Monday, November 21, 2011

Intruder (1989) review


Elizabeth Cox (Jennifer Ross), Danny Hicks (Bill Roberts), Renee Estevez (Linda), David Byrnes (Craig), Sam Raimi (Randy)

Directed by Scott Spiegel

"Don't you see? I'm just crazy about this store!!"

The Short Version: Many rabid slasher fans love it, but this mostly average, wafer thin plotted, late blooming slice and dicer has expensive gore offered at a drastically reduced price. Horror's Heroes at KNB let the blood flow in what is easily the most eye-opening, head crushing aspect of this picture outside of some inventive and impressive camera work. If you enjoyed THE EVIL DEAD (1981), this bargain bin budgeted slasherama has some of that films ingenuity as well as roles taken up by Sam and Ted Raimi and even an all too brief appearance by Bruce Campbell. Saddled with a reputation bigger than the film itself, the sheer love that has went into this recent DVD package is reason enough to shop at the Synapse store--just make sure it isn't after hours.

With news of its impending sale and layoffs, the third shift crew at the Walnut Creek grocery store receive an uninvited guest after hours. Stocking turns to stalking as the employees and managerial staff are gruesomely killed off one by one by an unseen maniac who has somehow gotten inside the locked establishment.

The writer of the classic 80s necronomical classic EVIL DEAD 2 (1987) and the exploitation throwback THOU SHALT NOT KILL...EXCEPT (aka STRYKER'S WAR [1985]) took the reigns of this blood-gushing, modestly budgeted cult item. It's a late bloomer in the slasher cycle and one of the best of an asylum packed number of similar pictures during the dying days of the 1980s. These decade closer slashers were mostly lifeless, forgettable, or minor footnotes in the cycle, but INTRUDER benefits from primo photography by Fernando Arguelles and one or two other points of interest that separates it from the splat pack making up these mostly malignant maniac movies.

I didn't listen to the commentary tracks yet to see if this was an homage, but this scene reminded me a great deal of Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980).

Unlike the uniquely fresh Italian 'Slice & Dicer' STAGEFRIGHT (1987), INTRUDER brings nothing new to the table aside from an original setting and a killer who "slashes prices" in a variety of spectacularly visceral ways. That's not to say Spiegel's love letter to a by then worn out concept isn't without merits of its own. While it took an Italian to (briefly) make the slasher fresh again (the slasher itself being the bastard child of the Italian Giallo), Spiegel's movie definitely comes alive in its cinematography (indicative of the Raimi style of the hyperactive camera) and a few of its performances most notably that of its killer. The motive and reasoning for the massacre to follow is pretty ridiculous and a bit hard to swallow, but the splashy effects from the rising grue crew KNB are ambitiously accomplished on what was a beyond meager budget.

I got out my copy of GZ#6 and noticed that the actual bandsaw death scene in the film differs from what's on the cover.

The film became the talk of horror film circles back in the day when photos of its carnage were judiciously splattered both inside and onto the cover of Fangoria's sister mag, Gorezone magazine. While the film lost nearly all its money shots to the scissors of the MPAA, horror magazines would become a hot button issue as well with a number of folks becoming seriously offended by covers and contents of these magazines. At this time, horror movies and cinematic ultra violence in general was a massive concern resulting in a serious backlash against the genre itself. News programs like 20/20 and even late night tabloid crapola like THE MORTON DOWNEY JR. SHOW were viciously pelting horror cinema with a constant stream of verbal assaults.

Brutal crimes had been on the rise (or at least had become hot media topics) and movies were blamed for the despicable displays of human monsters who were allegedly "commanded" to kill by what they saw in a motion picture. The MPAA was pressured to take a more responsible stance towards violence in movies, but a double standard was in practice. If you were a big studio, you could get by, or if your film was something other than horror, than the violence was generally passed with barely a slap on the wrist. But if you were a low budget horror flick, your wrist wasn't slapped, it was slashed. Such was the case with INTRUDER.

There's lots and lots of product placement in this movie. That Frosted Flakes box art is different from I am used to.

Paramount, arguably the single most loathed major studio in Hollywood where the release of horror films were concerned, haphazardly handled Spiegel and crew's movie as opposed to simply releasing it uncut, or in two separate versions--R and unrated. With the picture stripped of its "guts", it's baffling why they would have shown any distributional interest to begin with considering their contemptible treatment of the pinnacle of slasherdom, the FRIDAY THE 13TH series and one of the decades goriest examples of the form, MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1980).

From there, a fan uproar ensued when it was discovered that the recently released to video film was--to put it mildly--severely truncated. For the rabids gorehounds, it was the splatter that mattered and INTRUDER, a film that wore its gore like a bloody badge of honor was now stripped of its rank. The film did manage to sneak out in bad quality bootleg editions and said quality remained that way till this most recent Synapse DVD/Blu Ray combo. Also of note is that the INTRUDER workprint is included with the first 500 copies among an already loaded grocery cart of goodies. Those who have been used to the grainy imagery of past releases will be shocked by the bloody vibrancy of this new Synapse edition who have given the presentation a 'Mr. Clean' sheen.

Sam Raimi gets a hand in the meat department

Going back to the film itself, the plot is nothing new and some viewers may find their patience wearing thin as it's nearly 40 minutes before the first victim falls prey to the numerous devices of death under the killers employ (similarly, the opening credits seem to take forever to get on with it). This extra time spent with an already kooky clutch of characters does little to make you feel sorry for them when they begin to kick the proverbial bloody bucket. A far too obvious red herring complete with an angry, murderous backstory is thrown into the mix early on. Once the night crew is established, the fright is on as each individual gets their own designer death sequence. The die hard slasher fans don't watch these movies for exposition anyway, but for the gore, and in that respect, INTRUDER satisfies.

Blood & Beer make a dangerous combination. Please, don't Drink and Die.

There's a ghoulishly black comical air to the whole thing, but some of the extended death sequences will no doubt make some viewers wince in disgust. Still, by comparison, Joseph Zito's equally overlooked and similarly titled THE PROWLER (1981) featured gut wrenching scenes of human destruction made all the more sadistic by a voyeuristically lingering camera. INTRUDER adopts this "gore the merrier" approach, but the quirky semi comical touches lessen the impact overall.

Bruce Campbell (cop at front) makes an arrest

During the last 20 minutes when the scenery chewing killer reveals himself, the movie kicks into overdrive culminating in a fast and furious finale that features the funniest beatdown by a decapitated noggin, a would be hero who takes a laughably punishing amount of blows to the Cabeza (this movie is full of head trauma), and a late appearance by Bruce Campbell as a police officer. The music is good and some of the stock cues used here will be familiar sounds to the ears of some viewers. The final shot isn't very satisfying (it's kind of up in the air as to what happens next), but in total, this lovingly choice cut of meat is an essential purchase for serious indy horror fans not only for its historical significance, but for the wealth of background information and plethora of extras heaped onto this Deli Deluxe package. In terms of entertainment value, INTRUDER delivers the groceries, even if a few things are left out of the bag.

This review is representative of the Synapse DVD/Blu-Ray combo special edition #227 with work print. This particular release can only be bought at the Synapse website. Click HERE for more information.

The direct link to the page with the INTRUDER combo release (while supplies last) can be found by clicking HERE.

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