As much as we all shelter under the umbrella of ‘horror’ each fan is different. Sure, we can all appreciate a decent example of any horror genre, but there is always one to which we gravitate. Some people like the extreme end of things and love gore and splatter flicks; some the strange, often hallucinogenic, qualities of the Giallo; still others the slow-burn and creepy atmosphere of an old fashioned haunted house movie. For me, it’s the slasher movie. I love the fixed rules, the unstoppable killers, the sleaze, the leery quality, and the kills; I fully acknowledge everything that is wrong with them but it’s where my horror heart is. I missed out on a large part of the golden age of the slasher by being too young so, in large part, I have been catching up for decades with a lot of the older, more obscure examples. It is in this regard that being UK-based has always been an issue. The States – and to a lesser extent some of the larger European markets – get far more genre releases than we do and there are some really astonishing remasters and reissues to which we simply don’t have access unless we are willing to invest in multi-region equipment. Bearing all this in mind I have finally caught up with a slasher film that many of you will know but until this week had eluded me – 1989’s Scott Spiegel directed ‘Intruder’.
The story follows a group of shop assistants working late-night at a supermarket to restock for the next day. When an ex-boyfriend turns up fresh from a stretch in jail there is a violent confrontation between him and the rest of the employees which results in him being ejected and the doors locked. However, as the evening progresses, it becomes apparent that someone is locked in the store with them, someone more concerned with stacking bodies than shelves…
All the tropes and clichés of the slasher movie are present and correct. It is rather easy to work out who the killer is, although not insultingly so, and the big reveal at the end is well handled so that, even though you know who the culprit is, it remains effective. The set-up at the beginning does take a little while, about thirty five minutes, before people start dying but this does not feel baggy or laboured. The cast are very good by the standard of any slasher fare, especially one that was made on a rather low budget, and whilst the characters are clichéd the cast all do a good job. Elizabeth Cox as Jennifer, our heroine, is appealing if a little wooden but the supporting cast are very solid. For fans, both Sam and Ted Raimi appear, as Randy and Ted respectively (there’s a cool nod to ‘The Evil Dead’ too), and acquit themselves well, as does genre veteran Dan Hicks as store co-owner Bill. Craig Stark does a good job with weird and strange Tim and even long-time Raimi collaborator Bruce Campbell appears in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Renee Estevez as Jennifer’s friend Linda really shines however and it’s a shame that her role is not more fleshed out as she is appealing and convincing onscreen.
The thing that struck me most about ‘Intruder’ was the tone of the piece. Whilst I am sure this only comes with our retrospective view rather than from what Spiegel intended, it felt a very light-hearted movie and for the opening act I couldn’t shake a tonal comparison with an episode of Scooby-Doo. Once things get messy in the second act though, make no mistake, ‘Intruder’ is really bloody. The special effects look dated but are excellent and there is real creativity on display from the ever-reliable Robert Kurtzman and team; the deaths by meat hook and band saw were particular highlights. If anything, these were a little let down by the direction as there was a tad too much foreshadowing for my taste; a small point, however, and not one to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the movie. There are some excellent set pieces too; the kills take place during a very short space of time, leaving the entire twenty minute final act to a cat-and-mouse chase around a darkened supermarket. I really do intend to avoid spoiler territory as much as humanly possible but a climactic chase at the store checkouts and a showdown in a phone box are excellent. Spiegel does a great job too of framing the action and, more importantly for a film that takes place at night, keeping it well lit. He has some interesting ideas with shadow, underlighting and reflections too, but it is never less than clear who is doing what – a real praiseworthy quality in budget film-making. The soundtrack is cool, in a retro sort of way, and fans of blaring synth and funky danger music will find much to like here.
It took me a while to get to ‘Intruder’ and I’m relieved that I enjoyed it as much as I did. As with anything for which anticipation is high there’s always an excellent chance of disappointment, but not for this slasher fan, not in this instance. It is a movie very much of its time but it holds up remarkably well. It is well shot, well-acted, has excellent special effects, and has the all-important creative death scenes that every slasher fan looks for. If you haven’t seen it, do track it down and give it a go; it really is worth it. If you have seen it, then it’s worth re-watching just for what you may not have noticed before – the biggest watermelon in cinematic history. That, and the fact that it’s awesome.
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