Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Intruder (1989)

... aka: Bloodnight
... aka: Night Crew, The
... aka: Night Crew: The Final Checkout
... aka: Night of the Intruder

Directed by:
Scott Spiegel

For its inaugural release, Paramount re-titled what was originally called The Night Crew to the more generic-sounding Intruder because they felt the name would appeal more to slasher movie fans. They then turned right around and hit those same slasher fans where it hurt the most by eliminating nearly all of the gore (over five minutes worth) to get an R rating while refusing to release an uncut alternative. Talk about contempt for your target audience! However, none of that should come as a surprise considering how the same studio treated their long-running Friday the 13th series, which ended up receiving more pre-release cuts than all Jason's victims combined. Still, it's hard to really blame Paramount. After all, they simply had product to market and sell and knew that being slapped with an "X" rating or "unrated" label would kill a film's full earning potential. The real culprits were that horrible moralist Jack Valenti and his corrupt MPAA, who showed considerable, hypocritical bias against not only horror films but independent films of all stripes, yet played favorites with the top brass in Hollywood. People like Steven Spielberg could pack as much violence and adult content into their films as they wanted and manage to skim by with whatever rating they wanted, while low-budget filmmakers were picked on and made examples of. Intruder is just one of many genre films to receive this kind of 'bastard stepchild' treatment in the 80s and 90s. Unfair as all that is, this is still simply not a very good movie, even in its uncut form.

In keeping with slasher tradition, the "plot" - psycho starts killing employees of a grocery store after hours - is as simplistic and thin as can be. A major suspect (i.e. obvious red herring) in established early on in Craig (David Byrnes), who we know is a bad guy because he's wearing a leather jacket and doesn't shave. Craig had drug problems in the past, spent a year in prison for killing someone (just a year?!) and now seems to be stalking his ex- girlfriend Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox), who works as a cashier at the Walnut Creek Market. The other major suspects are, well, pretty much everyone else who works there. Owner Danny (Eugene Robert Glazer) has sold the store to the city and plans on shutting the doors permanently in a week, which doesn't sit well with co-owner Bill (Danny Hicks) or the rest of the staff. Not that it really matters one way or another as the identity of the killer and their motive turns out to be as obvious and ridiculous as can be. However, the primary audience won't be tuning in for the story, they'll be tuning in for the gore. This provides at least that much in its unaltered form.

For your money, you get knives sunk into chests and heads, a hook through a jaw, an eye-skewering, a head crushed by a hydraulic press, severed limbs all over the place and, most gruesomely of all, a head sawed in half with a band saw. Some of the fx are well-executed by KNB, while others look rather rubbery, but they're fun all the same. Unfortunately, it takes more than a copious amount of fake blood and latex to make a good horror film and literally everything else about this one is poorly done. Next to nothing happens in the entire boring first half, the acting is terrible, the characters are annoying and not the least bit engaging, the music score (some of which was actually recycled from other films) is God awful, the attempts at comic relief are embarrassing, the editing is truly abysmal, the film lacks a proper ending and the makers are completely unable to generate any tension, suspense or excitement at any point in the film. Hell, they aren't even able to capture a basic sense of fun.

Worst of all perhaps is the direction and camera-work. Spiegel thinks he's being clever and original by shooting through a cardboard cut-out of a rotary phone, putting a camera in a shopping cart and wheeling it around, placing the camera underneath a character while they are sweeping the floor and constantly shooting reflections and weird angles through bottles, water tanks and windows, but all he accomplishes by doing this is destroying the flow of the film and taking viewers completely out of the story. While these silly shots are sporadically effective (there are a few good scene transitions that admittedly work well), they're done at such an overkill level this looks less like a movie than it does the work of some freshman film student attempting to show off. It also does nothing to distract from all of the other areas where this film fails.

Gotta say, I was expecting better from this one, especially considering its current 6.3 rating on IMDb and all the glowing reviews its received from genre publications and websites over the years. The minor and, quite frankly, completely undeserved cult following it's acquired I can only attribute to two things: 1. High anticipation for the uncut (i.e. non-butchered) version, which took seemingly forever to get a release here in America, and 2. Fan boys who've made themselves believe this has to be better than most others of its type (it's not) just because Spiegel, Sam Raimi and a few other Evil Dead alumni (Hicks, KNB, Ted Raimi) were involved. Bruce Campbell even shows up briefly at the very end as a police officer but is given nothing to do, despite his star billing on the DVD cover. 

Renee Estevez, Alvy Moore, Emil Sitka and fx man Greg Nicotero all have small roles, as do future Hollywood successes Burr Steers, who went on to make the acclaimed indy film Igby Goes Down (2003) and then squander his talents with Zac Efron movies, and three-time Oscar nominee Lawrence Bender, who went on to become a top Hollywood producer best known for his work with Quentin Tarantino. Pointing out the Evil Dead connections was always the major selling point for the film, but the latest releases can now boast it's "from the producer of Inglorious Basterds and Pulp Fiction." Too bad the film has never been able to stand on its own merits. Charles Band was the uncredited executive producer and put up much of the 130,000 budget.

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