I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Intruder

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.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 at 9:32 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Intruder”

  1. I remember buying an issue of TEMPO back in the 90s, because it had Super Mario on the cover. It was a waste of money, because in true 90s fashion, they featured a story about how video games make kids insane and violent. (Told as a fictional story about a kid who can’t stop playing video games, has nightmares about Mario throwing balls of dried blood and puss through his window, becomes bad at school and oblivious to everything that goes on around him.) Also on the last page was a caricature of Phil Collins, being all drunk, smoking a joint and having a rolled PLAYBOY in his pants. Got no idea what that was about. Or what the whole magazine was about. It seemed to be one of the more popular ones in Germany, because when it went out of print, I actually heard a news report about it on the radio, but man, what a piece of shit that thing was.

    The German title (well, the title they use in Germany, since it’s not really German), is BLOODNIGHT, btw.

  2. I wish I could be there to see Sternshein’s face!

  3. BREAKING! “Outlaw” Vern FLIP FLOPS on anti-INTRUDER stance and BOWS to PRESSURE from SPECIAL INTEREST group, putting YOUR FREEDOM at RISK! Will JUGGERNAUT be NEXT?

  4. Emtee, I had on a big smile and read it. Vern didn’t go as far as I would to call it a slasher classic but he clearly had the same amount of fun I had watching it. I could picture him laughing and saying that’s awesome during the rotary phone shit.

    This movie checks off a lot of boxes you never get in slasher movies anymore. You all should watch it.

    Thanks Vern. I hope you give out more Christmas presents to your loyal readers. Especially Shoot.

  5. I feel like this should be called THE LAST SLASHER MOVIE, because it kind of is. It’s not reinventing the form or parodying the tropes or subverting expectations or transcending the genre anything the later slasher cycles had to do to justify their existence. It’s just a slasher movie, full stop.

    Or GROSS-ERY STORE. That would also work.

  6. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this before. I grew up about 3 miles from the actual Walnut Lake Market (which I believe is now called Market Square). I know that some of the folks involved in this and Evil Dead grew up in the area, as well. And a quick search online just told me that it was inspired in part by Spiegal actually working at Walnut Lake Market when he was a teenager. I’m not sure if they shot it in the actual store or used a different place, but it sounds like I’m going to have a lot of fun watching it to find out! Thanks Vern and Sternshein

  7. Dtroyt – My understanding is that it’s a different store, but they named it after the one he worked at. I read that they found a closed, empty one and found a service that could stock the shelves with damaged product.

  8. Vern- Thanks for the update. Either way, this will be fun to try and watch while I’m visiting home for the holidays, so the review couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally. Cheers!

  9. Dtryot – I found out way after the fact that EVIL DEAD II was filmed 15 minutes down the road from me. So close to a monumental event in history and I was completely unaware.

  10. Juggernaut. I love the way your filthy little mind makes me laugh, Majestyk.

  11. This is the part where Vern posts his review of JUGGERNAUT, and makes us both eat shit.

  12. Apparently CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2 was filmed at a lake near my girlfriend’s house, but I don’t think that this counts as cool trivia. (Unless you watched that movie and thought “Damn, that’s an awesome lake! I wish I would live in that area!”)

  13. I don’t want to be pedantic, but it should be 10 Victims or Fewer.

  14. Wow, a review of Intruder that doesn’t bring up the Raising Arizona nod/connection (you see the story M Emmett Walsh is telling Nic Cage — “So, he’s got the sandwich in one hand, and the fucking head in the other” — played out in it’s entirety).

    As a huge Raising Arizona fan back in ’88 or whenever, that was always my favorite part.

  15. The Incredibly Strange Film Show did a Sam Raimi episode which has behind the scenes footage of Intruder. That’s why finally seeing the movie was so awesome for me.

  16. As well as the Tarantino connection, there’s a Coen Brothers one too. The “Here comes fucking Parker” speech is told almost verbatim in Raising Arizona. My Evil Dead lore is a little foggy, but I believe Spiegel and Josh Becker from the Michigan crew lived with one of the Coens at some point. I remember loving how all my favourite things seemed to be connected in the late 80s.

  17. The Coens and the Raimis go way back. Joel co-edited the first EVIL DEAD, and both Coens co-wrote CRIMEWAVE with Sam (he later returned the favor by co-writing HUDSUCKER with them). I believe Holly Hunter and maybe Frances McDormand also lived in that same apartment with Spiegel and/or Becker.

    I listen to too many commentary tracks.

  18. I mentioned already I finally saw this in the October 2016 recommendation thread and I loved it. A lean little movie that knows what it wants to do and does it with near-perfection. I had (barely) heard of it before looking through Sam Raimi’s filmography years ago, but never bothered to seek it out because he didn’t direct it. A very bad decision and one I would like to think I wouldn’t make today.

    I actually watched it a second time since my October-viewing extravaganza and loved it just as much. As great as the kill-gags are, I think my favorite moments is the killer’s reveal and subsequent nuttery and the killer’s final F-U to the hero. In fact I think knowing who the killer is (the second time, don’t spoil yourself) makes the movie even better because of the images the viewer gets in their minds about the person doing such things.

    Shame this one isn’t more talked about and loved. We may usually be on opposite sides Sternshein, but I again thank you a lot for relentless recommending of this one. I hope you are able to fill the void left by not being able to recommending this one for review anymore.

  19. Ted Raimi told in a STARLOG interview (Hey, another 90s magazine story! The interview happened when he was on SEA QUEST.) how his brothers, Bruce Campbell and Scott Spiegel loved to torture him as a kid. They went to Daddy Raimi, asked him “Dad, can we torture Teddy?”, he said yes, then they tied him to the bed, shined a light in his face and dripped water on his head until he told them “the secret”. (He never knew what the secret was.) Afterwards he was allowed to chase them with a hard rubber baseball bat through the garden and hit whoever he caught really hard on the head.

    No mention of the Coen Brothers. They probably met later, but in my fantasy world, they were the cool but nerdy, quiet neighbour kids, who watched them from their bedroom window and wrote short stories about kidnappings, torture and simple plans gone wrong, based on what they saw.

  20. They met in a professional capacity, I believe. Raimi had hired a fairly big-time editor who worked out of Detroit occasionally to cut EVIL DEAD, and Joel was her assistant.

  21. Agreed. Let’s run with it.

  22. I’ve been planning to watch this since Sternshein first made their case for it so I might have to move it up the queue.

  23. I’m so excited that people are digging this film as much as I do. I was afraid it was going to be the case where people are watching it wondering what the fuck I’m thinking. I get this look from people whenever I mention:
    1. Freaked.
    2 The Cable Guy
    3. Return of the Killer Tomatoes.
    4. Hudson Hawk

  24. I am not a slasher fan, but I also dig INTRUDER

  25. I probably haven’t seen any of them since the 90’s, but I have seen all 4 of those movies multiple times and enjoy them all quite a bit.

  26. Sternshein,

    You like cheese? You like being a man? then you’ll love… MACHEESEMO!

    I loved Freaked. Got the pleasure of meeting Alex Winter some time back, and I told him how much I did and how it was responsible for warping my mind, and he politely apologized for warping it too much. Good guy.

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