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Intruder (1989)

Tagline: ‘A new dimension in terror’
Running Time: 88 minutes (uncut version)

Film Quality: 4/5
Gore Content: 4/5
Entertainment Value: 4.5/5
Originality: 4/5


Director Scott Spiegel was looking for a directorial project and rediscovered one of his early Super 8 movies filmed when he was a teenage called ‘Night Crew’. Realising that the horror genre was a relatively easy one within which low budget film makers could make a name for themselves and having already achieved success as a writer and producer in the ‘Evil Dead’ series, he gathered up some of the old gang to tread over familiar ground. With a great deal of unrealised talent within the cast and crew they produced one of the most overlooked and original slasher movies to grace the 80s and forever changed the landscape of cinema history.

In a nutshell

The owners of a small convenience store sell up and decide to close down, resulting in the night crew asked to stay behind to ‘slash prices’ in anticipation of a stock clearance. They get a slashing of a different kind as a maniacal killer is trapped inside with them, picking them off one by one. But who is he and will any of them get out alive?

What’s good about it?

By 1989 we thought we’d seen it all in the slasher genre but Scott Spiegel manages to bring something fresh and appealing to the table here. Many of the tropes are there (bunch of kids stalked by an unseen killer at night, all in one place) but there’s something a little more believable and commonplace about it. For a start they all have a reason for being in this ‘terrible place’ and a reason for splitting up…it’s their job and they are where they’re supposed to be. None of the teenagers are irritating or unlikeable, there’s no gratuitous nudity or sex, no forced moral message, no masked killer, legend or folk tale upon which to suspect that there is anything out of the ordinary. It’s just a regular nightshift where something extraordinary happens which gives it an everyday feel.

The kills, on the whole, are wonderfully over the top with lots of the red stuff. We have eyes gouged out on letter pins, heads splattered in hydraulic crushers and in the standout scene, a head cut in half from cheek to cheek (left). It’s presented in graphic close up and we see a lot of the aftermath as well with blood spurting off screen. For such a low budget film the effects really are quite remarkable and it’s no surprise that the make-up effects were provided by Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman who went on to become the world renowned KNB EFX crew. This was Nicotero’s first supervisory role and allowed him to set up KNB as a company, so this is where it all started!

There is a thick vein of very dark humour running throughout ‘Intruder’ and some wonderful dialogue, especially Dan Hicks’ tremendous twice told monologue about a fireman, ‘here comes f’cking Parker, walking down nine miles, swinging the head by the hair in one hand and his sandwich in the other’. Some of the visual gags as well are great, one of the kids is sawn in half and found dumped in a bin with a sign around his head that proudly claims to have ‘Half Off’. Once again, it raises the film above your average slasher by not taking itself too seriously but not sending itself up either. It’s a very fine line to walk and this film treads it almost perfectly.

The production crew proved to be highly resourceful, finding a genuine store that had actually closed down which they could use for virtually nothing and intercepting stock set for landfill to line the shelves. This film cost just $130,000 but looks superb in terms of production values and authenticity. It’s also got some decent acting chops, including Renee Estevez (Martin Sheen’s daughter), an ‘Evil Dead 2’ reunion for the brilliant Dan Hicks, Sam and Ted Raimi and a brief appearance by Bruce Campbell. Hicks in particular is having a ball in the limelight and turns in a wonderfully maniacal performance.

What about the bad?

Coming at the end of the slasher movie craze and WAY past its golden era it suffered horribly through bad timing. Never mind that it did something fresh and original with the format, people were tired of the genre so it fell by the wayside and has only very recently been reappraised and appreciated for the impressive film that it is. It’s also never been given the credit for launching a huge array of talent but more about that later.

Any themes?

