Director: Joseph Zito
Year of release: 1981
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 89 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Also known as: Rosemary's Killer
Tagline: If you think you're safe, you're dead wrong" "It will freeze your blood" and "The film that shocked America".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: In the 40's a young woman called Rosemary writes a breakup letter to her partner who is away over sea’s serving in the military. She says she can't continue with the relationship as they are spending too much time apart and it’s unclear when he'll be coming back.
We then move forward a short time to a graduation dance being held in Avalon Bay, Rosemary's home town. She attends the dance with her new partner. After leaving the dance hall for a more secluded spot outside where they can be alone the pair are murdered by a fellow dressed in a military uniform. We assume this is her jilted lover now returned from abroad.
Things then jump forward a whopping 35 years where a graduation dance is being held again in Avalon Bay for the first time since the double murder all those years ago. The event is being organised by graduating student Pam and some of her friends. Surprisingly for this big occasion for the town, the sheriff is going away on a fishing trip leaving his inexperienced deputy Mark (a love interest for Pam) in charge. Just prior to the sheriffs departure news filters through that a violent individual has killed a man and stolen his car and is thought to be heading towards Avalon Bay. Upon hearing the news, Mark is nervous seeing that he'll be on his own for the next few days. On the evening of the dance various kids end up getting killed off by someone wearing the same outfit as Rosemary's killer years ago. Pam and Mark team up to solve the case, Mark thinking it is the car thief running amok while Pam is more inclined to believe it is Rosemary's killer who was never caught.
Good points: *Pam is pretty likeable as the final girl and does a good job of playing the damsel in distress as she is chased around by the killer. Like any good final girl she shows a tougher side towards the end when the need to fight back arises. Mark is also likeable enough in his support role if not slightly vacant at times.
*There are a couple of chase scenes involving Pam and the killer which I thought were very good indeed. The latter of the two is really more of a hide and seek type sequence but is very tense and high on suspense. There is a part in this scene where a rodent enters Pam's hiding place which is very similar to something that happened in Friday the 13th Part 2. I think they were in production at around at the same time though so perhaps this is just a coincidence.
*The production values are pretty high here with some great gore effects on display from Tom Savini. There are quite a number of enjoyable kills as a result but the one most commonly associated with the film of course is the swimming pool death which is certainly a highlight. The incident at the end involving a shotgun also looks good.
*It has a great old school slasher vibe running through it especially at the start with the dance event and then the X amount of years later another dance is being held which perhaps sets off the killer once again. The town folk certainly held off staging another dance event for a long time in this one though with it being a massive 35 years! Anyway it kind of has a My Bloody Valentine feel about it early on which is no bad thing.
*The military outfit worn by the killer was solid enough and came across as pretty intimidating. Not sure why he had a pitchfork though as that didn't really fit with the look. A bayonet type blade at the end of a rifle would have worked better. Overall though he looks the part and it’s fairly original as well as there aren’t too many other slasher films which utilise a military type uniform.
Bad Points: *The main issue is that there are too many things not explained or elaborated on after being set in motion. Major Chatum pops up for example early on a couple of times and looks set to play a pivotal role only to never be seen again. Same thing with the horny couple being spied on at the dance. After Paul is arrested I thought he would play a role later like adding to the body count by perhaps being killed in his cell. Alternatively I was thinking there might be a fight at the police station between Mark and the killer in which he (Paul) could intervene. He was just forgotten about though so what was the point of him being arrested?
Mild spoilers: More notably there were also a couple of shop keepers who confuse things. At the end one of them tries to save the day but it isn't explained how he knew to turn up at Chatum's place. They also show up at the graveyard with the one of them pressing his face up against the window of the Jeep in a weird manner. It isn't revealed though how he or his friend even know there is a situation at the graveyard worth investigating. Pam even mentions it's weird how they noticed something going on so I was expecting an explanation later but it never happened.
Big spoilers: I think one of these shopkeeper characters may tie into the beginning sequence at the initial dance but it’s a difficult job trying to piece it together. In this scene we first follow another couple before seeing Rosemary, the male of which is called Pat and later on his girlfriend can't find him. I think this missing Pat is supposed to be one of the shopkeepers as a younger man as later one of them is said to go by the same name. I initially thought they were perhaps setting him up as the killer due to his disappearance. Later, in hindsight, we were maybe supposed to infer he knew what the killer was up to and was helping in some way or trying to persuade him not to carry out the crime. What leads me to think this is that this Pat (in the beginning sequence) mentions a guy named Georgie, presumably a friend of his whom was going out with a Linda Booth who has recently broken up with him in favour of another guy. The Sheriff who turns out to be the killer is also called Georgie so possibly the same person being referred to here. If so though you’d think he’d kill Linda and not Rosemary. I’m confusing myself just trying to make sense of it!
It’s as if the film makers had ideas of fleshing out the backstory a lot more but then decided against it and after setting certain things in motion pulled the plug and went in another direction without tying off the loose ends.
Another spoiler: Going back to the ending where the killer is shot he only stays down for a second or two before getting back up seemingly unhurt. Maybe he was wearing body armour as part of his uniform if it existed back then but it should have been made more clear.
*There are some drawn out boring parts in the film which ruin the pacing. Specifically where Mark is messing around with the coffin in the graveyard, where he and Pam explore the Chatum place for the first time and when he makes the phone call in an attempt to be put in contact with the sheriff. We see similar things a lot in slashers with people moving really cautiously and nervously, peering into corners and opening cupboards and closets which is probably done to build tension. Perhaps a little unfair to highlight it here but it is noticeably worse than most of what I've seen elsewhere.
*The very last scene is mildly confusing where the dead body of the male found in the shower moves. I think it is supposed to be an hallucination but I didn't realise that initially and didn't know what to make of it.
Verdict: An easy to like film which is still enjoyable despite the flaws. At the same time though it could have been a lot better if they had elaborated on certain things more and not left so many little things unfinished. It just generally needed a better job to be done at tying up loose ends and then it would have left a better impression. Though it could have been great it still manages to be very decent.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Rosemary: Impaled on a pitchfork.
2) Ray: Impaled with Rosemary on a pitchfork.
3) Carl: Stabbed through the top of the skull.
4) Sherry: Impaled in the shower with a pitchfork.
5) Lisa: Throat cut in the swimming pool.
6) Allison: Stabbed in the chest/just below the neck.
7) Otto: Shot with a shotgun.
8) Sheriff Fraser: head blown off by a shotgun used by Pam.
Review edited on the 11th of October 2020.