Prowler, The (US - BD)
Gabe enjoys re-watching one of the best slashers ever made in high definition...
It probably doesn’t mean much to most people, but Joseph Zito’s The Prowler clearly ranks among the Slasher genre’s best films. It doesn’t transcend the genre’s minimal expectations, and I can’t imagine many people comparing it favourably to genuine classics like Halloween or Black Christmas, but it’s a better movie on most levels than the majority of the Friday the 13th sequels. The Prowler follows the traditional ‘golden era’ Slasher plotline (it’s almost identical to My Bloody Valentine actually), mixing elements of urban legends with dated teenage sexual politics to create a convoluted series of murder set pieces. The story, what little there is, goes a little something like this: thirty years after a brutal murder the small town of Avalon Bay plans another it’s first graduation dance since the incident, only to apparently draw the attention of another masked killer.
The Prowler sets itself apart early on by including a believable period setting. Zito includes a solid eight minutes of well orchestrated mood setting before breaking into the usual making-out and bloody impalement. The rest of the film is unmistakably ‘80s in setting and clothing, and knowingly low-brow throughout, but the story is treated with relative respect, and the actors are much better than the genre’s norm. The characters aren’t exactly natural, and are sure to make all the ridiculously stupid choices needed to make the convoluted set pieces happen (in this case most of the stupid choices are made in utter ignorance of the mad killer), but the leads are generally relatable, existing somewhere between utter clichés and realistic people. Zito also isn’t afraid to stop the film for a relatively unnecessary, but understated moment of quirky comedy, which (as noted on the director’s commentary) might have seemed like a bad idea at the time, but sits among my favourite bits of filler (usually the downfall of low budget, low concept genre films).
Yet, there’s no mistaking that The Prowler is an unapologetic exploitation film. Stylistically speaking Zito doesn’t even try to ape John Carpenter or Dario Argento, but his gritty, natural look (he mentions knowingly avoiding any pretentious camera work on the included audio commentary track) fits the film like a (black leather) glove, gives it a creepy, vérité vibe, and places it securely in its era in the best sense possible. The whole film has a palpable raw nature that makes everything feel more dangerous than modern equivalent, which often attempt to ape what came naturally to genre filmmakers in the era. Make-up effects designer extraordinaire Tom Savini marks The Prowler among his best work in the Slasher genre, and it’s hard to disagree. His work on Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is slightly more technically impressive, and The Burning is probably gorier, but the murders here are only topped by Maniac in overall brutality. The climatic head explosion is the most memorable of the film’s horrific images, but it’s Savini’s little touches—a man’s eyes rolling back when he’s impaled from scalp to jaw, air bubbles pumping from an underwater slit throat—that really sell the more basic slaughter fair.
The Prowler doesn’t rank among Blue Underground’s more mind-blowing HD achievements, but given the film’s age and budget there isn’t a whole lot to complain about either. Overall this 1080p transfer looks a lot like the original, uncut DVD release. The only real differences are slightly brighter colours (the greens are pretty lush, and the blood red hues pop pretty well against the duller palette), and a fewer of the DVD’s minor compression artefacts. There are a couple brief moments where fine details stick out while comparing the two discs (when the girl is pitchforked in the shower the water that sticks to her face is more noticeable, for example), but the film is so soft overall I just assumes this was Zito’s intended look (almost all source lighting is diffused). The contrast levels here are slightly sharper, with deeper blacks, and more clearly separated colours, especially during the pool murder, which is one of the darkest scenes in the entire film. The constant grain isn’t so much a problem, and doesn’t really increase or decrease based on lighting, but the size of the grain, along with its yellowish colouring, is a bit disappointing, at least based on expectations set by the studio in its past. The dancing noise and relative lack of sharp details remind me visually of 16mm film, but all available on-line material on the film says Zito shot the film 35mm, so there is room for improvement.
Blue Underground hasn’t started from scratch with this new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio track, as the general aural placement and sound quality is quite close to the DTS 7.1 track found on their older DVD release (both discs feature the same Dolby Digital EX alternate track). This track is louder, and doesn’t show signs of real compression, but I also can’t find any reason to not opt for the original mono sound instead. There are a few minor rear channel effects, and the music is pretty well separated into the stereo channels, but flipping between the DTS-HD track and DD Mono reveals very few differences. Blue Underground should be commended for not over-doing the directional effects, or trying to artificially spread the low budget sound design into surround channels, but usually their DTS-HD tracks are ideal for the sake of musical score. Unlike those other releases, Richard Einhorn music doesn’t seem to have been mixed with a stereo album release in mind, so it’s pretty well centred on both the DTS-HD and DD Mono tracks. There isn’t even really a noticeable LFE increase, despite the DTS-HD’s discrete .1 channel playing a small role during the occasional gunshot (that final boom is pretty bassy). Dialogue and sound effects are clear, but inconsistent in terms of reverb and cleanliness. I didn’t notice any major distortion, even during high volume levels and screams, but some of the vocal tracks show definitive signs of damage.
The extras here match the DVD releases, and start with an audio commentary from director Joseph Zito and effects artist Tom Savini. This isn’t among the fullest commentary tracks on record, but the participants are funny, and look back on the film with the perfect balance of nostalgia and self-deprecation. The overall focus is placed on the technical aspects (understandable based on Savani’s presence), but there are some amusing anecdotes from the set along the way, and the duo’s good natured ribbing at the expense of the genre’s standby clichés (which they knowingly admit they default to for most of The Prowler) are adorable. Savini’s inability to recall most of the film’s plot is also quite funny. The only other extras are a collection of Tom Savini’s behind the scenes camcorder footage, which mostly pertains to the filming of the gore effects (10:00, SD), and the original theatrical trailer.
Alright everyone, get out your ‘Best American Slasher Movies on Blu-ray’ check lists. We now have Black Christmas, Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street (assuming you count that one), My Bloody Valentine, and The Prowler to check off. That leaves us with Just Before Dawn, Friday the 13th 4 and 6 and The Burning. The sooner we get these we can start working on Giallo films and those European movies that are hard to strictly define as one genre or the other, like Stage Fright and Anthropophagus. Blue Underground doesn’t achieve any miracles with this high definition transfer, but it does look better than the studio’s DVD release overall. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a slight improvement over the old compressed DTS track, and extras are identical, including the charming Joseph Zito and Tom Savini commentary track.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 27th July 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital EX English, Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director and Make-Up Artist Commentary, Tom Savini's Behind the Scenes Gore Footage, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Joseph Zito
Cast: Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Lawrence Tierney, Farley Granger, Cindy Weintraub, Thom Bray
Length: 89 minutes
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