The Prowler

3 out of 5

Directed by: Joseph Zito

Cult movies are probably best experienced “fresh” in some way – when you’re so new to the genre that you don’t have much to which to compare, or you’re unaware of the flick’s reputation; you have low or no expectations, and the qualities that made it stand out to the folks who turned it in to a cult flick are better able to catch you off guard.

When it comes to horror, and you’ve trawled your way through plenty of slashers and gore fests, the guidelines are there for appreciating movies like The Prowler, but they’re also clearly not classics for a reason. However, I can surely sense that this would’ve easily stuck out if I’d seen it in one of the “fresh” scenarios mentioned above: it’s got some pretty great kills (thanks, Tom Savini!), a nicely underplayed soundtrack by the great Richard Einhorn, and it’s actually structured and written pretty solidly, hitting its shower scene / dumb locals horror movie marks, but keeping things roped in with believable dialogue and acting. Sure, teens wander off for sex, but they also know to question when things seem awry, or to laugh off the suggestion that a noise was “the wind” when they’re in an enclosed basement. Sure, someone gets naked and stabbed in that state, but we don’t stick around to ogle – it’s (as much as these things can be) a fairly plot driven scene. And our lead girl, Pam (Vicky Dawson) and guy, Deputy Mark (Christopher Goutman), skirt typical couple dynamics – they actually talk and listen to one another; she shrieks on occasion and he tells her to wait in the car, but they tend to work together more often than not. All this stuff is pretty refreshing.

But there’s an awful lot of plodding inbetween, and director Joseph Zito and editor Joel Goodman just handle it in a very workman-like manner – nothing is particularly used to create mood; the plodding is not in service of building up to anything. Thus when our slasher shows up, it’s pretty underwhelming, leaving us to just kinda wait on those kills, and appreciating the moments surrounding the lulls. Tightened up, there’s a strong slasher here, perhaps telegraphing its whodunnit, but also respectably leaving most of the explanations up to the viewer, which makes its gratuitous final kill actually pretty powerful – a lingering sadness which carries over to its equally strong coda.

In The Prowler, a killing from 1945 during a graduation ceremony hangs in the memory of a California town, preventing similar ceremonies from being held for several decades thereafter. Finally, in 1980, they’re giving it another go. Alas, killings mimicking that 1945 event – the murderer brandishing a pitchfork, and masked, of course – begin anew. Pam and Mark key in to the going-ons, and try to find the culprit as the deaths stack up…