misrepresents what’s really just a cleaned up one channel affair. Somewhat redundantly, the original mono track is also included, as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track.
In a nutshell, we’ve gone eight years and have lost a poster and still gallery. Par for the course when it comes to the new Blue Underground Blu-rays. The features that have been retained, though, are some of the grails of slasher supplements.
The first big extra is a group commentary with the real two stars of the show, Director Joseph Zito and Effects Artist Tom Savini. The two settle in like the familiar old buddies they are and have no problem talking and laughing through the track. Zito came prepared with a notes and trivia, and has no problem dishing on the props he hated from the film, or the shooting locations or any other details. He even reveals that he still has the Pamela Voorhees tombstone from The Final Chapter. Savini proves a good moderator in getting Zito to open up about some details on the production, but himself isn’t shy in explaining elements from the film as well. It’s a fun, comforting track with a couple of old dogs that more than deserve the listen!
The big ticket extra, though, is the nine-minute reel of behind-the-scenes gore footage from the film. Shot on video, it provides a different angle (and longer duration) of most of the major death sequences in the film, including the infamous shotgun blast. It shows Savini and the crew at work, and is probably the most vivid footage we have of what it was like to be doing effects back in the golden age of splatter. It’s a must see for any fan Savini or the time period in general.
Lastly, there’s the original theatrical trailer presented in HD. Nice. It should be noted that the title card in the trailer (with the thicker serif font) was previously used for the feature film on the DVD. On this new Blu-ray, though, they’ve used a different font for the film title that matches the film (and the period) much better. That was the only discernible difference I could find between the two transfers - they run the exact same length, to the frame.
The Prowler is, on paper, a novel revenge story hindered by plot holes, conveniences and loose ends. Under Joseph Zito, though, it’s a tense and brutal murder picture with exuberant characters and memorable exchanges. Under Tom Savini, it’s a gorehound’s delight, with throat-slits, flesh penetrations and exploding brain matter with a realism fit for war. Together, the two combine for a slasher tour de force that proves the story is all in the telling. Blue Underground has presented this story with similar flair too, with one of the best restorations yet for this HD format. The visual upgrade demands you put a rose in your old DVD and send it to heaven. The sound isn’t as glorified as the DTS-HD 7.1 spec seems, instead just glorified mono, but it still sounds very clean and clear. The commentary and behind-the-scenes gore footage are the stuff of slasher legend, and they’re again outfitted in this stellar package. I give a soldier’s salute to Joseph Zito and Tom Savini, for they took what otherwise would be a modest slasher into one of the genre’s elite. Blue Underground has done the same with this Blu-ray, and this should be in every slasher fan’s collection. Now.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Awesome review! I pre-ordered this long ago, and can't wait to get this baby!
Dammit! I already own the DVD, and I've been trying to find an excuse to NOT buy the blu-ray.
Those screen comparisons are not helping. :)
Thanks for the review!
Great review. Comments made on this board had kept me from pre-ordering because the assumption the image was so soft that blu-ray wouldn't make for much of an upgrade. I'm glad to see BU did such a great job. I've got a pre-order in at Deep Discount now.
I was going to get this anyway, but those screengrabs look amazing (I really want Prom Night on blu-ray now, I'd love to see how good they could get that one to look). Jesus, those images (especially the the pool throat slashing screengrab you have there) have an amazingly high level of clarity. I also like how they took the blue tint out of the film. It made those night scenes too muddled and dark.
Oddly, they seem to have changed the font of the opening title on the blu-ray. I wonder what prompted them to do that.
The thing I didn't like about the Prowler is that the location seems to be too confined in/around one building. The killer should have made the rounds around the town more, and the script should have somehow had the teens have to go around town as well.
I read somewhere that Tom Savini was offered to do effects for some early 80s slasher about a killer in an apartment building who used different parts of a knife to murder people. He claimed it was ridiculous that he was getting offers to do slashers all the time. I always had a hunch it may have been "Too Scared To Scream" but who knows for sure
The screenshot comparisons look really great but I really don't think it justifies me getting a bluray player, unless I got one free or won one or something.
My dvd of the Prowler will do me fine
Another funny thing I noticed watching the film again - not only does Vicky Dawson look like Amy Steel, but she also has a scene where she's hiding from the killer under a piece of furniture, only to be startled by a rat while the killer stands right in front of her. Both this and FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART 2 were made in tandem...it's pretty crazy that there's a coincidence that strong between the two movies.
Haha I just noticed. The quote on the back of the case is taken from the original DVD review of The Prowler on Horror Digital.
Yeah, Blue Underground has a knack for quoting the best sites...
One of my favorite slashers,Savani often sites this as featuring his best work.The review makes the upgrade seem great but I can't help buy wonder if the disc has the same issue with the blue light sheen being removed from some scenes that bothered many fans when HALLOWEEN got it's upgrade some years ago.Can anyone who owns the new disc comment on the blue cast being wiped out from the new PROWLER,The screen grabs certainly look less tinted ?
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