The Prowler (1981 film)

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The Prowler
The Prowler.jpg
American Film poster
Directed byJoseph Zito
Produced byJoseph Zito
David Streit
Screenplay byNeal Barbera
Glenn Leopold
StarringVicky Dawson
Farley Granger
Lawrence Tierney
Christopher Goutman
Music byRichard Einhorn
CinematographyJoão Fernandes
Edited byJoel Goodman
Graduation Films[1]
Distributed bySandhurst
Release date
  • October 9, 1981 (1981-10-09)[1]
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Prowler (released internationally as Rosemary's Killer) is a 1981 American slasher film directed by Joseph Zito, written by Neal Barbera and Glenn Leopold, and starring Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Lawrence Tierney, and Christopher Goutman. Set in a small California town (but actually shot in New Jersey), the film concerns a group of college students holding a graduation spring dance, 35 years after a double-homicide occurred. Unbeknownst to them, they are targeted by a masked assailant dressed in World War II G.I. fatigues who begins a murderous spree as a result of the graduation's continuation. The film has developed a cult following over the years.


During World War II, a woman named Rosemary Chatham writes a Dear John letter to her boyfriend, breaking up with him because he has been away too long. On June 28, 1945, Rosemary is attending a graduation dance in the town of Avalon Bay, California with her new boyfriend Roy, who suggests they go out to the point in order to make out. While there, they are attacked by a mysterious prowler in an army combat uniform, who impales them both with a pitchfork, leaving behind a rose.

Thirty-five years later; on June 28, 1980, Pam MacDonald is organizing the first graduation ball in 35 years with her friends Lisa, Sherry and Sherry's love interest Carl. That afternoon, while visiting her love interest Mark London, who is the town's deputy, she overhears a report of a prowler, who may be on the way to Avalon Bay. The Sheriff, off to a cabin retreat leaves Mark in charge of keeping order in the town and at the dance while he is away. That night, after Pam leaves for the party, Sherry receives a surprise visit from Carl, who goes to undress to join her in the shower, but he is attacked and has a bayonet shoved through his skull. The killer then moves into the bathroom and impales Sherry with a pitchfork. At the dance, Pam becomes jealous when Mark is pulled into a dance with Lisa and leaves when he accidentally spills his drink onto her dress. She returns to the dorm to change but is chased by the same prowler wearing the army uniform, eventually running into Major Chatham; an old man bound to a wheelchair, reuniting with Mark, he investigates but does not discover the bodies of Sherry and Carl. They go together to investigate the major's home, not finding him there, Pam realizes that his daughter Rosemary's killer had never been found. Convinced the prowler from earlier is the one responsible, Mark heads with Pam to the dance to warn the chaperone Miss Allison about the possible danger. Meanwhile, Lisa, fed up with her boyfriend Paul for getting drunk and sick, goes out to a nearby pool to cool off. Paul is arrested by Mark for public intoxication, meanwhile Lisa encounters the killer while swimming, who mercilessly slices her throat open. Allison learns that Lisa had gone out and goes to find her, but she is stabbed through the throat as she tries to escape the killer. Mark tries to call the cabin that the sheriff went to, but is ignored by the site worker too lazy to check to see if the sheriff is awake.

The local shopkeeper, Kingsley, complains to Mark he witnessed a disturbance in the cemetery, Mark and Pam go to investigate and discover an opened grave with Lisa's body in it. Mark tells her that the reported prowler had been caught hours before Lisa's murder and Pam suspects this is the same killer who murdered Rose and her boyfriend in 1945. They go to investigate Major Chatham's house once more, Mark is attacked and left for dead as the Prowler then chases Pam through the house. Otto appears and shoots the attacker, who recovers and shoots him dead before attacking Pam. During the scuffle, the Prowler is revealed to be Sheriff Fraser himself and turns his gun against him, blowing his head clean off, killing him. The next day, Mark returns with Pam to her dorm and she goes up alone. Discovering Sherry and Carl's bodies in the shower, she screams as Carl seems to come to life and grab at her, only realizing that he is dead, and that him grabbing at her was a hallucination.


  • Vicky Dawson as Pam MacDonald
  • Christopher Goutman as Deputy Mark London
  • Lawrence Tierney as Major Chatham
  • Farley Granger as Sheriff George Fraser
  • Cindy Weintraub as Lisa
  • Lisa Dunsheath as Sherry
  • David Sederholm as Carl
  • Bill Nunnery as Hotel Clerk
  • Thom Bray as Ben
  • Diane Rode as Sally
  • Bryan Englund as Paul
  • Donna Davis as Miss Allison
  • Carleton Carpenter as 1945 M.C
  • Joy Glaccum as Francis Rosemary Chatham
  • Timothy Wahrer as Roy
  • John Seitz as Pat Kingsley
  • Bill Hugh Collins as Otto
  • Dan Lounsbery as Jimmy Turner
  • Douglas Stevenson as Young Pat Kingsley
  • Susan Monts as Young Pat Kingsley's Date


The Prowler was co-written by Glenn Leopold and Neal Barbera, son of Joseph Barbera.[3] Director Joseph Zito read the screenplay and was drawn to its "misty quality": "It had this strange, dreamlike mood in it. It wasn't trying to be real, it was trying to be surreal in a way."[3]

Initially, Zito had wanted to shoot The Prowler in Avalon, California, where it is set.[3] However, it was decided by Zito to shoot the film in Cape May, New Jersey instead, which he felt had a "ghost town quality."[3] The film was shot over a period of six weeks, which each consisted of six days' work.[4]



Initially, Avco Embassy Pictures, who had previously released the slasher Prom Night (1980), expressed interest in distributing The Prowler.[5] The film was distributed independently in the United States by Sandhurst Films.[5] It was released under the title Rosemary's Killer[6] in Australia and Europe in a cut that is missing almost a minute of Tom Savini's gore effects.[7]

The German version omits all of the gore scenes (including the revelation of the killer's identity) and replaced the soundtrack with bird sounds for daytime scenes, cricket sounds for the night scenes, and Richard Enhorn's score with synthesizer music by an uncredited musician. This version goes by the title Die Forke des Todes (The Pitchfork of Death).[citation needed]

The Encyclopedia of Horror reports that "Savini's particularly graphic special effects resulted in most of the murders being trimmed in the British release print."[8]

Home media[edit]

Blue Underground released an uncut version of The Prowler on DVD in 2002 and on Blu-Ray in 2010. The extras include a trailer, a still and poster gallery, behind the scenes gore footage with Tom Savini, and an audio commentary with Joseph Zito and Tom Savini.[citation needed]


Currently on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 67% approval rating with an average of 5.1/10 based on 6 reviews.[9]

In a positive review for Slant Magazine, Chris Cabin[10] compared the film to both John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and William Lustig's Maniac (1980), writing "These films remain popular due mostly to the films that are made proficiently as far as gore theatrics, tone, and mood are concerned, and in these terms The Prowler is certainly deserving of its modest fan base. What the film lacks in narrative drive, coherence, and performance, it makes up with thoughtful lighting, strong cinematography from Raoul Lomas and an uncredited João Fernandes, and, of course, Savini’s lovingly overblown and impossible splatter effects."

AllRovi called it a "run-of-the-mill entry in the early '80s slasher film cycle" that "benefits from an unexpected amount of technical gloss, but has little else to offer".[11]

Leonard Maltin gave the film a negative 1 1/2 out of a possible 4 stars, criticizing the film's plot calling it "illogical".[12] The Encyclopedia of Horror says that like My Bloody Valentine the film moves away from the genre's usual Midwestern setting, but that it does little with the new location, nor with its potentially interesting returning G.I. motif. Like Valentine, the film is judged as being certainly polished, atmospheric, and suspenseful, though hardly original.[8]


  1. ^ a b "The Prowler". American Film Institute Catalog. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
  2. ^ Zito, Joseph (2010). The Prowler (Blu-ray)|format= requires |url= (help) (Audio commentary). Blue Underground.
  3. ^ a b c d Rockoff 2011, p. 131.
  4. ^ Rockoff 2011, p. 132.
  5. ^ a b Rockoff 2011, p. 133.
  6. ^ Rockoff 2011, p. 4.
  7. ^ "Prowler, The (aka Rosemary's Killer)". Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  8. ^ a b Milne, Tom. Willemin, Paul. Hardy, Phil. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Horror, Octopus Books, 1986. ISBN 0-7064-2771-8 p 370
  9. ^ "The Prower (1981)". Flixster. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  10. ^ Cabin, Chris (July 30, 2010). "Blu-ray Review: The Prowler". Slant Magazine. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  11. ^ Guarisco, Donald. "The Prowler (1981)". Allmovie. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
  12. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2013). Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. New York, New York: Penguin Group. p. 1129. ISBN 978-0-451-41810-4. Retrieved 31 August 2015.

Works cited[edit]

  • Rockoff, Adam (2011). Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978–1986. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-46932-1.

External links[edit]