Just when the night crew is closing up at the Walnut Lake Market, cashier Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, THE WRAITH) gets assaulted by crazy ex-boyfriend Craig (David Byrnes, WITCHCRAFT 7 and IX). Most of the staff get in a big brawl with him and he runs off. They think he’s still hiding in the store somewhere, but they’re not sure, and the police come and prove to be incompetent.
That’s a solid slasher movie set up. It has that all important sense of time and place – a limited location with all kinds of possibilities for horror gimmicks and gags, a set of characters doing their duties in different parts of the building where they can be picked off, a reason why other people aren’t around and the cops are no help. The few minutes of searching for Craig near the beginning sets up the geography of the store and all the potential hiding places that will become important locations. Though not necessary, INTRUDER also sets up a mystery, because we have the easy-to-jump-to conclusion that this abusive asshole is the murderer, but not showing his face gives us the unsettling feeling that we’re being tricked.
What the movie does not do well is create strong characters to identify with. Jennifer is in the Final Girl slot, and Cox is certainly likable, but the character is not particularly active or endowed with personality, and spends a surprisingly long section just cleaning one of the checkout counters. Since she’s not really doing much you don’t get a chance to bond with her as much as you would Laurie Strode or somebody.
And this is not one of those horror movies that feels really true to life. They sometimes don’t seem convincing as people who work in a grocery store – when Jennifer gathers the shopping carts from the parking lot it doesn’t seem like she’s ever done that in her life. There are some awkward stagings where it doesn’t make sense that the character conveniently doesn’t look at a person or a body part or a puddle of blood that’s clearly within their vision. There is a weird timeline because Jennifer dated Craig “about a year ago,” but during that space he was arrested, tried and convicted of beating a man to death, then served his time and has already been let out on parole.
But none of those things kill the fun of the movie, because it’s a great example of the classical gory slasher movie, the type where you can accept all those weaknesses and still have a great time. If I may bring back my analogy of slasher movies being like the blues, this is a young guy playing a familiar song kinda sloppy, but launching into impressively off-the-rails guitar solos in all the right spots. If you can enjoy the show-offy musicianship then you’ll like this. It doesn’t have to change your world.
So they take a traditional tune about a killer loose in a grocery store and they find all the hooks. Sometimes literally, because they set up every piece of equipment that can be used for horror and then take advantage of all of them: slicers and saws and rolling hooks in the meat department, a trash compactor, a roller conveyor, an intercom, a security window overlooking the store from upstairs, etc. When the guy who stocks the cooler gets stabbed, the knife goes out his back and explodes beer suds everywhere. When the owner gets killed in his office his eye gets stabbed on his letter spike, his hand pushes on his adding machine spitting out receipt paper, his blood drips onto the bulb of a lamp and there’s a long shot of the paneling on the drop ceiling as the light on it turns red.
That’s a callback to EVIL DEAD 2, which makes sense because this is the directorial debut of that film’s co-writer Scott Spiegel. Like his later FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2: TEXAS BLOOD MONEY, this has a shameless zeal for playful camera angles and POV shots: inside a moving shopping cart, through a pegboard, inside a teetering phone booth, behind a bottle of Courvoisier, under the dial of a rotary phone. He also loves playing with shadows and reflections of the killer sneaking up on people.
The cinematographer is Fernando Arguelles (STAR TIME, HIDDEN ASSASSIN), but it’s a style present in much of Spiegel’s work.
The main characters are a little bland, but it’s a decent cast. Of the young people the weirdest is Bub (Burr Steers), who looks kinda like Paul Dano and talks in a weird stoner voice. I knew I recognized Steers’ name, and it turns out was because he directed PRIDE + PREJUDICE + ZOMBIES. Good job, Bub. You also got Martin Sheen’s daughter Renee Estevez (SLEEPAWAY CAMP II, HEATHERS, DEADFALL) and a couple others. The more memorable actors are Dan Hicks (EVIL DEAD II’s Jake) as co-owner Bill, and two different Raimis.
Yes, Spiegel’s high school buddy Sam Raimi plays Randy from the meat department. His introduction really made me laugh: after the entire rest of the crew have been fighting with Craig for a few minutes, he obliviously walks around the corner holding a cup of water and mumbling “Hey, what the hell’s goin’ on” just in time to get thrown into a Diet Pepsi display.
Ted Raimi plays Joe in produce, and his death is followed by a shot of a sign about knife safety. (That’s not the best signage gag in the movie, though – that would be the killer putting an “As advertised – 1/2 off” sign on a guy he cut in half.) Joe listens to a Walkman while he works, which not only leaves him vulnerable to attack, but makes for a cool visual when a knife chops his head and splits the headphones in half.
The extravagance of the deaths is most of the fun. There are some real gory things happening to rubber heads, and the killer savagely beats a guy with another guy’s severed head. Better yet, he lures someone in by hiding around a corner puppeteering the head of a guy he already killed! A severed hand ends up in the lobster case, waiting to be liberated by Eddie Furlong. They also seem to be having fun just executing the cliches of the genre with slight twists. Instead of the traditional squealing cat, a fake scare by the dumpster involves a cute puppy. While a staff member hornily spies on some people making out the killer spies on him spying. In a struggle, Jennifer desperately reaches not for a knife or a vase, but a jar of wheat germ to break over her attacker’s head.
