Color, 1989, 88m.
Directed by Scott Spiegel
Starring Elizabeth Cox, Renée Estevez, Dan Hicks, David Byrnes, Sam Raimi, Eugene Robert Glazer, Burr Steers, Ted Raimi
Synapse (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC)/ WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Wizard (US R0 NTSC), Dragon (Germany R0 PAL)
Color, 1989, 88m.
In a more forgiving universe, Intruder would have been the last great, gory swan song of the '80s American slasher era, an outrageously gory parade of dismemberment and mayhem from many of the gang responsible for The Evil Dead (including a supporting role for that film's director, Sam Raimi). The plot basically transplants the usual "gang of kids get killed one by one" formula into the novel setting of a supermarket, but the sheer panache of the execution could have made it an instant cult hit. Unfortunately, fate had other plans in store when American distributor Empire Pictures blew the film's release by scissoring out all of the gory highlights (which are considerable and represent one of the first efforts from the KNB Efx team of Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman,Greg Nicotero and Sean Rodgers), which earned it a pointless R rating for the almost direct-to-VHS release courtesy of Paramount. Coupled with awkward cover art that managed to spoil the ending and misleadingly pass this off as some sort of monster movie, this release earned justifiable outrage from horror fans who had seen plenty of squishy stills in various genre magazines (especially a notorious issue of GoreZone) only to find every single highlight now missing. Blurry bootleg copies became hot items on the fan trading circuit, and despite rampant mistreatment through most of its history, the film did indeed eventually earn a fan following from those dogged enough to hunt it down in complete form.
At the Walnut Lake Supermarket, a typical night at work takes an unexpected turn when the entire work crew is summoned together so the store's co-owner, Bill (Evil Dead II's Hicks), informs them that he and the other owner, Danny (Hunter's Blood's Glazer), are shutting it down and selling the property. Everyone has the entire night to dismantle the inventory, but earlier that same evening, cashier Jen (Cox) has more drama to deal with in the form of her stalker ex-boyfriend (Byrnes) who has to be physically thrown off the property. Soon all of the employees are getting bumped off one by one via every deadly implement in sight (ranging from meat hooks to bandsaws), and the survivors eventually face off in a battle to the death with a nasty twist waiting at the end.
For anyone expecting a lost genre masterpiece, it's important to note that Intruder is far from a perfect film; the opening half hour is oddly edited and features more than its share of Kevin Smith-style clunky line readings, while the performances range from competent to hammy to bland depending on the scene. However, that's all pretty much irrelevant when the blood starts to spray and director Scott Spiegel goes berserk with the crazy Raimi-style POV shots from items like a grocery cart and the inside of a rotary dial telephone. It's a huge amount of fun if you love your slashers done old school style and with lots of verve, plus you get both Raimi brothers acting onscreen and meeting extremely nasty fates. The script by Spiegel (based on an earlier short film, "Night Crew," which was also the original title of this film) also boasts a welcome sense of humor and manages to sidestep the obvious nature of its killer's identity by giving him one of the most outrageous "why I did it" speeches in genre history. (There's one line in particular fans have never forgotten, and you'll know it the moment you hear it.) Oh, and you also get surprise bit roles for Bruce Campbell, producer Lawrence Bender (pre-Tarantino era), and even Alvy Moore (A Boy and His Dog).
So, back to the home video history of Intruder. Uncut copies eventually did pop up on DVD both in the US and no less than two versions from Dragon in Germany (under the title Night of the Intruder), but visual quality was mediocre at best; at least the Dragon version distinguished itself by including two fun early Spiegel shorts, "Attack of the Helping Hand!" and "Torro, Torro, Torro!" (also featuring Campbell and mainstays of various fan compilations). Thankfully the film fell into the hands of Synapse, who made this their second '80s slasher film to hit Blu-Ray after The Dorm that Dripped Blood (with which this film shares one very strong narrative similarity in their respective climaxes). Once again their release offers a Blu-Ray and DVD combo pack, but the first option is definitely recommended if you can play it. The upgrade here is quite substantial throughout, and given the film's scrappy origins, it's surprising how crisp and pleasing it looks. Yes, it still has that slightly grubby '80s film stock veneer to it, but particularly considering how terrible it's looked before, this is really a sight for sore, gouged eyes. The film is still wildly entertaining if you're willing to go along with its oddball gory groove, and the chance to finally see all of the over-the-top bloody highlights in pristine quality is really something to behold. The DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds fine throughout without any noticeable tinkering involved; the only real negative here is the fact that no English captioning options are offered. The first big extra here is a lively audio commentary with Spiegel and Bender, who remain largely scene specific as they walk through the making of the film with an obvious emphasis on the creation of the gory fx, the little in-jokes and local references staggered through the film, and their favorite line deliveries. "Slashed Prices," a new featurette about the making of the film, features Spiegel, Bender, Cox, Campbell, executive producer Charles Band, Ted Raimi, Kurtzman, Hicks, Berger, Nicotero, cinematographer Fernando Arguelles, and actors Craig Stark and Burr Steers talking about the genesis of the film, its financing and filming, those crazy trick camera shots, and thwarted hopes for a sequel. A selection of outtakes from the significantly longer original workprint of the film include some glimpses at gory shots dropped from the final assembly (including some nice extra bits from Sam Raimi's demise), followed by a six-minute reel of surviving footage from the original "Night Crew" short with a new music score. "The Slashing of Intruder" features A Better Place director Vincent Pereira offering a solid thumbnail sketch of the film's tragic initial release history from a horror fan's perspective, plus he shows off the VHS copy of the uncut version Spiegel mailed him back in the good old days. A batch of VHS-sourced audition footage features actors like Billy Marti, Cox, Hicks, Glazer, and Renée Estevez offering sometimes hilarious readings of the script, followed by a behind-the-scenes gallery including the expected close ups of some of the nastier highlights. The original trailers for both the feature and "Night Crew" round out the set, clinching its status as an essential restored chapter in '80s horror history.
(Note: the first 500 copies of the film ordered directly from Synapse also get a DVD-R copy of the complete original workprint, which features some extended dialogue scenes in addition to the aforementioned alternate and slightly extended death scenes.)