If you’re a horror fan of a particular age, you know the legend of Intruder well. Originally filmed as Night Crew, this supermarket-set slasher flick was directed by Sam Raimi collaborator Scott Spiegel and became one of the ultimate examples of a hard-luck story in the world of low budget horror. It never had a proper theatrical release and, to make things worse, it was shorn of its wild gore setpieces during its initial direct-to-video release.
Spiegel soon moved on to better things – like a writing a movie (The Rookie) for Clint Eastwood – but his first cinematic child spent decades languishing in a state of neglect, with hardcore fans trading blurry workprint bootlegs and wondering what could have been. Thankfully, the movie has been revived in its uncut form in recent years, most recently in its best presentation yet from Synapse films. Is it the lost classic that fans of bloody horror have dreamt of?
Well… the answer is both yes and no.
First, a plot synopsis: Jennifer Ross (Elizabeth Cox) is having the mother of all bad nights. It begins when her wacko ex-boyfriend Craig (David Byrnes) shows up to her night-crew gig at a supermarket, demands a reunion and then gets into a brawl with the rest of the staff. After they kick him out, manager Bill (Danny Hicks) informs the crew that the store is going to be sold – a decision that the store’s senior partner, Danny (Eugene Glazer), was the prime mover behind.
Jennifer and the rest of the gang settle into a glum evening of night crew work – and that’s where the grim stuff begins. An unseen killer starts bumping the workers off one by one, using the tools of their trade with splattery creativity. To quote the tagline of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s poster, the only questions that remain are “Who will survive – and what will be left of them?”
If you’re looking for splatter delivered with macabre glee, Intruder delivers the goods and then some. This was the debut gig for the now-legendary KNB-EFX group and in the film’s uncut version they deliver some staggeringly nasty demises for a few characters, highlights including depictions of the damage that can be done by a industrial-strength hydraulic press as well as grim bits of business involving a meathook and a bandsaw. Spiegel brings an energy and enthusiasm to this stuff that gorehounds will relate to: in many ways, this is the splat-happy version of a slasher flick they’ve always dreamt of.
Unfortunately, Intruder only works in fits and starts as a movie. For all the aforementioned energy and enthusiasm, Spiegel often has trouble figuring out to channel it into compelling storytelling.
The script is pretty threadbare stuff, with thin characterizations, a by-the-numbers plot and a killer you’ll guess long before the final girl does (not enough red herrings). As a result, there are a number of slack passages with no interesting character or dialogue content to carry them along. It’s also awkward in how it paces its material: you have to wait over half the running time to get to the first kill, then you get a reel’s worth of carnage before settling into a half-hour of cat-and-mouse material between the remaining characters. It’s worth noting that this film was a remake of a 20-minute short… and it often feels like that film’s scenario was padded out to feature length rather than opened up.
Spiegel relies on his visuals to keep things interesting, deploying a barrage of trick shots throughout the film. He’s particularly enamored or quirky point-of-view shots: from a shopping cart, inside a phone, even on a doorknob as it turns. These shots are all attention-getting stuff but they do nothing to move the story forward. A smart director puts their style in the service of telling the story, using it to comment on the action or direct the viewer’s response to what is happening. In Intruder, such moments are done solely for the sake of showing off and they compete with the story instead of artfully expressing it.
As for the performances: they’re competent but they can’t rise above the material. Cox makes a decent final girl but tends towards shrillness in the film’s later scenes and without getting into spoilers, the actor playing the villain hams it up in a memorable style. Said actor is more energetic than scary – kind of like the film itself – but this person’s thesping gives the proceedings a shot in the arm. The most interesting element of the acting is spotting all the cameos: Bruce Campbell, producer Lawrence Bender, Emil Sitka and the Green Acres team of Alvy Moore and Tom Lester all pop up here. It’s also worth noting that Sam Raimi appears as one of the night crew, as does his character actor brother Ted.
In short, Intruder is a kind of litmus test for how much a viewer demands from a schlock-horror outing. If creative gore and enthusiasm are enough to satisfy you, you’ll have a good time. If you’re looking for anything more, well, you might want to put those expectations away.