Blood & roses: Savage ’80s slasher “The Prowler” features SFX goremeister Tom Savini’s best work

By on February 1, 2019

Ever since its theatrical release in August of 1981, Joseph Zito’s savage slasher The Prowler has acquired a substantial cult following, particularly because SFX goremeister Tom Savini elevated this film’s simplistic storyline to certifiable cult status.

Check out The Prowler — this surprisingly strong slasher, one of the best from the early ’80s, is presented completely uncut and uncensored from Blue Underground for all you sickos — which you’ll now find streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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The Prowler — which is slightly NSFW for a little bit of full-frontal nakedness in one shower scene, not to mention all the buckets of spilled blood — belongs in the sub-set of ’80s slasher films set on college and high school campuses, a list which includes Black Christmas, Night School, Hell Night and Splatter University.

It additionally it belongs to the list of films in which a killer is suffering from some kind of deadly “past trauma” from decades earlier which causes him to go berserk on the anniversary of an infamous date in which death had been visited upon innocent victims (the plot here, by the way, is nearly identical to another 1981 slasher, My Bloody Valentine).

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We’re first shown a prologue sequence with black & white newsreel footage showing American soldiers returning from Europe after fighting in World War II.

It’s soon revealed how — in the sleepy fictional town of Avalon Bay, California, on Graduation Day (June 28, 1945)  — there had been a grisly double murder.

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A young woman, “Rosemary Chatham” and her date, “Roy,” are shown being brutally slain by a prowler.

The killer — thought to be a jilted soldier returning home after serving overseas to find that his girl now has a new beau — was never found, and the murders were considered so vicious that the town’s inhabitants have been banned from holding another Graduation Ball.

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Then, we cut to the present day, some thirty-plus years later on June 28, 1980.

The town has now decided to allow the Pritcher School for Girls graduation day dance to be held once again.

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That decision proves to be fatal, as it apparently brings back to life the Prowler, a mysterious helmet-wearing psychopath wearing WWII G.I. military fatigues.

The Prowler dispatches his new victims with a pitchfork and a bayonet blade, razor-sharp instruments of savagery and bloody death.

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Read more about The Prowler below.

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The Prowler stars Vicky Dawson as plucky college newspaper reporter “Pam MacDonald.”

The clever heroine of this story has been allowed to organize the town’s first graduation ball in thirty-five years along with her friends “Lisa” (Cindy Weintraub ), “Sherry” (Lisa Dunsheath) and Sherry’s love interest “Carl” (David Sederholm).

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Christopher Goutman is also top-billed as Pam’s boyfriend, “Deputy Mark London,” who is left in charge after his boss — “Sheriff George Fraser” (Farley Granger) — informs him that a prowler may be on his way to the town before he splits for the weekend.

Granger — best known for his two collaborations with director Alfred Hitchcock, 1948’s Rope and 1951’s Strangers on a Train — was apparently cast in this low-budget slasher because he was taking an acting class with the wife of one of the film’s investors.

Hollywood acting legend Lawrence Tierney also appears as the wheelchair-bond “Major Chatham.”

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Principal photography — cinematographer Raoul Lomas does an excellent job of setting the film’s sombre tone — actually took place in Cape May, New Jersey, not California.

The film was shot over a period of six weeks, and many of the townspeople appeared as extras.

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Some of the city’s Victorian buildings were also used, including the Colonial Hotel on Ocean Street (or “Inn of Cape May” as its currently known), which was the location of the school dance scenes and dormroom interiors.

The gazebo scene was filmed at Seaville United Methodist Church (Route 9 South in Seaville, NJ), and the Emlen Physick Estate (which was a museum back in 1981) was the location of Major Chatham’s home.

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Tom Savini, “the Sultan of Splatter,” has apparently been quoted as saying that The Prowler, which he began working on another completing work on another slasher, Maniac, features his best work, but we’re not sure where the source of that quote comes from, and whether Savini still believes it’s true.

Director Joseph Zito — who just a few years later would work again with Savini on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter — decided to self-distribute The Prowler himself.

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Zito would later say this decision hurt the film’s box office chances (he’d previously turned down an offer from AVCO Embassy pictures which was less than the film’s $1 million production budget).

After its initial premiere in August ’81, The Prowler — co-written by Glenn Leopold and Neal Barbera — was given wider distribution in November that same year.

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Incidentally, The Prowler — which was first released theatrically as Rosemary’s Killer, as well as The Graduation in some movie markets– was also, for some unknown reason, released as Pitchfork Massacre in a handful of theaters in North and South Carolina in 1984.

The German-language version of the film — which curiously omits all of the film’s gore scenes, including the revelation of the killer’s identity — is titled Die Forke des Todes (The Pitchfork of Death).

Watch The Prowler and other slasher films on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.