Starring Elizabeth Cox, Renée Estevez, Dan Hicks, David Byrnes, Sam Raimi, Eugene Robert Glazer, Billy Marti, Burr Steers, Craig Stark, Ted Raimi, Alvy Moore, Tom Lester, Emil Sitka, Bruce Campbell, Lawrence Bender, Scott Spiegel
Directed by Scott Spiegel
Expectations: Moderate. I expect the film to be awful, but the FX to be awesome.
Two years after co-writing Evil Dead 2 with Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel got his chance at his own full-length feature film. Based on an earlier short of his, Intruder is quite modest in its budget and aspirations, but achieves true terror and suspense. I’m sad that I never happened upon this film before, as it would have easily been a favorite for many years. Up front it’s important to be aware of a couple of things though. On the DVD boxart, Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi’s names are prominently displayed. Red flags should come up at this, as low-budget trash horror has a knack for playing up the small cameos of big names to trick people into buying or renting. Thankfully, I knew beforehand that Bruce Campbell was only in the final thirty seconds, as this could have been a very different experience if I went in blind.
The whole film is set within a supermarket during the night shift. Originally the film was titled The Night Crew, but the studio thought it didn’t sound slasher enough, so they changed it to the generic and boring Intruder. Anyway, the film is about the supermarket’s night crew and how they must deal with a homicidal intruder! Bet ya didn’t see that coming! The film opens in the market’s final minutes before closing for the night. Jennifer’s old boyfriend Craig just got out of jail for murder and comes to visit her at the store in an attempt to get her back. She tells him to fuck off, but when he doesn’t take no for an answer, some of the other workers try to force him out of the store. He runs off into the back and the hunt is on. Craig slinks through the shadows and slowly picks off the workers one by one as the film progresses.
The setup is a straightforward slasher movie but the choice to make the antagonist a jealous boyfriend instead of your typical indestructible Jason-type adds a lot of realism to the suspense of the film. We’ve all known asshole guys, so a tale about one of those assholes snapping and turning homicidal isn’t that big of a stretch. The interplay between Craig and Jennifer sets up the characters well and is enough to ground the murders in reality. Across the board the acting is pretty good, especially considering the low-budget. Sam Raimi isn’t known for his acting but he does well in a minor role as a butcher, as does his brother Ted in an even smaller (and much goofier) part. But the star of the show is Jennifer, played by Elizabeth Cox. She carries the movie and drives it forward, and while she might not possess the best chops, she portrays Jennifer realistically enough to squeeze genuine emotion out of the viewers. Dan Hicks (who you’ll probably recognize from Evil Dead 2) is also great as the store’s manager and steals most every scene he’s in.
Spiegel’s direction and inventive shot selection create a tense mood with lots to look at. Since the whole film takes place around one location, it could easily get boring, but Spiegel never phones this one in. There are tons of interesting shots throughout the film and while there’s definitely a fair share of shots that don’t work, overall the risky venture of being inventive pays off. It keeps what might have been a boring film engaging and taut with suspense. To be fair though, a lot of the creativeness in the shots are reminiscent of the trademark Raimi style from the Evil Dead films. As he was present during the shooting and friends with Spiegel, I have to wonder how much influence he had over the final product. In any case, if you enjoy Evil Dead 2 for its fun camerawork, you’ll see similar things here.
This brings me to what is probably the most enjoyable part of the film, the gore from KNB. Each death is gruesome, bloody and inventive. One of my favorite things in horror movies is watching how creative the makeup men get at achieving a specific effect and making it look realistic. Almost every kill in Intruder is a joy to watch from this vantage point, but they all bow down and pay their respects to one particular kill, the death by table saw. I happened upon a screenshot of this scene and it is what initially interested me in this movie. It looked so convincing and realistic, I felt that any movie it came from would be worthy of my time. I am happy to report that the scene does not disappoint and looks so realistic, that I must imagine one of the KNB interns took one for the team and went to the great big FX studio in the sky. Simply put, the killer saws a dude’s head in half from ear to ear, and it is so gnarly and bloody that even the most jaded gore fan couldn’t help but to break a smile just as big. And as a side note, make sure you’re watching the 88 minute uncut edition if you want to see any of this.
A true hidden gem of 1980s horror, Scott Spiegel’s directorial debut is a fantastic film that is a fun watch from start to finish. Creative camerawork and editing, coupled with good performances and excellent KNB FX work, make for one hell of a low-budget feature. Horror fans, this one’s for you.
Come back tomorrow as we conclude our month-long horror fest with the Full Moon movie featuring the one and only Phil Fondacaro as Dracula, The Creeps!