The Prowler (1981), directed by Joseph Zito

The Prowler has some rep in some circles for being a slasher classic. It’s from that late ’70s, early ’80s period of classic slasher films, so I figured it had to be worth watching.

Well, it is worth watching but it would be a stretch to associate the word “classic” with it.

The movie is about a soldier who gets dumped by his sweetheart via letter while he is overseas during the Second World War. War ends, he comes home, there’s a graduation dance and he kills the woman and her new beau with a pitchfork.

Over 30 years later the kids of the town are hosting the first graduation dance since that fateful night. It’s looking to be a hell of a good night, what with ’80s hair, drinking and promised promiscuity, but someone else is getting ready for a big night too. Only he’s wearing army boats and bringing a bayonet and sawed off shotgun as his date.

I have to say, The Prowler is pretty weak, all told. It’s a bad sign when the actual filmmakers never got too far beyond what I thought looked cool about the movie, namely a killer in a Second World War getup. Like me, they seemed to have thought “That will be creepy!” and then ran out of creative juices.

Because the plot makes no real sense. Sure, the guy comes back and kills the girl that sent him a “Dear John” letter while he was overseas. I get that. But I seemed to have missed the plot point the DVD box explains, that the dance held in present day in the movie was the first since the one with murder 35 years early. So I couldn’t understand why this killer arbitrarily came back on this particular year.

Who the killer is is incredibly obvious (even for me, and I never figure these things out, typically because I don’t want to) and his motives for the slayings are never explored. I don’t need a deep psychological profile of the man, but he could have yelled out “They’ll break your hearts!” or “Long live the new flesh!” or something, anything, as they dragged him away. I wanted to know why he did it. Instead you just find out who it was and that’s meant to be enough.

It also makes very little logistical sense, as this killer manages to be in all places at all times. And what happened to Major Chatham? Was he in on the deal? Why did he grab that girl’s hand? Also, what happened to the two in the basement? I guess that was just a red herring. And why does the thing that happens at the end happen? Is he a zombie? That made no sense.

It’s not that I demand a particularly high quality from my 1980s slasher movies, but some sort of semblance of sense and thought really helps tie everything together. This is one of those slasher films that relies purely on having “good kills.” And it does, if that’s your thing. They’re kind of tame by today’s standards, I guess, but there’s a knife through a head scene and a throat cut in a pool scene that are pretty gnarly. They creeped me out anyway.

The girl getting pitchforked in the shower is also uncomfortably creepy and violent, and I can’t say if I’ve ever seen a woman murdered in a slasher while she was naked. But I probably have. Anyway, leave your feminist hat at the door for this one. Or don’t see it all. Up to you.

Another thing that struck me is that this film ostensibly has the same plot as My Bloody Valentine, a Canadian slasher that came out the same year. Just switch the World War 2 dude for a miner, and bam, same film. Only My Bloody Valentine makes a heck of a lot more sense and, despite being of a notably low quality, is still much better than The Prowler. I just wonder how they managed to end up so similar…

Anyway, I love watching these types of slasher movies even if they are terrible, so really, I have to recommend The Prowler because it is what it is and I still had some fun watching it. Maybe that makes me sick, but I’m OK with that. I certainly won’t be watching it again anytime soon, and would recommend My Bloody Valentine or the first couple Friday the 13ths before this one, but if you’re into the genre I guess this is an essential.

Horror Pledge continues.

The Prowler is available on home video.