Probably the most popular device within the slasher genre is the masked killer. Perhaps it is because it conceals the killer’s true identity (although this would be redundant with Halloween and the Friday the 13th sequels), or maybe it just adds an air of menace around the antagonist. Either way, with few exceptions this is often an asset and allows the viewer instant recognition with the film’s boogeyman. Some attempts at creating an unnerving mask have proved futile but when they seem a little more familiar and believable then the effects can be truly disturbing. Take My Bloody Valentine, for example, with the killer’s choice being a miner’s mask, a decision which sends a shiver down the viewer’s spine (accompanied by heavy breathing). Another is the combat mask that the maniac in Joseph Zito’s criminally underrated stylish thriller The Prowler wears, provoking a similar reaction. Maybe it is the sight of a soldier dressed to kill that immediately evokes danger, or perhaps the fear goes much deeper, but either way it is an image which stays with the audience long after the film has ended.
As the Second World War comes to an end, it is Graduation Day and the party is in full swing. Rosemary, who recently broke up with her boyfriend by letter (he was fighting overseas), decides to take a walk with a young man and they come to rest on a gazebo, where they start to make out. An ominous figure creeps up on them and stabs a pitchfork deep through them both. Thirty five years later and the town is organising its first Graduation Dance since that tragic day but the killer has not forgotten, as he stalks and slashes his way through the local population. The Deputy, filling in for the Sheriff who is out of town on vacation, is forced to launch an investigation and sets out to find the real killer, Rosemary’s jilted ex who once again punishes young lovers. His primary target this time around is virginal Pam MacDonald (Vicky Dawson, who seems cut from the same mould as Friday the 13th Part 2‘s Amy Steel), who assists the Deputy in his search for the true killer.
The Prowler served as an appropriate training ground for Zito, who would one day direct Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. The pace is tight, the acting is surprisingly impressive and the cinematography (particularly the introduction, set in the 1940’s) is stunning. The screenplay, by Scooby-Doo scribe Neal Barbera and Flintstones regular Glenn Leopold displays a maturity uncommon in many of the slashers of the era. The filmmakers’ decision to base the story around the investigations of the Deputy, as opposed to the standard horny kids in peril formula (though we are treated to a few randy teens), adds a new spin, with Cillian Murphy look-a-like Christopher Goutman handling the lead impressively. Along with the new blood there are a few screen veterans to lend the movie some class, including Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train) and Lawrence Tierney (who had appeared in Zito’s debut Abduction).
But without a doubt the movie’s strongest and most talked about asset is its groundbreaking special effects, courtesy of Friday the 13th‘s Tom Savini. By far his most impressive work, his gruesome makeup includes a pitchfork being stabbed through several stomachs and a rather nauseating throat slashing (with the help of a bayonet). The effects were convincing enough for the movie to run into censorship trouble in Britain, where it was eventually released as Rosemary’s Killer, although thankfully the films manages to stand on its own two feet even without the bloodletting. Over the years, The Prowler has become a favourite among many slasher fans due to its fresh spin on the genre but, more importantly, the brutal violence that is littered throughout, which results in an impressive head shot to rival Savini’s previous attempt on Maniac.