28 November 2014

(1981)

Also known as Rosemary's Killer internationally, The Prowler was released in 1981 and garnered little critical fanfare. Certainly a major disservice at the time for such a slasher gem.

Directed and produced by Joseph Zito, the film featured fantastic special effects by Tom Savini, some nice tense moments, and an appealing leading lady named Vicky Dawson in the mold of Amy Steel of Friday the 13th Part II.

It is the end of the second World War and newsreel footage shows us the troops returning from Europe onboard the Queen Mary.

In a letter dated March 12 and sent to her lover abroad, a woman named Rosemary writes that she can no longer wait for him. She tells him that so much has happened...and that perhaps they can be friends upon his return.

On June 28, 1945 - the town of Avalon Bay holds it's graduation dance. G.I.s escort their girlfriends to the ball. Inside, the class of '45 are swinging to the orchestra's music.

Rosemary (Joy Glaccum) is attending with her new boyfriend Roy (Timothy Wahrer). The two decide to go off by themselves and drive to a lake where they spend some romantic time together in a gazebo.

Lights are strung up around the gazebo and along the small nearby walkbridge. Ominously, someone approaches the couple and cuts the power. The stranger is wearing full combat gear and carrying a pitchfork.

As Rosemary and Roy embrace, she looks up and sees the pitchfork over them. Rosemary screams and the stranger plunges it through the both of them...and then leaves a long-stemmed red rose in the dead woman's hand. The revelers are oblivious back at the dance.

Thirty five years later, the town prepares for its graduation dance once again. There hasn't been one since that fateful night. Pam MacDonald (Vicky Dawson) stops by to see Sheriff George Fraser (Farley Granger) and they discuss the event.

The discussion turns to Major Chatham (Lawrence Tierney) and his refusal to allow the annual celebrations after the murders all those years ago. The Sheriff tells Pam that someone has robbed a store in the nearby town of Columbus and then cut up a kid and took his car.

Authorities there are afraid the killer is headed towards Avalon. Despite that possibility, the sheriff is leaving town to go fishing. He puts Mark London (Christopher Goutman), his deputy, in charge.

Before Sheriff Fraser takes off, he stops by a convenience store owned by Pat Kingsley (John Seitz). One of the employees is Otto (Bill Hugh Collins), a strange "slow" fellow whom the sheriff seems to mistrust.

Pam and Mark have an attraction for each other and go on a lunch date. She shows him an article she wrote about the return of the graduation dance and tells Mark she's concerned about his safety.

Pam also tells her roommate Sherry (Lisa Dunsheath) that she's worried about the Columbus killer. Sherry tries to calm her friend's nerves while the other girls in the dormitory are excitedly preparing for the dance. Lisa (Cindy Weintraub) even flashes Major Chatham, who's sitting in his wheelchair in the house across from them.

As Pam is putting the finishing touches on her outfit, someone else is getting ready too. But this person is putting on his combat uniform, complete with bayonet, hunting knife, and shotgun.

Sherry gets into the shower, and before Pam heads out, Pam asks her if she should wait. Sherry tells her to leave because she's waiting for her boyfriend Carl (David Sederholm). When Carl shows up, he surprises Sherry in the shower.

Hoping to have a little fun before they leave, he goes into the bedroom to undress. Suddenly, an intruder grabs him from behind and plunges the bayonet through Carl's head until the other end comes out of his neck. The force is so great that the victim's eyes roll back into his head.

Sherry is still in the shower when she sees someone through the curtain approaching. She thinks it's Carl...until the killer pulls the curtain open and is holding a pitchfork. As Sherry screams, he lunges it under her breasts. He then lifts her up as he sticks the pitchfork in further. There's blood everywhere...and the killer leaves a rose on her body.

At the party, Pam is happy to see Mark when he arrives. But before she can talk to him, Lisa pulls him away to dance. Pam stands by the cocktails, frustrated and annoyed. When Mark comes over to talk to her, Lisa follows him.

Tipsy from the alcohol, she knocks into him and he spills some liquor on Pam's dress. Pam is furious and heads back to the dorm to change her outfit.

When Pam gets to her room, she hears the shower running. Still thinking that Sherry is in the shower, she closes the door. Little does she know that Sherry is dead and that the killer is still in the bathroom. The room is dark enough that she doesn't see Carl's blood on the bed. She changes and then leaves.

But as she's going down the stairs, she hears something. Pam looks up at the top of the stairs and sees a dark figure...what looks like a G.I. She gets creeped out and runs through the dorm.

There's no one around and just as the killer comes near her, Pam makes it outside. She knocks right into Major Chatham, who grabs her arm. She breaks free and finds Mark.

