Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Prowler, The (1981)

... aka: Graduation, The
... aka: Rosemary's Killer

Directed by:
Joseph Zito

In the Summer of 1945, a soldier - already one of the many "psychological victims of war" - receives a Dear John letter from his girlfriend Rosemary (Joy Glaccum), which just makes things worse. Instead of moving on with his life, the soldier decides to go to Pritcher College's graduation dance and surprise his former girl and her new date by pushing a pitchfork through both of their bodies. Jump ahead to 1980. Since that double murder took place thirty-five years earlier, Rosemary's father Major Chatham (Lawrence Tierney) has made sure the annual dance hasn't taken place. Now unable to really do anything about it (he's recently had a stroke and is confined to a wheelchair), Pam MacDonald (Vicky Dawson) and a handful of her friends decide to reinstate the tradition. Pam's a little worried about a local robbery and murder, but her boyfriend, Deputy Mark London (Christopher Goutman), assures her everything will be fine. After all, Mark's been put in charge while his superior, Sheriff George Fraser (Farley Granger), is away on vacation, so he'll be able to check in on things. But rest assured horror fiends, the punch isn't the only thing about to get spiked.

The night of the big dance, Pam and two of her roommates, Lisa (Cindy Weintraub) and Sally (Diane Rode), head out for the dance, leaving straggler Sherry (Lisa Dunsheath) behind in the shower. Sherry's boyfriend shows up... and so does some well-armed nut dressed in military fatigues. He sticks a bayonet through the boyfriend's head and then pitchforks Sherry. At the dance, Pam gets jealous when Mark shows up and starts dancing with Lisa. After accidentally getting punch spilled on her, so she heads back to the dorms to change, encounters the killer and is chased around in the dorm. She ends up outside, where Major Chatham makes a grab for her. Mark shows up. The two investigate Major Chatham's home and find a photo album with a pressed rose inside. Since a rose was left at the crime scene 35 years earlier (and the killer was never caught), could Major Chatham be the killer? Considering he can't talk, can't leave his wheelchair and can't do much of anything else, I seriously doubt it.

The Prowler is riddled with the same problems that burden most other slasher flicks. It's formulaic, predictable, there's little actual plot and a tendency towards fumbling around with silly red herrings (including a general store owner who acts strange for no good reason and his slow-witted deliveryman) when the killer's identity is obvious. Some of the victims are victims, of course, because they're complete idiots who wander away from the dance by themselves when they're specifically told not to. Uneven writing and a lack of originality aside, this is a competently made for what it is. And once it starts to settle down towards the end and our heroine has to face off against the killer by herself, the movie manages to actually generate some suspense. It's also topped off with a CARRIE-like final shock, which is surprisingly effective.

Tom Savini (who considers this some of his best work) was in charge of the makeup effects and does a typically fine job here. There are several bloody neck slashings and, during the film's most memorably gory bit, a head gets blown off with a shotgun (it's not quite as good as the similar Savini scene in MANIAC but it'll do). The cast is also pretty decent. Granger and Tierney, the two big names in the cast, have about five minutes of screen time between them and not much to do, but the lesser-knowns aren't bad at all. In particular, Dawson - who reminds one of FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART II star Amy Steel - makes for an appealing heroine and does a fine job carrying things. There's even a scene in here where she's hiding under the bed trying to stay quiet while the killer searches a room and a mouse crawls up to her, which is almost identical to a scene in Friday II. Except she doesn't piss her pants.

Filmed as The Graduation and also released under the title Rosemary's Killer, this underperformed in theaters has been well-serviced over the years on home video. There were numerous video releases and DVD and Blu-ray releases through Blue Underground. Director Zito also made BLOOD RAGE (1979) and FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984). Clips from this also helped to round out the documentary GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FLICK (2009).


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