Robin’s Underrated Gems: Intruder (1989)

Before you start drooling and thinking that I’ve uncovered some hidden gem from the team of Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi, I must inform you that this DVD cover is one of the blatant pieces of false advertising I’ve ever seen. Intruder is not a movie which was directed by Sam Raimi, even though he has a substantial acting role in the film. And, worst of all, Bruce Campbell is most definitely NOT the star of Intruder, as his entire role is pretty much a one-minute cameo that doesn’t even occur until the very end of the movie! It’s fairly common for video distribution companies to trick buyers like this by making a well-known actor out to be the star on the packaging even though if their actual role in the film is very small. This technique is usually done as an attempt at trying to polish a turd, but the good news is that Intruder is actually a pretty damn fun slasher movie! Even though some people have been tricked into buying this film by the misrepresentation of Bruce Campbell’s role on the cover, their disappointment has usually been overshadowed by their enjoyment of the movie. The man who actually did direct Intruder is Scott Spiegel, who became friends with both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell in high school and would often collaborate with them on their films. Spiegel was Raimi’s co-writer on Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and finally got the chance to make a horror film of his own two years later when he directed Intruder. Spiegel demonstrates a lot of Raimi’s same gifts for innovative camera work, ultra-gory violence, and dark humour in Intruder and even though the film kind of sank into obscurity, it demands rediscovery from horror fans.

Intruder was the first film to be produced by Lawrence Bender (who also has a brief cameo as a police officer) and Scott Spiegel helped made cinema history when he introduced Bender to a young Quentin Tarantino, leading to the eventual production of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Intruder takes place entirely in a supermarket in Walnut Creek, Michigan, which just happens to be the same place where Spiegel worked during his younger years. The film opens just before the store is about to close, as Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox), the cashier, has an uncomfortable incident with her ex-boyfriend Craig (David Byrnes), who has just been released from prison and seems seriously determined about getting her back. After Craig is thrown out of the store, the night crew is informed by the co-owners, Danny (Eugene Glazer) and Bill (Danny Hicks, who played Jake in Evil Dead 2), that they are selling the supermarket and that it will be closing within a week. The crew is assigned the task of working overnight to restock the shelves and mark down all the merchandise, but it soon becomes apparent that a mad killer has somehow been locked inside the store with them and the night crew eventually find themselves being knocked off one-by-one in very gruesome, bloody fashion. Is the unhinged Craig responsible for their deaths or is it someone else altogether? Sam Raimi himself plays the role of the store’s butcher, who finds an eyeball in a jar of olives and comes to a very violent end, and his brother, Ted Raimi, has a bit part as Produce Joe, who never takes off his headphones and is completely oblivious to everything around him… until he takes a butcher knife to the skull!

Now, on paper, Intruder is about as standard and routinely plotted as a horror film can get, and was probably released way too late during the slasher movie craze of the 1980s to garner much attention. While the genre was insanely popular throughout the decade, it had pretty much run its course by 1989 and audiences had grown very tired of slasher films at the time Intruder was released. However, those who have actually seen it consider Intruder to be the last great slasher flick of the 1980s and what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in stylish filmmaking. During scenes where not a lot is actually happening, Spiegel manages to liven up the proceedings with a lot of very inventive camera work. It seems that virtually every object in the supermarket gets their own point-of-view shot, as many moments are presented from the perspective of such items as shopping carts, doorknobs and telephone dials. Spiegel obviously learned well from Sam Raimi as he brings the same macabre sense of humour to Intruder that Raimi brought to the Evil Dead films, and even though the film is very tense and violent, it’s also quite hilarious at times. However, the most memorable aspect of Intruder is definitely its ultra-gory death scenes, which feature top-notch effects work from Robert Kurtzman, Gregory Nicotero and their KNB EFX Group. One aspect of the DVD cover that DOESN’T provide false advertising is the cover photo! The standout sequence in the film involves a character literally getting the top half of their face cut off with a meat slicer, which is one of the most brutally gory and painful-looking death scenes you’ll ever see in a horror movie.

Intruder was originally distributed by Paramount Pictures and, unfortunately, they cut out about four minutes worth of gore to ensure an “R” rating. Anyone who actually saw Intruder back in 1989 must have found it to be a more generic slasher film since that version was robbed of its most spectacular KNB F/X work. Until its official DVD release a couple years ago, the only way to watch Intruder completely uncut was by acquiring a bootleg. Because Intruder‘s original release was botched so badly, Scott Spiegel never did achieve the same level of success that Sam Raimi did. His most notable later efforts involved co-writing the Clint Eastwood/Charlie Sheen action picture, The Rookie, and directing From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (which actually wasn’t half-bad for a straight-to-video sequel). He was also the executive producer of the first two Hostel films and just recently directed the straight-to-DVD Hostel: Part III. It is kind of a shame that Spiegel’s career as a horror director never took off because he displayed a lot of talent with Intruder. Even though the film was routinely plotted and not without its flaws, Intruder was a very solid freshman effort from Spiegel and I would have liked to have seen get the chance to hone his skills in later horror films. I think Intruder suffered because horror fans were neglected the opportunity to see the uncut version for so many years, but the film is starting to develop a bit of a cult following now that it’s out on DVD. If you’re a fan of Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi’s brand of horror, you owe it to yourself to check out Intruder… even if their roles in the film are grossly misrepresented on the DVD cover! Oh, and by the way, if you’re curious about Bruce Campbell’s cameo near the end, it’s actually quite clever and funny… and let’s just say that it represents what would probably happen in real life if the survivors of a massacre were found covered in blood and with their friends’ bodies strewn all over the place.

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