They do the traditional “cut from violent murder to food being cut” edit, but it quickly gets to the point where it’s “cut from tool being used for murder to innocent use of the next tool that will be used for murder.”
This is a movie that connects the Sam Raimi world to the Quentin Tarantino world. Spiegel has worked with Tarantino a few times, as have effects guys Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (KNB EFX Group). Also Craig Stark (Tim) had small parts in DJANGO UNCHAINED and THE HATEFUL EIGHT, and Steers was “Flock of Seagulls” in PULP FICTION. But most importantly Tarantino’s long-time producer Lawrence Bender produced, provided the story and cameos as a cop. There’s actually a scene that’s very QT: the camera rotates around a table as the staff sit together listening to Bill tell a colorful story. It’s weird how well this predicts RESERVOIR DOGS, which came out three years later. Spiegel was the one who introduced Tarantino to Bender.
The magic of high definition makes it easy to spot some odd details in the movie. I noticed they’re carrying at least two different issues of TV Guide. One is the March 12-18, 1988 issue with the cover story “Is TV getting better– or worse?” by William A. Henry III. The cover features the casts of M.A.S.H., ALF and Cheers, so presumably the answer is “better,” because who didn’t love ALF? This was not a very eventful week for television, but it was when Oliver North and John Poindexter were indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
But these Walnut Lake Market people need to get their shit together when it comes to the stocking of periodicals, because the other issue of TV Guide they carry is the February 22-28, 1986 issue with Jane Seymour, Lee Horsley and Cheryl Ladd on the cover for Crossings. The other cover story ties in with the Grammys being on that week. The big winner of that night was “We Are the World,” though Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required won album of the year, producer of the year and best pop vocal (male). Sade won best new artist. The “Best Polka” category was added. Tina Turner won best rock vocal performance, female for “One of the Living,” the better, less remembered of her two songs on MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME.
They also carry a German language magazine called Tempo with a cover story about Sting and his “ejakulation.” I’m not sure how all this is relevant to INTRUDER, but I am positive that it is absolutely crucial to truly understanding it. I don’t think you can do an accurate reading without examining these clues.
There was a long time where you had to go region coded to find INTRUDER. Now it’s available in a good director’s cut special edition. But it still has a low profile, and I blame that on whoever changed the title to INTRUDER for video. There are obviously many grocery store related phrases that would be preferable, including the original theatrical title NIGHT CREW: THE FINAL CHECKOUT and some of the puns used in its trailers. The narrator talks about slashing prices, etc. There are numerous possibilities for titles that reflect the over-the-top feel of the horror while telling the audience this is a grocery store horror movie. I mean, what about CHOPPING SPREE. Or AISLE OF FRIGHT. Or SLASH REGISTER. Or CART OF DARKNESS. Or 10 VICTIMS OR LESS. Or EXPRESS CHECKOUT. That’s not a pun, that’s just a double meaning. Or what about WET CLEAN-UP ON AISLE 13.
It also doesn’t help that the advertising gave away the twist ending and pretended Bruce Campbell (who has a tiny cameo) was the star. Honesty is the best policy, you guys.
This movie brought up memories of working at a grocery store as a teenager. That didn’t really make me relate to these characters, because I was younger and my job wasn’t the same, it was bagging groceries, mopping the floor, taking out garbage, reaching into the toilet to pull a wad of shit out because nobody else wanted to do it and they could make me, etc. (The woman that told me to do it called me “suge,” I remember.)
Anyway, thinking about it made me realize something: working in that dumb job was a big part of forming my view of the world. I remember dealing with shoplifters. It was exciting. The staff working together to try to stop the bad guy. But at least once it was a woman who had a kid with her, and clearly just needed food, and they catch her and have her sitting in an office in the back, and she’s crying, waiting for the police to arrive. Being involved in that gives you some sympathy for people who do the “wrong” thing. At least it did for me.
And I remember things like bagging groceries for a woman who had a kid with her, and I asked if they wanted help out to the car. The kid said he would take it, so I went off and worked on something else. For some reason the kid only took it part way, then gave up. The mother, having paid no attention to me, believed that I had brought it part way and abandoned it as some kind of random fuck you to her. So she came back in, enraged, demaned to see me, chewed me out and told the manager I should be fired and all that shit.
I notice in life adults who either never had to have that sort of service job and don’t know how to treat people respectfully, or (worse) actually did do it and now have forgotten or even feel that they have the right to be the asshole customer. I haven’t gotten too far past that type of job so it heavily informs my views of class and etiquette.
None of this has anything to do with the movie, I just want to remind everyone to always be respectful of the staff in stores, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. Be polite and respectful and never, ever come in as an intruder and chop them up using the various equipment they have on hand. Not cool.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.