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).


Reazione a catena (1971)

... aka: Antecedent, The
... aka: Bay of Blood, A
... aka: Bloodbath
... aka: Bloodbath Bay of Death
... aka: Carnage
... aka: Chain Reaction
... aka: Ecology of a Crime
... aka: Last House on the Left Pt. II
... aka: Twitch of the Death Nerve

Directed by:
Mario Bava

Frequently cited as the inspiration behind FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) and countless other gore-drenched slasher / body count movies (particularly those with a rural setting), this is a very entertaining and highly influential film from Mario Bava, which both showcases the director / cinematographer's arresting signature style and pushes the boundaries of on-screen violence. The first five minutes alone - which lull us into our picturesque and tranquil setting before the abrupt first murder occurs - show more visual imagination than the majority of the later slasher flicks do in their entirety... if they're especially good examples of their kind!

Wealthy, wheelchair-bound Countess Federica Donati (Isa Miranda) soaks in her surroundings right before her husband Filippo (Giovanni Nuvoletti) decides to hang her. But before he can even leave the crime scene, someone sneaks in and stabs him to death. Whoever killed Filippo has hidden his body so he's officially missing but has left the forged suicide note and the Countess's body so she's written off as a suicide. Architect Frank Ventura (Chris Avram), who owns property there and wants to turn the place into a resort, heads off to the bay to look into things. We then get to meet our roster of possible suspects and probable victims. Insect collector Paolo Fossati (Leopoldo Trieste) seems to get pleasure in capturing and killing bugs, accidentally lets slip that the Countess has been murdered when it's been judged a suicide by police and also shows to have a true distaste for anyone who wants to develop the area (which would include Frank and several others). Paolo's wife Anna (Laura Betti, who also appeared in Bava's HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON) is an eccentric psychic whose recent tarot cards have been spelling doom for the bay, but her husband isn't listening. Nor is anyone else.

Frank's secretary / mistress Laura (Anna Maria Rosati) will eventually swing by for a visit and there's also fisherman and watchman Simon (Claudio "Volonté" / Camaso), the Countess' illegitimate son, and another couple, Renata (Claudine Auger) and Albert (Luigi Pistilli), who are staying in a camper near the lake with their two small children (Renato Cestiè and Nicoletta Elmi). Renata is Filippo's daughter and claims that she's there searching for her father, but she and her husband seem to be up to other things. Four young folks have the misfortune of showing up at the bay at the wrong time and get caught in the crossfire. While her friends are off breaking into one of the cottages, Brunhilda (Brigitte Skay) decides to go skinny dipping in the lake, where, her foot gets tangled up in a rope and pulls up Filippo's fresh corpse, which was weighed down there. Before she can reach her friends, she gets a sickle to the throat. The killer then decides to take care of her friends, sinking a blade into one guy's face and then spearing the other couple as they make love. Many others will soon be butchered themselves and it's all pretty much fueled by greed.

There are lots of wonderfully composed shots of the lake set to Stelvio Cipriani's classic score, tons of zooms, pans and killer POV shots and many other death / gore scenes, including strangulation with telephone cord, an axe decapitation, a spearing and a stabbing with scissors. It's pretty amazing how much FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART II (1981) managed to get away with when it comes to plagiarizing it. Bay also boasts one of the screwiest, most convoluted plots ever. I won't give too much away, but once all is said and done and all the twists have been revealed, the film has no less than six different killers! It's all done rather playfully and tongue-in-cheek as the surprise ending certainly attests, though conceptually it works on another level; coupling savagery and the ills of man (greed, backstabbing) with the beauty and serenity of nature.

Reazione a catena (which means "Chain Reaction") is one of those films that's been released numerous times under numerous titles. In fact, it's rumored to have more alternate titles than any other film. First theatrically released in the U.S. (heavily censored) under the title A Bay of Blood; a title many of the VHS and DVD issuings have retained, this was reissued under the Bava-approved title Twitch of the Death Nerve. Despite being made a year earlier and having absolutely nothing in common with Craven's film, it was also reissued to theaters as Last House on the Left, Part II. In the UK it was called Blood Bath or Bloodbath Bay of Blood. Elsewhere it was called Carnage. And the list goes on.

Bava had stated in interviews that this is the favorite of all his films. Roberto Rossellini shot some second unit footage and Carlo Rambaldi did the special effects. It won awards from Avoraiz and Sitges Festivals and, in 2005, it was named one of the 50 greatest horror films of all time by Total Film.

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