When she tells him that someone has been chasing her, he takes his flashlight and searches around the dorm. Mark doesn't find anything besides wheelchair marks.

He returns to his car where Pam is waiting for him - and she tells him to check the dorm because Sherry and Carl are still in there. Mark goes inside and towards the bedroom but the door is locked. He doesn't see that there are two dead bodies in the tub.

Pam and Mark go to Major Chatham's house. It's dark and the old man is nowhere to be found. The killer is in the house and he watches them. During their search, Pam finds an old scrapbook and discovers that Chatham's dead daughter's middle name was Rosemary. She was the girl killed 35 years ago.

The two then go back to the dance, where they tell Miss Allison (Donna Davis) about the prowler on the campus. The teacher tells the students they should stay put and not go out until the person has been apprehended. That message comes too late for Lisa.

Angry that her date Paul has been puking in the bathroom, she's gone to the pool for a late night swim. After doing a few laps, she ascends the stairs of the pool to go back to the party. The killer is standing above her and kicks her in the face.

Shocked by the attack, Lisa tries to swim away but is unable to get her bearings. The killer then comes up from behind, takes his bayonet - and slices her neck. Her body falls lifelessly to the bottom of the water.

Paul wants to leave the dance and find Lisa but the teachers won't let him. He's so drunk and rowdy that he gets thrown out. Mark and Pam take him to the station house, where Mark puts him in a jail cell.

Told that the local cemetary has been desecrated, the two then head out to see what's happened. When they get there, they find Rosemary Chatham's grave dug up. They open the coffin and find Lisa's body in it.

Meanwhile, Miss Allison has left to see if she can find Lisa. She sees blood in the pool and panics. As she tries to run away, the killer grabs her and thrusts the bayonet into her neck.

Mark tries to reach Sheriff Fraser at the lodge he's staying at but can't get in touch with him. Before heading back to Major Chatham's house, Mark tries to drop Pam off at the dance.

She refuses and insists on going with him. When they get there, Mark leaves her for a moment and is knocked unconcious by the killer.

Pam spies a necklace dangling from inside the fireplace and tries to pull it out. Still in her graduation dance dress, Rosemary's skeleton falls out of the chimney. Pam tries to find Mark but is confronted by the killer. She runs through the house trying to get away and hides under a bed.

The madman is now in the same room. Pam makes every attemp to be still...even as a rat comes near her. (Yes, there was an identical scenario used in Friday the 13th Part II the same year.)

Finally, Pam gets up and runs out of the room. She manages to get the pitchfork away from the killer and holds it up for protection as he comes near her.

Just then, Otto from Kingsley's convenience store, enters the room and shoots the prowler. Seconds later, the killer takes out his own shotgun and shoots Otto. Pam stabs the prowler with the pitchfork and they struggle for the shotgun.

The murderer pulls his mask off and Pam is horrified to see his identity. It's been Sheriff Fraser all along. Pam gets the upper hand, points the gun at his head and fires...exploding it to bits.

The next day, Pam returns to the dorm. As the score swells to a slow-moving and lush finale, she goes into the bathroom in her bedroom and opens the shower door. Sherry's body is on the floor of the tub and Carl is hanging from the showerhead by his tie.

Suddenly, Carl's corpse reaches out to grab her. Alas, it's only a shock epilogue a la Carrie. Pam really does discover the bodies, however.

In addition to its British title, this movie is also known as The Graduation.

Jospeh Zito delivers on all fronts with his direction of The Prowler. Raul Lomas did the effective photography and Richard Einhorn composed the music.

Farley Granger is best remembered for his roles in two Hitchcock films, Strangers On a Train and Rope. His presence here adds a measure of respectability to an already fine picture.

Although he was game for the role of Sheriff Fraser, Granger had some difficulty when it came time to make the dummy of him for the final scene. The classic actor whimpered and cried...he just could not deal with being under the head cast.

The 40's flashback is well done - but the real stars are the special effects by Savini. gory The murder scenes are so powerful, you can almost FEEL the ferocity...especially the deaths of Carl and Sherry.

At times, the film has an "uncut" feel; it's nicely graphic, the characters are likable, and the setting is seductively tranquil. Along with My Bloody Valentine, this is one of the best of the "period slashers" and definitely one of the most underrated.

So put on your graduation dance clothes and get ready to be slaughtered by one shellshocked & heartbroken psycho killer in army greens.

Only complaint? The creators of The Prowler could have utilized the disturbed veteran killer motif to much greater benefit. Just imagine the possibilities...grenades, nerve gas, rocket launchers, SCUD missiles....

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