The Prowler (1981)
Every sub-genre in horror has had its "golden years". For every type of horror movie, there has been one time, be it an entire decade or just a couple of years, when it was at its peak of both quality and popularity. In the 1980s, the slasher was definitely number one. Not only were these movies extremely popular, they were also very well made. Sure, like with anything else, there are a fair share of duds, but not nearly as many as you'd think after listening to critics and even some horror fans bash this type of film. There are some truly great slashers around and you would be doing yourself a disservice as a fright film fan to dismiss them without a look.
The 1981 film The Prowler (AKA Rosemary's Killer and The Graduation) is just such a movie. The story opens in the 1940s, just after the end of WWII. A soldier, whose identity is kept from use for reasons that will become obvious very soon, receives a "Dear John" letter from the girl that was supposed to be waiting for him at home. It seems that she has found another man. The girl and her new fellow are at the local college graduation dance, but decide to go outside for a walk and a little fooling around. They are quickly and brutally killed (thanks to the masterful work of make-up maestro Tom Savini). The killer is never found and the town does not hold another graduation dance for over 40 years.
We skip to the present - 1981 - and preparations for the newly reinstated graduation dance are underway. Somebody, however can not forget the past and wants to make sure nobody else does either. Soon, a mysterious figure in an military uniform begins to dispatch the college students in various grisly ways, like throat slitting, pitchfork impailment and an unforgettable bayonet through the top of the head scene. Although this movie has more than gore going for it, Tom Savini's work here is as outstanding as usual. His realistic effects give this movie, and every one he has worked on, a much higher level of effectiveness.
Aside from the gore, the "who done it?" aspect of the movie, which was a big part of these early slasher flicks, is done very well and, although there are some clues, the identity of the killer may surprise some. The acting was very good on almost all accounts. Of course there are a few sour notes, but the other cast members carry the dead weight quite well. There are even several moments of genuine suspense.
Although the plot is similar to My Bloody Valentine, which was released the same year, this movie has enough originality to keep most horror fans and definitely all slasher fans entertained. A lot of people who come to slashers late say that these movies are unoriginal and are all alike, which is often true. What they don't sometimes realize is that it all the late comers of the late 80s and early 90s are the ones that that were overusing the slasher stereotypes. When they first came out, movies like Friday the 13th, The Prowler, The Burning, My Bloody Valentine and many others were quite original and very groundbreaking. True, Friday the 13th Part 1 and Part 2 did borrow quite heavily from Bava's masterful Bay of Blood, but nothing quite like these early "hack 'n slash" films had been seen in America before.
So, if your in the mood for a good slasher movie, you can count The Prowler among the best of the first wave and, in my opinion, the first wave was the best of the lot.