The Prowler (1981) by #JosephZito
An unknown killer stalks college kids at an annual Spring Dance. Special Makeup FX by #TomSavini
— Angus Kohm (@AngusKohm) August 8, 2020
I first saw The Prowler (1981) with a couple of friends back the ’80s. We were all blown away by the Special Makeup FX by Tom Savini. We had seen The Burning (1981) and been disappointed that most of the gore had been cut out. We had also seen plenty of other slasher films with sub-par gore FX. So, The Prowler was quite a mind-blowing experience for us.
We also liked the story of The Prowler, and the mystery aspect worked for us. In other words, we did not figure out who the killer was and were legitimately surprised by the revelation. This was not so common when watching the less accomplished slasher films of the day.
Fast forward a few years, and I had become a collector of movies on VHS. They had been too expensive at first. And not that many places would even sell them. But by the ’90s there were a lot of video stores that would routinely sell used movies for a decent price. Every once in a while, I would borrow the old beat-up station wagon from my parents and my friend Brian and I would drive all over town, visiting video stores and looking for good deals on used movies.
We popped into one store that we had never visited and my friend excitedly grabbed a box from a shelf. It was VHS copy of The Prowler released by Astral Video. We had never seen a copy of the movie on sale before, and we had never seen this particular box. The price sticker said $15.00, which was a little high for a used VHS tape at that time. My friend took the box up to the counter and asked the owner if she would consider taking $10.00 for the movie. She thought about it for a minute, letting us know that this was a really difficult decision. Then she said “Ten dollars plus tax?”
My friend agreed and he went home very excited that night, with one of the holy grails of horror movie collecting (at least to us). He reported back to me that the tape was in perfect shape, and the movie was uncut, with all of Tom Savini’s beautiful gore intact. I must admit, I was a just a little bit jealous.
The next time we went out video store hopping, we came upon a second location of the store where Brian had found his cherished copy of The Prowler. We went inside and discovered a second, identical Astral Video VHS box of the movie on sale for the same price of $15.00. I did exactly what Brian had done last time, and wound up paying ten dollars plus tax for my very own copy of this slasher classic.
Later that night, when I slipped the tape into my VCR and prepared to have my mind blown all over again, I made a horrifying discovery. My copy of the The Prowler was censored – all of the gore was cut out! What the hell? I examined the box closely. It was identical to the box that Brian had purchased. Often one version would say R-rated, and the other would say Unrated. Or the listed running times would be different. There were no tell tale signs on my box that suggested it would be anything other than the complete, uncut film. I was not happy.
Brian came up with an idea: what if we put our VCRs together and copy his uncut movie onto my censored tape? It sounded like a plan to me. I was somewhat worried that the quality of my copy wouldn’t be as good, but it’s not like I was ever going to watch the censored version anyway. It was worth the risk.
Thankfully, it worked beautifully. And for years it was what I would watch whenever I had a hankering to see that film again. I eventually picked up a second VHS tape, this one by VCII. And now I have the blu-ray, which is what I watched last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.
The movie still works for me. Aside from the things I already mentioned, I was always impressed by the fact that it starts with a pretty convincing period sequence set in 1945 (right after World War II). They had period automobiles and everything. This is, I believe, a unique achievement in a low budget slasher filmmaking.
Many people cite their admiration for the “final girl” of this movie, and I like her, too. Pam, played by Vicky Dawson, seems to be a more active main character than many. She finds out very early on that something is wrong and she spends the rest of the film, with the help of equally likeable Deputy Sheriff Mark, trying to solve the mystery. In a lesser slasher film, her character would have simply waited around to get attacked in the final reel.
Legendary (notorious?) Hollywood actor Lawrence Tierney, who had been in films like Dillinger (1945) and Back to Bataan (1945), appears in The Prowler as Major Chatham, who seems to run the college. His part is ridiculously small, so this was clearly from the period when his name still meant something, but his career was on the skids. He made a bit of comeback later with Reservoir Dogs (1992) and an appearance on Seinfeld as Elaine’s scary father.
The Prowler (1981) will always be a special movie for me. I’m not sure how successful it was originally. It never spawned sequels or a remake. Some people don’t care for it as much as I do, and I can understand that. But it’s one of my favourite slasher films, and a piece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that I will treasure until the day I meet a masked psychopath in an empty college dorm. I could watch it anytime, anyplace, any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.