Tagline: He’s just CRAZY bout this store!
Director: Scott Spiegel
Writers: Lawrence Bender (story), Scott Spiegel (screenplay/story)
Starring: Elizabeth Cox, Renée Estevez, Dan Hicks, David Byrnes, Sam Raimi, Eugene Robert Glazer, Billy Marti, Burr Steers, Bruce Campbell, Craig Stark, Ted Raimi
18 | 1hr 23min | Horror
Budget: $130,000 (estimated)
Horror fans were all about one kind of movie at the turn of the 80s: the slasher. Giallo’s bastard offspring thrived on violence and nudity, eschewing traditional suspense and mystery for the kind of cynical, unabashed slaughter that had teenagers flocking to theatres in their droves. Due to its simple, cost-cutting formula and ability to turn a profit, the sub-genre would explode during early part of the decade, but a very public denouncing of the slasher and everything it represented led to the kind of moral panic that had concerned parents and sections of the media calling for the guillotine. Soon enough, independent filmmakers were hauled into court, some of whom accused of committing real-life atrocities for the sake of a few dollars ― ludicrous in hindsight, but at the time deadly serious. In the US, the likes of Siskel and Ebert brought so much heat to slasher poster boy Jason Voorhees that Paramount applied a tourniquet to the series. In the UK, 72 films were prosecuted under the Video Recordings Act of 1984 and promptly banned, a list dubbed ‘Video Nasties‘ by a tabloid press looking to exploit affairs.
By the end of the 1980s, the horror genre was looking rather tepid. Gone were the pre-certificate days of decadent death and destruction. There were exceptions, but those that stuck to their bloodthirsty principles generally had their vision cut to ribbons, the kind that would sluice through the cutting room floor, often irretrievably. Fred Krueger would go from sick and twisted child killer to glorified stand-up act, delivering sequels that were more pantomime than horror. In 1987, cult director Sam Raimi was forced to remake his banned-to-ignominy low-budget revelation The Evil Dead, tongue-in-cheek quasi-sequel Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn upping the humour as a way to make the splatter more palatable, and as a result his most infamous creation more commercially viable. As for the slasher genre, it was dead on its feet. Not only was it commercially passé, the censors had drained all the fun out of it.
Things would get worse before they got better. 1989 was a terrible year for horror. There were exceptions, but on the whole the genre was lacking any kind of commercial clout or creativity, its stock slumping to its lowest level in years. As Jason Voorhees took a long, laborious boat ride for what would prove to be his most bloodless outing, the once gore-hungry slasher threatened to disappear down Norman Bates’ plughole, but some were unperturbed by the heavy hand of censorship, regardless of the impact it would have on their final product. Take Evil Dead II co-writer Sam Spiegel, who in January ’89 would let rip with a supermarket-based splatterfest of ingeniously graphic proportions. Inevitably, fans would not see the true extent of Intruder‘s unabashed slaughter until many years later, and the fact that almost five minutes were nixed from the original cut tells you all you need to know about the graphic nature of its content. So extreme and convincing were its practical effects that one scene in particular was cut in its entirety, and for those of you who have seen this slice of grue-packed goodness, you’ll know exactly which scene I am referring to.
An theatrical extension of Spiegel’s own Super-8 short Night Crew, Intruder was based on the director’s own experiences working at the real Walnut Lake Market in Michigan, where Spiegel and the Raimi brothers grew up, and the cynicism shines through. The only reason why the title was changed was that Paramount pushed for a title in the traditional slasher vein, and that wasn’t the only promotional tactic used to promote Spiegel’s $130,000 outing. Naturally, Paramount promoted horror mainstays Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and Ted Raimi as the stars of the film, despite the three having only secondary or cameo roles. Paramount had proven themselves the masters of underhanded gimmicks during Friday the 13th’s gradual neutering, and Spiegel must have feared the worst in terms of censorship. The fact that the movie was co-produced by Charles Band and cult distributor Empire Pictures, by that point under the control of Eduard Sarlui’s Epic Entertainment following Band’s bankruptcy, probably goes some way to explaining the film’s visual extremities and all-out wackiness. Paramount had long been self-censoring when it came to more mainstream productions, so you have to assume they knew very little about the movie’s graphic content before the all-important test screening.