‘Dawn of the Dead’ used its mall setting to make a comment on consumerism and whilst I don’t think there were many delusions of grandeur on the part of the filmmakers here I like the way that it places itself right in the middle of small town America in a minimart that’s closing down. At a time when small towns and businesses were being squeezed out by big business and huge supermarkets, here’s a story about the little guy fighting back. There’s a bit of a spoiler alert here but Hicks’ character Bill is being forced to sell up against his will by his former friends and majority stakeholder Danny. He put everything into that store and was being forced to watch it being torn apart brick by brick in the interests of money and development. It sends him over the edge and, as he so eloquently puts it “got a little carried away”’

His workforce are disposable, Danny doesn’t care about them, reflecting big business attitudes towards its own workforce…very relatable in today’s society. So whilst middle America was being left to fend to itself in the marketplace, so were Danny’s workforce, offered little protection against the relentless violence, or ‘power’, of the system.

Release history

One of the film’s major selling points, the notorious gore set pieces, were almost completely shorn by the MPAA which must have been absolutely gut wrenching for the FX teams involved. So much work had gone into creating some impressively gruesome effects that, initially, nobody got to see. The cuts were drastic and rendered some scenes almost nonsensical which certainly didn’t help the flow of the film. Add to that the fact that the killer’s identity, and ultimately the surprise ending, was revealed on the box art to many of the VHS tapes released…way to go!

In the UK, the full uncut version was submitted to the BBFC, needless to say it fared pretty poorly and seven seconds short of two minutes was hacked out of it to give us a version not too dissimilar to the US version. It was more complete, made more sense and, to be fair, it was still pretty gruesome. It also had a brightly coloured, yellow sticker on it emblazoned with the words ‘New Version’ but even in the pre-Internet days it was clear that something quite special was missing.

Thankfully, with the advent of blu-ray and the existence of a fabled ‘director’s cut’ containing untold gory treasures, it enjoyed a serious resurgence in the days of the shiny disc. Both the UK and US now have wonderfully restored versions available and in the US, a limited release of a workprint version which contains EVEN MORE GORE with some of the scenes extended, though not remastered and without sound. These extended scenes are available as special features within the standard releases.

Cultural Impact

I wasn’t kidding when I said it launched some major talent. We’ve already touched on the advent of Greg Nicotero’s KNB FX company and Sam Raimi going on to direct Hollywood blockbusters but they weren’t the only ones.

Renee Estevez (left, in a neat little in-joke camera trick!) went on to appear in 44 episodes of ‘The West Wing’, Craig Stark has continued to act to this day and most recently appeared in Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’, Burr Steer has turned to directing including the reasonably successful ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ whilst cinematographer Fernando Arguelles has had a prolific career in movies and TV with credits including ‘Grimm’, ‘Prison Break’, ‘Hemlock Grove’ and ‘Breakout Kings’.

But most notably writer and director Scott Spiegel introduced co-writer Lawrence Bender to an enthusiastic movie geek by the name of Quentin Tarantino. The two collaborated on a little independent feature called ‘Reservoir Dogs’, produced by Bender, and forever changed the history of film. Bender’s CV is just incredible, including executive producer of the recent Oscar winning ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ and the announced third instalment of ‘Kill Bill, not to mention his frequent collaborations with Tarantino that ended with ‘Inglorious Basterds’.

There was a huge amount of talent working on this film that it’s no surprise it stands out from the crowd and it’s great to see so many of the crew breaking out and making a success of themselves.

Our resourceful 'final girl' surrounded by carnage
Final Thoughts
A very smart, witty and gruesome slasher that was cruelly overlooked at the time but seems to have secured a new lease of life on blu-ray and re-appreciation. It comes across as unique and unusual and the fact that so many of the crew came out of it and have established themselves as leaders in their field shows that the film comes from good stock. I have a lot of time for this film and always thoroughly enjoy watching it…if you think you’ve seen it all within the slasher movie genre then give this a go, it’s fresh, original and a blast!

Memorable quotes:

Bill: “I’m jus’ crazy ‘bout this store.”

Bub: “If my brother hadn’t hit him repeatedly with a blender, he would’ve killed me.”
Linda: “A blender?”
Bub: “Yeah…a Hamilton Beach Blender.”

Bill: “Here comes [email protected] Parker, walking down nine miles, swinging the goddamn head by the hair in one hand and his sandwich in the other…”

You’ll like this if you enjoyed…

‘Stagefright’, ‘April Fool’s Day’, ‘Scream’

This post first appeared on The Horror Video, please read the originial post: here

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Intruder (1989)


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