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Home > The Prowler (1981): A Review

The Prowler (1981): A Review

The Prowler

He Hasn't Forgotten What He Did, But Perhaps They Have

A year before the end of World War 2, hundreds of GIs returned from war and reunited with their loved ones. That is, except for one, who is unceremoniously dumped via letter by his girlfriend before his return. Mysteriously, his now ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend are murdered by a prowler in a GI uniform at their graduation ball. There hasn’t been another ball since that night until the summer of 1980. However, the man in the GI uniform has also returned, and he doesn’t care for their renewed festivities. Is this the same man who brutally murdered his girlfriend on that fateful night, or is it a new psychopath looking to insert himself into local lore?

Does The Prowler Hunt with Purpose?

The Prowler has everything fans love about classic 80s slashers. Fresh bodies, old-school camp, some old-fashioned graininess, and amazing kills. But what of the plot? The story follows Pam MacDonald and her Sheriff’s Deputy boyfriend Mark London. There’s a subplot between them involving their relationship, but when the murders start happening it’s utterly forgotten and never concluded. Their dynamic is presented to feel important in the movie’s first half and tension is inserted between them. Understandably, things like this go out the window when people start dying, but it shouldn’t have been a subplot if it was never going to matter.

The conflict concerning the killer isn’t fully resolved either, although it is the better-told story. Once the Prowler makes himself known to the protagonists, it becomes a race to discover his identity and stop him. A task made all the more difficult when Mark is left as the only law enforcement authority over the town after the Sheriff leaves for a fishing trip. It’s never confirmed that Mark is the only officer on duty, but law enforcement is so sparse that he may as well be. Only some of the mystery surrounding the Prowler gets resolved, but the most crucial parts seemed to feel somewhat empty. There is no further exploration into the killer’s psyche or even a confirmation that he is the same man from the initial 1944 killings. His face is revealed, and that’s that.

Aside from the overall story, the narrative here seems to plod along and drag in places, making one wish things would just speed along to get to the next kill. Tension building is weak, the pacing is inconsistent, and by today’s standards, the story is very by the numbers. However, the film does retain the vintage slasher appeal that most horror fans enjoy. The Prowler is by no means a classic. It wouldn’t be surprising if no one has heard of this movie but the appeal of classic slashers is there.

The Prowler

Can You Root For the Characters?

Starting with the Prowler himself, he’s got everything a horror fan may expect from their slashers in that he checked off all boxes for the typical knife-wielding lunatic. Unique mask and uniform, signature weapon, crazy backstory, and utterly silent. He also walks after his victims rather than run. He’s got everything a movie needs for a Michael Myers wannabe. Unfortunately, that’s all this killer turns out to be. 

Pam is barely a passable final girl. There is nothing remotely unique about her other than being Mark’s girlfriend and helping to organize the ball, as indicated by her clipboard. She only stands out because every other girl around her is as one-dimensional as need be to pad out the kill count.

What makes Mark interesting is that it’s pretty apparent that he’s a future adulterer from the start. He ogles other women almost shamelessly and flirts back when they flirt with him. Pam seems to notice this too but writes it off as “boys will be boys”. It would have made Mark more interesting if he had leaned more into these negative qualities and become something of a second antagonist. If anything, this would have elevated Pam as a final girl as she would have been forced to only rely on herself as Mark would not have cared enough about her to act as a protector. 

The one character that The Prowler botched most is the man behind the mask. Without spoilers, if they had only received more screen time or even the slightest amount of backstory or explanation, then the Prowler really would have been more of an interesting killer. Instead, it’s not even entirely clear if they’re the same person from four decades prior.

Does The Prowler Deliver in Scares?

Without tension, there are no adequate scares in this movie. There’s not even so much as a good jump scare. Anyone going into this to have their blood chilled (as the poster implies) will be sorely disappointed. What this movie does get right is the gore. The quality of the kills is amazing, even by today’s standards. One kill, in particular, would even have Jigsaw from the Saw franchise nodding in respect. The Prowler has no business having the gore that it does, but horror fans can be grateful for it. Without it, this film is barely passable.

Final Rating

The Prowler is by no means a good movie, but fans of classic 80s horror may enjoy it. As said before, it’s very by the numbers but that may be just what some are looking for. To a certain point, no one expects these types of movies to be good. Very few are, and even fewer are innovative or original. This makes for a good movie one can watch with friends and pick apart at their leisure. It’s not exactly so bad that it’s good, but it is okay. At the very least, it maintains the vintage appeal of 80s slashers and is sure to distill plenty of nostalgia.

The Prowler

The Prowler (1981) Official Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Senior editor of Dead Talk News and University of Central Oklahoma graduate. Dakota specializes in news, entertainment pieces, reviews, and listicles.