Intruder takes more than a leaf out of Dead by Dawn‘s Book of the Dead, presumably in the hope that Spiegel and co. could get the majority of its carnage through the censorship door, and there are many comparisons to be drawn here other than the obvious cameo of cult figure Bruce Campbell. First of all, the movie has its tongue firmly in its cheek. The murders may be gruesome, devastatingly so, but like Dead by Dawn its sense of fun and Days of Our Lives characterisation softens the blow, while a ludicrously comical killer, senselessly revealed on the cover of the film’s VHS release, only adds to the film’s absurd presentation. There is also the prerequisite twist synonymous with the sub-genre, but very little attention is given to it. Spiegel is all about the blood and guts, and it works a treat.
The plot is extremely and effectively simple: on the eve of a corporate takeover, the employees of a local supermarket are plunged into joblessness by conflicting co-owners, and when a checkout girl’s jailbird ex-boyfriend comes a knocking, everyone there has a reason to feel aggrieved, and the movie quickly becomes a by-the-numbers whodunit that may keep you in the dark due to how peripheral the reveal is to the overall movie (unless you looked at the VHS cover, obviously). Like Dead by Dawn, Intruder is also technically playful, though sometimes to its detriment. While the former used bizarre angles to represent Ash’s claustrophobia and descent into madness, Spiegel uses similar techniques for seemingly no reason whatsoever, filming redundant interactions from dizzying angles that make absolutely no sense and only serve to baffle the viewer. While Dead by Dawn utilised anonymous POV shots to convey the existence of an ethereal evil, Spiegel shoots from inside a moving shopping cart simply for the hell of it.
Such a lack of traditional logic also works in the film’s favour, allowing for a wildly open canvas, and there are some genuinely inspired instances of carefree creativity on display, a bloodied light bulb motif, again borrowed from Raimi’s The Evil Dead, proving particularly effective. Ultimately, Intruder is all about a series of murders that push the absolute limits of decency. Thanks to the special effects maestros from the KNB EFX Group, who went on to work on cringing classics such as Misery and From Dusk Till Dawn, Spiegel and co are able to do a rather fine job of it, and as the film plays out you find yourself anticipating each kill with a worrying fascination, wondering what on Earth they’ll come up with to top the last. Paramount, who would grow so ashamed of marquee killer Jason Voorhees that they actively destroyed some of the graphic footage edited from later sequels, were similarly ruthless with Speigel’s unadulterated eyesore. Luckily, Synapse Films would release an unrated cut in 2012, so fans get to see the infamous bandsaw beheading in all of its putrid glory. Yikes!
In a March ’89 issue of horror magazine Gorezone, Spiegel would confess his love for the explicit. “I love [horror movies], I grew up with ’em, and I want to keep making ’em,” he would beam. “All kinds: sci-fi aliens from outer space, psycho trips like Halloween, H.P. Lovecraft demon stuff, the disgusting, putrescent things from out of the ground — you know, the gore the merrier. You put your heart into it. If not, why are you doing this job?”
It’s astonishing what the good folks at KNB EFX were able to achieve on such a small budget, and there are so many first-rate kills to choose from, a paper spike through the eyeball and a head squashed in a garbage compressor proving two of the most unsettling. But for pure cringing terror nothing beats one unlucky customer’s date with a bandsaw. You think you’ve got the stomach for anything? Think again.
Most Absurd Moment
Intruder provides its fair share of visual jokes in an attempt to complement the gore, but that of our resident killer beating red herring Craig with the severed head of a previous victim probably pips it for plain absurdity.
Most Absurd Dialogue
After being fingered as the unlikely culprit, our killer goes some way to explaining his psychopathic psyche.
Killer: Don’t you see? I’m just CRAZY about this store!