Earlier this month I watched the 1981 summer camp-themed slasher The Burning, which has recently built a new reputation as an underappreciated classic. Other than its cast of future-notables, I didn't see much that made it stand out from the middle-of-the-pack, but a case could be made for rediscovering 1980s The Prowler, which features some of gore-master Tom Savini's most bracing and disturbingly presented effects.
The Prowler has the standard slasher plot template: a long time ago something bad happened. Decades later, a mysterious figure cuts their way through a series of groping teenagers. Not only is the plot of The Prowler pure formula, the movie suffers from many of the same flaws that has tagged its subgenre as the ghetto of 1980s horror: weak characters, wooden dialog, sub-par actors (or decent actors giving sub-par performances) and often pedestrian storytelling. Vicky Dawson has a kind of charm as Pam, but little range (and looks a lot like Friday the 13th Part 2's Amy Steel), and Christopher Goutman is little more than a head of oddly parted feathered hair. Lawrence Tierney and Farley Granger also appear in minor roles.
However, director Joseph Zito — who would go on later in the decade to helm the enduring exploitation classics Friday the 13th Part IV: the Final Chapter and Chuck Norris' Invasion U.S.A. — really digs into the muck of a few key moments of The Prowler, giving it a more visceral and disturbing tone than most of its peers. Whereas many slasher movies build suspense leading up to a kill but quickly away from impact, Zito not only lingers on Tom Savini's vivid gore effects but prolongs these scenes with coverage from multiple angles, holding on the victims past the point of cheap thrills, creating a sobering tone of morbid finality that is unusually human for this type of material.
There are some other uncommon touches in The Prowler, such as the killer's awkwardness; a weird overlong exchange of facial expressions between two characters during the climax; and the atypical coda which attaches to the movie a fresher angle of horror than it maybe deserves; but all of these small qualities ended up resonating with me far more than I expected.