Color, 1981, 89m.
Directed by Joseph Zito
Starring Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Lawrence Tierney, Farley Granger, Cindy Weintraub, Lisa Dunsheath, Thom Bray
Blue Underground (DVD & Blu-Ray, US R0 NTSC/HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DTS-HD 7.1/DD5.1

A Dear John letter sent to a soldier fighting in World War II from his girlfriend, Rosemary, comes back to haunt her college in Avalaon Bay at the 1945 graduation dance when she and her new beau get pitchforked to death while sneaking out for a nocturnal quickie. Thirty-five years later, the college decides to revive the dance tradition after everyone's apparently forgotten why it was banned in the first place apart from Major Chatham (Tierney), the wheelchair-bound weirdo living next door who seems to be a peeping tom and knows the killer was never caught. Meanwhile the town sheriff (Granger) decides to take off for a fishing trip, leaving supervision of the festivities to his young deputy, Mark (future soap director Goutman). As the school gears up for the big bash, Mark's girlfriend, Pam (MacDonald), and her friends are a little jittery about a criminal on the loose breaking into stores and stealing lots of deadly implements. Soon all the students are busy dancing to a Supertramp knockoff band, spiking the punch, trying to score, and winding up sliced and diced one by one by a maniac dressed in WWII military fatigues and wielding a bayonet and pitchfork. With time running out, Mark and Pam have to do some quick detective work to learn the butcher's real identity and motive before they wind up next on the body count list.

The early '80s saw a raft of Halloween and Friday the 13th imitators, most of which ran afoul of an irate MPAA who had run out of patience with gory slasher antics. Interestingly, 1981 saw two films that cheery-picked the same elements from both horror hits into a nearly identical plotline, My Bloody Valentine and The Prowler; both also happened to be among the better offerings of this often-reviled subgenre and regrettably lost many of their gory highlights to achieve an R rating. Eventually both managed to resurface uncut and receive solid reevaluations from fans who could now see how different they actually were. While Valentine is all about atmosphere and quick, shocking jolts of extreme carnage to create an escalating sense of dread, The Prowler is downright nasty. A veritable showcase reel for FX legend Tom Savini (fresh off of Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th), the film contains an eye-popping succesion of attack scenes including a shower murder and a swimming pool attack that come about as close to an American version of New York Ripper as possible. Then there's the climax, a blood-spraying showstopper complete with an applause-worthy shotgun gag and a senseless but effective "gotcha" ending that manages to ape both Carrie and Diabolique. All this mayhem doesn't leave much room for characterization (especially the bland college kids, including a young Thom Bray before Prince of Darkness and TV's Riptide), but on the very positive side, director Joseph Zito does an excellent job with limited resources. The mobile camerawork, clever framing, and moody lighting create a distinctive look for the film, while the death scenes are executed with a great deal of panache. It's no wonder he was soon tapped to direct Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (the series' liveliest entry), and spent the rest of the decade turning out guilty pleasure actioners like Missing in Action, Invasion U.S.A., and Red Scorpion. And would you believe this was written by regular cartoon scribes from Hanna-Barbera?

Even more than most slasher films, The Prowler suffered mightily in the VHS era from a combination of muddy, incomprehensible transfers and rampant censorship, with only die-hard Savini fans singing its praises even if his work could barely be seen. Blue Underground's much-needed DVD was one of their first titles out of the gate and presented the film fully uncut, with a transfer solid enough to do some justice to the shadowy cinematography. Released many years later, the Blu-Ray release offers an equally impressive upgrade as the film benefits trememdously from the increased resolution of HD and the removal of obvious but unavoidable compression hiccups encountered during some of the trickier night scenes. Most of the film looks extremely good, but bear in mind that some scenes (especially the ones with Dawson creeping around dark hallways in the middle third) were obviously shot with very low lighting which causes a huge boost in the amount of film grain. Thankfully that's been left intact here rather than scrubbing it all away, so the detail is still here and very filmic. This film will never look sleek or glossy, but this is about as accurate and impressive a presentation as you could possibly get. (Click one any of the screen grabs for a better idea of how this looks.) While the DVD is mono only, the Blu-Ray carries over that track along with a DTS-HD 7.1 and 5.1 mixes which mainly kick in for the instrumental score, the aforementioned Supertramp-lite performances, and the big band music in the opening scene. It sounds just fine and is tastefully done considering the modest nature of the original source. Apart from the DVD-only image gallery, both releases contain the same extras: the theatrical trailer, a nifty reel of Savini's on-set FX creation footage, and a very enjoyable and often funny audio commentary with Savini and Zito (who obviously focus a lot on the effects procedures, including Granger's nervousness with one key appliance and their rationale for the incoherent stinger ending). Definitely a must-have for slasher fans, this is '80s American horror at its most unflinching and a brilliant example of Savini at his horrific best.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions