Straight away, Blue Underground's AVC transfer of Zito's 1.85:1 frame is brighter, clearer and much more detailed than any home video version that you will have seen before. Contrast is higher and results in a far better delineation between light and shadow, hence the endless scenes of people creeping about have more natural integrity and suspense. Blacks are satisfyingly deep for the most part, certainly whenever we see the killer's boots, the prongs of his pitchfork and the gleam of his bayonet set against the thick shadows that surround him. But the grain of this unmolested transfer enjoys the darker elements of the film as well, so some of these shadow-drapes are slightly compromised. This is typical of the vintage and the film-stock and style of photography, of course, so it is par for the course.
Zito loves his lens flares and this can prove a little irritating during the start of the film, as the lights strung up outside the graduation ball litter the camera right before our very eyes and appear in front of the characters who are actually moving past them. The film also betrays that woefully pale night-time cast that makes torches look utterly stupid and paints the screen with a soft blue-filter that fools no-one. But this is a faithful transfer that doesn't embellish the blacks or the midnight blues to any detrimental degree. Colours are bolder and stronger than I've seen them before, but this is still not an image with glowing palette. The Prowler looks soft and flattened. The gore definitely stands out - which is great - and when the blood flows, it is deep and redolent. The flowing blood from the neck-slicing in the pool, for instance, is now quite profound. Skin-tones are consistent, but they are of that muted, uniform blandness from the period.
Detail is definitely an agreeable step-up. Clinical insight into the wounds is now available - and don't make out that this isn't a good thing. Young Lisa Dunsmith's attributes are also much more vivid and eye-catching than before, despite the steam from the shower - and don't make out that this isn't a good either! The film, overall, looks much cleaner and crisper and I think it is safe to say that it is unlikely that it could actually look any better. DNR has not been brought in and there is no edge enhancement on show. Some very slight aliasing does take place, but this was no cause for concern. So, hat's off to Blue Underground, for another fine transfer. After a couple of dodgy looking prints for Django and City Of The Living Dead - those horridly digital-looking frozen grain fields - this marks a return to form with a satisfyingly faithful and film-like image.
Here we go again ... it's time to pour scorn over the completely needless inclusion of utterly bogus super-surround audio tracks on a film that only ever had a mono soundtrack in the first place. Now, okay, lately, I have encountered some of these newly mixed and re-arranged vintage tracks that have actually, against all the odds, sounded quite effective. I'm thinking here of Blue Underground's The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue and the new release of City Of The Living Dead from both Blue Underground and Arrow in the UK. So, the point should be that something reasonably effective can be achieved without rubbishing the original source. However, I still cannot see the reasoning for extending signals and opening-up extra channels when you aren't even going to bother using them in any way, credible or not. And now we have Joseph Zito's early slasher coming in for the same old redundant soundfield options that Anchor Bay used to be so justifiably lambasted for. A 7.1 lossless DTS mix! What the hell for? Nothing happens in the surround channels worth commenting on - in fact, I wasn't aware of anything at all happening from anywhere other than the front. No ambience. No “stingers”. No creaking floorboards. No slamming doors. Nothing that warrants such a mix being created.
The only thing that I did notice that brought in some speakers other than those across the front was, in fact, something of an error in the DTS mix that occurs during the graduation party and affects the steerage of the music played by the band on stage. From shot to shot, as our position moves from the dance-floor to Vicky at the punch-bowl, the relocation of the music in the soundfield is jarring and clumsy, a very amateur approach to audio directionality.
Right, well, at least we have the mono mix, in lossy Dolby Digital to make amends, and this sounds fine, although not as punchy or as dynamic as the DTS. Dialogue is clear in both - I have to confess that I never even sampled the DD 5.1 EX - and the kills all feature good solid activity and meaty flesh puncturing. The screaming from poor Lisa Dunsmith is actually quite harrowing and disturbing to hear whichever track you choose, and I like the way that it carries over into the cut to the party, even overpowering the music from the band for a second or two. The score from Richard Einhorn isn't one of flourish, but his atmospheric spells work well and come across with a smidgeon of detail.
My advice is to give the lossless a try if you want the dialogue and the effects a little crunchier and more vibrant, but don't expect anything of a surround experience from it. Otherwise, the mono track provides the same thrills, without any errors, but just at a less dynamic level.
Tom Savini and Joseph Zito sit together for a screening of their infamous 1981 joint venture and chew the fat off the bones of what it took to bring carnage to the screen during such a wild time for cinematic excess. But, to be honest, despite their obvious camaraderie and simple love for all things grisly, sexy and taboo, this is a slightly disappointing chat-track that never quite hits the high notes for long enough. It may be that Zito never really amounted to very much beyond this, but there is a lack of genuine spark to their banter. Even Savini, who can be very funny when he wants to be, seems a touch too subdued. Naturally, they discuss the FX - which is why we are all watching the film - and some technical aspects are revealed. Some anecdotes are delivered - Zito claiming that a security guard at a New York cinema actually thought that he and Savini had killed cast members during the murder sequences - but this is not quite the fun and revelatory experience that fans may feel it should have been.
Then we get some of Tom Savini's on-set footage of the gore FX being shot. Now this is something that he always does and his “home movies” have become quite notorious, especially as they usually contain a lot imagery that either never made the final cut or ended-up being pruned-out by the censor anyway. This ten-minute montage doesn't disappoint, then. Whilst there are no new slices or dices, we get to see the kills, in sequence, being prepped and then executed in long takes, re-takes and take after take. The swimming pool murder is, as a consequence of Zito getting his angles just right and Cindy Weintraub assuming the appropriate reactions to a bayonet carving through her neck, exceptionally grim indeed. Savini makes a meal of the final head-eruption too!
And then Blue Underground's release offers us the film's theatrical trailer. Obviously, we would have loved more, but The Prowler isn't one of the more celebrated slashers on the block, and nor is it forgotten or overlooked enough to have warranted some special treatment.
One of the gory gems from the era that broke every rule in the book, The Prowler lurks its way on to Blu-ray with a terrific transfer and reveals its uncut glories with pride.
Zito's film butts up against some of the more notorious flicks from the period - Maniac, The Burning, My Bloody Valentine - and whilst it doesn't pack the same super-shock wallop, it holds its own with powerful effects and a gratuitous sense of going just that little bit further with its delivery of on-screen slaughter. It is also great to see this as the stepping-stone that came somewhere between the endless slash-attacks that Tom Savini had been providing for so long, with the more imaginative and innovative creature-feature of Creephow that would come next. When viewed in a chronological progression, you can clearly see how his skills improved over the years until the jaw-dropping pinnacle of Day Of The Dead for George Romero.
Inept leading man aside, The Prowler proves to be bravura entertainment for fans of the style and of the cinematic age that gave birth to it. Blue Underground have continued to dust off these subversive classics and to celebrate them on Blu-ray. Bill Lustig and his crew have spoiled us yet again ... but, come on, mate ... Maniac, The Burning and Zombie Flesheaters next please!
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