A masked, fatigue wearing maniac stalks the graduation dance of a college in Avalon Bay in Joseph Zito's The Prowler, one of the forgotten gems from the slasher boom of the 1980's. Brought back from the brink of obscurity by Blue Underground on DVD in 2003, the extremely gory, uncut version of the film is widely regarded as FX wizard Tom Savini’s finest hour, and, now, with Blue Underground’s Blu-ray release of the film, fans can pore over every grisly detail in glorious high definition!
Pam McDonald (Vicky Dawson) and her friends are preparing for the first graduation dance in the quiet town of Avalon Bay since the murder of “Rose” Chatham at a similar dance more than thirty years prior. Local Sheriff Fraser (Farley Granger) thinks it's in bad taste, but is heading off for a fishing trip anyway, and leaves the town in the capable hands of his deputy, Mark London (Christopher Goutman). When Pam is chased from her dorm by a masked man wearing army fatigues, Mark comes to her rescue. Mark rounds up all of the kids at the dance and tells them not to leave the premises until the prowler is caught, but, teens being teens, the kids sneak off for a little sex and booze (or maybe just to get out of earshot of the worst band to ever grace the stage of a VFW), and help add to the body count. Mark and Pam, meanwhile, search the grounds, and uncover evidence that leads back to the home of Major Chatham (Lawrence Tierney), Rose’s invalid father. Now Mark and Pam must find the the connection between the prowler and the long-deceased Francis Rosemary Chatham before the killer can strike again!
The Prowler is your run of the mill slash-by-numbers flick elevated to grisly new heights by the extremely violent and inspired murder sequences orchestrated by Savini. The FX were so realistic and well executed that much of them ended up on the cutting room floor back when The Prowler hit theaters back in 1981, but they’ve all been lovingly reinstated courtesy of Blue Underground. From machetes through the skull to agonizingly slow throat slashings, The Prowler sports some of the most graphic death scenes in the slasher genre, and the practical effects work still holds up wonderfully to this day. While the death scenes are impressive, there aren't a whole lot of them as the body count is comparatively low, given the dozen or so characters introduced that are just crying out for an axe to the skull. While the plot is far more cohesive and ambitious than the bulk of slasher offerings, the film suffers from pacing issues, with a few drawn out “investigative” moments that do little to further the plot or heighten suspense. That being said, The Prowler is one of the genres more polished and sophisticated entries, with confident direction by Zito and lush, atmospheric photography courtesy of Raoul Lomas.
The image quality on the DVD was solid stuff, but watching it on Blu-ray is like seeing The Prowler with a new set of eyes! The 1.85:1 transfer is just wonderful, with sharp detail and nicely balanced colors. Some of the darker scenes show an abundance of grain, and I noticed the occasional artifact and hint of print damage here and there, but, overall, the film looks fantastic, with deep, true blacks, and an appreciable sense of depth and dimension that was missing from the DVD. Once again, Blue Underground includes a 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix. It’s a decent track, but most of the action is set front and center, making little use of the rears and satellites. The dialogue is crisp and clear, and the score, while a bit underwhelming, occasionally gives the woofer a much-needed workout.
Blue Underground carries over a few key extras from the DVD release, including an entertaining commentary with Zito and Savini, a very cool short behind the scenes FX "home movie" from Savini's personal collection entitled Tom Savini's Behind-the-Scenes Gore Footage (SD), and the film’s original trailer (SD).
Gorehounds and budding FX artists should consider The Prowler an essential purchase as the film features some of the best practical FX work of the slasher era, and the bonus features that accompany the Blu-ray delve into the work that went into these effects in great detail. Blue Underground have, once again, outdone themselves in terms of image quality, and it’s especially impressive considering that this low-budget flick is pushing thirty years old. While the film, itself, suffers from a few logic and pacing issues, it’s still a better than average slasher, and the package as a whole is one that is sure to please fans of the genre.