Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #3
Also known as Rosemary’s Killer
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: April 29, 1981
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $1,000, 000
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Joseph Zito
Assistant Director: Peter Giuliano
Producers: David Streit, Joseph Zito
Screenplay: Glenn Leopold & Neal. F. Barbera
Additional Dialogue: Eric Lewald, Mark Edward Edens, Sarah Higgins (Rose Chatham’s Letter)
Special Effects: Tom Savini
Cinematography: João Fernandes
Score: Richard Einhorn, Nowhere Fast
Editing: Joel Goodman
Distributor: Astral Media, Entertainment Film Distributors (UK VHS), Sandhurst (USA), VCII Home Entertainment (US VHS), Blue Underground (USA DVD)
Stars: Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Cindy Weintraub, Farley Granger, Lawrence Tierney, Lisa Dunsheath, David Sederholm, Bill Nunnery, Thom Bray, Diane Rode, Bryan Englund, Donna Davis, Timothy Wahrer, John Seitz, Joy Glaccum, Peter Giuliano
Suggested Audio Candy:
Nowhere Fast “View Through A Tear”
Tom Savini is a name that every self-respecting horror fan should be exceptionally well aware of. Once a combat photographer in the Vietnam War, he ultimately turned his attention to the field of special make-up FX. Clearly inspired by the horrors of what he had witnessed and able to incorporate this experience into groundbreaking make-up effects known the whole world over, he has more than justified his nickname The Sultan of Splatter over the years. Where others applies bloody brush strokes with fine-tipped paintbrushes to make their point, Savini chooses a sawn-off shotgun and, better yet, opts to perch himself at the other side of the barrels à la Maniac. Indeed, the mere mention of this man’s name makes me instantly consider growing a mustache. If only that were possible.
As a teenager I was introduced to a film called Rosemary’s Killer and, just as had been the case with Joe Giannone’s Madman, it was instant seduction. The VHS sleeve alone single-handedly secured my rental and my primary response upon viewing it was that it was one of the more moody, unrelenting slashers from the eighties cycle. Back then, ignorance was bliss. Cut to twenty years later when a close friend presented me a copy of Joseph Zito’s The Prowler as an early Christmas gift. The cover art was identical and naïvely, I assumed that I had already watched the only version in circulation. How misguided I was. In my sweaty palms was a very different creature than the one which I had forged such a sturdy connection with for my entire pubescent years and deep into my thirties and all because of a couple of minutes of restored footage.
Uncut, the work of Savini is shown in all of its skillful, almost cocky, glory. Here was a man who had developed the sort of mentality and belief in his abilities that he could achieve anything he set out to accomplish and, with Martin, Dawn of the Dead, Friday The 13th and Maniac under his belt and the mantle The Sultan of Splatter being already bestowed upon him, his buoyancy was here for all to see with lingering kills which still hold up to this day. If you glance away during the superbly staged and executed dispatches on offer here then you will be greeted with the same image, only worse, when your eyes return to the screen. Much akin to Richard Donner’s intention with David Warner’s sheet-glass beheading from The Omen, Savini won’t allow the camera to cut away until his thirst for bloodletting has been sated and that can be some time.
For the uninitiated amongst us, the story involves a jilted G.I. returning from active duty at the end of the Second World War to discover that his would-be-bride has moved on with her life. In an opening scene which states the film’s mean-spirited intentions, he tracks Rosemary and her new lover down to a gazebo and promptly ventilates them mid-coitus with a pitchfork, leaving a long-stemmed red rose in her lifeless hand. Cut to thirty-five years later and the first graduation dance to be staged in Avalon Bay since the brutal murders took place. Amongst those busy making preparations are Pam (Vicky Dawson) and deputy sheriff Mark (Christopher Goutman) and the pair are quite clearly sweet on one another. Then add a group of hormonal teens primed for copulation, et voila, it’s time to marvel once more at the ungodly skills of The Sultan.
It isn’t ALL about the kills though and Zito manages to create a truly ominous atmosphere, delivering some tense build-ups before unleashing Savini from his muzzle. However, here is where I believe the film’s biggest flaw lies. The middle act begins to sag a little, weighed down by far too much searching of shadows and a much reduced kill quota. Certain scenes could easily have been trimmed a little, allowing more time for the magnificent splendor of a man at the top of his game, but that’s all that stands between The Prowler being a damn good slasher and a truly great one. While I’m nitpicking, I also feel compelled to mention the big reveal at the conclusion. There was a faint whiff of Scooby Doo to proceedings and I personally would have preferred the killer to remain anonymous as he really casts a merciless figure in his G.I. fatigues.
Nevertheless, I wish to end this appraisal on a strong positive and the kills are the tour-de-force of this picture. On the Region 1 DVD an extra gives captivating insight into key scenes. During the notorious swimming pool dispatch which reveals Cindy Weintraub’s distress at the drawn-out nature of her character’s demise, Savini himself admits to a happy accident. After the most convincingly staged and deliberately enduring throat cut ever committed to film in my opinion, her throat emits a deep red air bubble as it sinks motionless to the bottom of the pool. It doesn’t matter whether you planned it Tom, you made your own luck. As for poor old Weintraub, it took eighteen takes to get the kick in her face correct and, for three days, she had her skin dyed beetroot red.
The other standout moment would have to be the vertical bayonet through skull gag and this may well be Savini’s magnum opus as far as I’m concerned. The force of insertion is so great that it coerces the victim’s eyes into the back of his head and this is sheer unbridled genius from The Sultan. Watch it on repeat, on slow play no less, and look for the seams. You won’t find any. The overall death tally may be decidedly meager by slasher standards but, pound for pound, there are few examples of stalk and slash quite as totally unremitting as The Prowler.
Zito later went on to bring us the similarly commendable Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter before ending his career with action fare such as Missing in Action, Invasion USA and Red Scorpion. It’s a crying shame he didn’t persist with slasher although it didn’t help that the late-eighties were so barren. If you haven’t had the gratification of watching Zito’s film yet then you’ll be glad to know that it is now obtainable in its uncensored format and there really is no reason not to seek a copy down pronto. Just remember, as much as it stands on its own merits, this film belongs to The Sultan of Splatter.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Rating: 5/5
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For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: I truly have no idea where to commence with regards to the grue. Quite simply, The Prowler features my favorite FX work of all-time. Study the evidence: the glorious bayonet through cranium kill complete with rolling eyeballs is astounding. The numerous pitchfork dispatches are all delightful, there’s a grand exploding head and to top it off, two breathtaking throat punctures which will have you clasping your gullet hysterically. There’s even time for a quick shower although that doesn’t end well either.
A Tribute to the Sultan of Splatter