Slasher films were at a crossroads in the late 80’s, when “Intruder,” Scott Spiegel’s directorial debut, premiered in theaters. As the sub genre grew to unprecedented heights in that decadent decade, so too did its detractors, who took on gore, violence, and hedonistic activities.
Short on plot and filled with excessive gore, slasher films were little more than extended exercises in bad taste, collectively examining a million and one clever and grotesque ways to kill of their protagonists. And in a decade when religious nuts were assaulting everyone, and exclaiming the younger generation of being, on the whole, Satanists, it’s a surprise that slasher films sustained a mainstream appeal as long as it did.
Following the success of “Evil Dead 2,” co-writer Scott Spiegel parlayed his role in the film’s creation to a gig writing and directing a film for Paramount Pictures. Along with his producing partner Lawrence Bender, who would go on to produce Quentin Tarantino’s seminal films, Spiegel hatched a plan to create an old school slasher film.
Like its predecessors in the genre, “Intruder” is a film that doesn’t concern itself with story or plot. Taking place in a supermarket after hours, the film concerns a group of employees (including performances by director Sam Raimi and his brother Ted) who are being killed one by one throughout the night. Convinced that it’s the maniacal boyfriend of one of the cashiers, everyone keeps their eyes open for the nutbag while simultaneously doing their respective jobs.
The movie is a bit slow; the first murder doesn’t even take place until the end of the first act, and by this time we’re only mildly interested in the characters and their peculiar situation. But for a film like “Intruder” that’s all right; this isn’t that kind of movie. This is a visceral film filled with eye candy and clever kills—and nothing more.
Spiegel, who obviously studied Raimi on the set of his previous films, often employs clever and oft bizarre compositions, filling his frames in such peculiar ways, such as filming a complete conversation between two characters via a mirror above a shelf—with Oreos and Wonder bread in the foreground. The problem, however, is that the compositions are often too clever for their own good and become and out and out distraction. Take, for example, a scene in which a woman in talking on a phone. The shot becomes a point of view of the telephones innards, complete with a matte painting of the rotary phone’s base consuming most of the frame. In his excesses, Spiegel forgot the key to good cinematography: composition should augment and heighten a story, not detract from it.
But, in a strange way, its excesses become its virtues. For movies like “Intruder,” its budget, and the large ambitions achieved on such a small scale, become charming, and add to its appeal. The low budget charm has infected many movies throughout the years, chief among them “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Evil Dead,” and “Night of the Living Dead,” to name a few; these are films that, had they been produced on a larger scale, wouldn’t have become the seminal films that they now are; one just has to look to the remakes of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Night of the Living Dead” to see how true that statement is.
Sadly, “Intruder” was released at a time when the MPAA, due to pressure from outside influences, began to crack down on on-screen violence and as a result Paramount cut out nearly five minutes of the film’s bloodiest sequences—which proved death for a film relying on its gore as its key selling point.
But good obscure movies have a way of finding an audience—with or without studio backing. And while “Intruder” may not be good in the traditional sense, it is a fun movie that found its audiences via uncut bootlegs and import laserdiscs and videos. And now, thanks to Wizard Entertainment, we have “Intruder,” known as “Night Crew” to some, has made its way stateside in all its uncut glory.
And if clever kills don’t sell the movie, maybe a young Sam Raimi hamming it up will.