Saturday, December 31, 2011

INTRUDER (1989): Director's Cut

(US - 1989)  Written and directed by Scott Spiegel.  Cast: Elizabeth Cox, Renee Estevez, Danny Hicks, David Byrnes, Sam Raimi, Eugene Glazer, Billy Marti, Burr Steers, Craig Stark, Ted Raimi, Alvy Moore, Tom Lester, Emil Sitka, Bruce Campbell.  88 mins.  Unrated.

Just released on Blu-ray by Synapse Films, Scott Spiegel's maniac-loose-in-a-grocery store cult film INTRUDER is presented in its uncut, 88-minute version.  The Paramount VHS, issued back in 1989 (also the version currently streaming on Netflix), ran 83 minutes and had almost all of the gore footage cut, in addition to artwork that totally gave away the killer's identity.  Spiegel, his cult movie bona fides having been established two years earlier when he co-wrote EVIL DEAD II with pal Sam Raimi, was given a shot at writing and directing his own feature with INTRUDER, and while it's not a front-to-back success, there's a lot to appreciate in it, especially now that all the excised footage has been reinstated.  Spiegel accomplishes quite a bit with a budget of $130,000, and the Blu-ray looks fantastic.

The plot is rather simple:  Walnut Lake Market cashier Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox) is hassled near closing time by her psycho ex Craig (David Byrnes), who just got out of prison.  Some co-workers come to her aid and Craig is thrown out of the store, and as they continue working their overnight shift of markdowns and restocking, they're locked inside and slaughtered one by one, and the natural assumption is that it's Craig.

The grocery store setting is pretty effective overall, and Spiegel does a great job with darkness, shadows, reflections, and so on.  I really liked the effect of blood dripping on the light bulb of an overturned lamp giving the room a blood red glow.  Or the way the killer finds out where Jennifer is hiding.  Spiegel is at his best in these stylish and relatively subtle scenes, but really stumbles when he relies far too much on Raimi-esque visual trickery.  He uses it less as the film progresses, which helps a lot, but early on until maybe 2/3 of the way through, there's just too many wacky POV shots from inside shopping carts, inside telephones, from the floor aiming up as a broom passes over, or through wine bottles.  It's amusing once or twice, but by the 25th time, it wears out its welcome.  Spiegel shows a lot of promise here when he's not trying to be Sam Raimi, and who knows?  Maybe Raimi used a lot of Spiegel's ideas.  At any rate, Spiegel has remained a known and loved figure in cult horror circles, primarily for his EVIL DEAD II work, but his directing career never took off.  He's only directed sporadically since INTRUDER, most recently the dismal HOSTEL PART III.

Raimi, as well as his brother Ted, co-star in the film, and Bruce Campbell turns up at the very end as a cop. There's also GREEN ACRES co-stars Alvy Moore and Tom Lester as a pair of dumb cops, and legendary Three Stooges foil Emil Sitka as a grumpy customer who's in the film long enough to tell a couple "Hold hands, you lovebirds!"  None of the main actors are very good, and heroine Cox is downright terrible.  Perhaps early victim Renee Estevez (Martin Sheen's daughter) should've been given the lead.

As mentioned, Synapse's presentation of INTRUDER is superb.  There's a commentary with Spiegel and producer Lawrence Bender, who went on to produce all of Quentin Tarantino's films (and an early INTRUDER close-up of a box of Fruit Brute makes me wonder how much Bender brought to the table on PULP FICTION, not to mention INTRUDER cast member Burr Steers went on to play Flock of Seagulls in PULP FICTION before abandoning acting to direct bad Zac Efron movies like 17 AGAIN and CHARLIE ST. CLOUD).  There's several featurettes, interviews, workprint footage, cast audition footage, and a brief interview with filmmaker and INTRUDER superfan Vincent Pereira, who tells a great story about writing an angry letter to Fangoria about the cut VHS release only to get a package sometime later with Spiegel's return address, containing a VHS tape of the uncensored INTRUDER.

Is INTRUDER a lost classic?  No, not really.  But it's an enjoyable, blood-soaked slasher flick with moments of truly inspired, creative filmmaking.  I just wish Spiegel had spent more time crafting a unique style that we see fleeting glimpses of here instead of mimicking Raimi's EVIL DEAD/EVIL DEAD II moves.

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