People talk a lot about genre fatigue these days, mostly in regards to superhero movies. And yet, this kind of genre saturation has been worse, and one need look no further for an example than the maelstrom of slasher movies released in the 1980s. Depending on your definition of a slasher movie, some years in the 1980s saw the release of as many as twenty films. Of course, you can’t totally justify the comparison between big-budget superhero spectacles and made-on-a-dime slasher flicks churned out to occupy video store shelves, but it does serve as a good reminder of just how badly a marketplace can get flooded.
And what was the result of this glut of flying knives and screaming coeds? In short, a whole lot of bad movies. Apart from a few standouts, like big franchise entries, the vast majority of 80s slasher output has since been forgotten by all but dedicated horror fans. In many cases, this is entirely justified, but once in a while, sifting through the lesser-known slasher movies of the era, you stumble upon something. Sometimes you find a film that time forgot, one that nevertheless stands out as a fun, solid example of what the genre was capable of. Sometimes you find a film like Intruder.
The setup is as simple as can be: the night shift of a neighborhood grocery store is working after hours, marking down prices for the store’s closing sale. One cashier’s crazy ex-boyfriend shows up, inciting a brief brawl just before closing. Soon after, when the lights go out and the soon-to-be-unemployed staff begin their final shift, they start to get bumped off by a mysterious killer. Again, it’s a straightforward setup – a bunch of young people, a mysterious killer, a fairly unique location, and Intruder is off to the races.
So what makes this stand out enough from the legion of slasher films released around the same time? Well, for starters, the film features special makeup effects by three names that should be instantly recognizable to 80s horror fans: Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman. All three were well-known in the industry at the time, with massive projects under their collective belt, and even more to come. With this kind of makeup-effects dream team behind the camera, it’s no surprise that Intruder has some of the best gore effects of the era. These aren’t some cheap latex and food-coloring hack jobs, oh no. The kills in Intruder are a gorehound’s dream, impressively creative and shockingly well-crafted. There’s one kill with a band saw that has to be seen to be believed.
But even when the blood and giblets aren’t flying about, it’s abundantly clear that the people making Intruder are the kind of passionate and dedicated folks who can really elevate films like these, or at least make them weird and creative enough to stand out. There are a whole lot of strange-but-occasionally-inspired camera angles, as if the people making it spent most of the time just trying weird stuff out to see what looked cool. This includes an odd propensity for POV-shots from ordinary objects, almost as if there were a Pixar movie about sentient grocery store objects going on in the background. The film even has a POV filmed from a rotary telephone’s perspective.
It also becomes very clear when looking at the cast and crew credits that the Intruder is one of those films that happens when a bunch of friends just decide to get together and make a movie for the fun of it. The film is written and directed by Scott Spiegel, longtime Sam Raimi collaborator, Evil Dead 2 scribe, and the man who first introduced Quentin Tarantino to producer Lawrence Bender, effectively starting Tarantino’s career.
Both Bender, Raimi, and a ton of the Evil Dead 2 crew took part in the making of Intruder, including Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Dan Hicks and most of that previously-mentioned effects team. The film also features Renée Esteves, daughter of Martin Sheen, and Burr Steers, who would direct Pride and Prejudice and Zombies just under thirty years later – which isn’t a factoid you can really tie in to anything; it’s just funny to bring up.
You can practically feel the atmosphere of fun and camaraderie permeating the film. Intruder isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or move the genre in bold new directions. It’s just a fun, well-assembled little horror flick, clearly made by a group of people who were having a blast while they were doing it. And it’s a generally good rule of thumb that a movie that was fun to make will wind up being fun to watch.
The film dutifully and enthusiastically hits every slasher movie checkbox, with one notable exception: there’s no sex and no nudity. That makes it almost tame by the standards of the time, but also helps it feel…..well, maybe “classy” isn’t the right word, but certainly lower on the sleaze factor than most of its contemporaries. There’s non of that weird slasher movie puritanism, where sex or drug abuse constitutes a death sentence, something that’s frankly refreshing in a genre that had come to rely on those tired cliches far too much.
Intruder is the kind of movie that keeps horror fans rooting through discount bins. It’s that one precious gold nugget that keeps you digging just a few feet more. The odds are that most of the terrible-looking crap that horror fans find and pick up with vague interest will turn out to be exactly what they look like: cheap, joyless garbage churned out to make a quick buck, but maybe not. Maybe it’ll be that diamond in the rough you’re always hoping for. Maybe it’ll be that movie that goes on to have a place of pride in your collection, a regular entry in movie nights with friends and pizza. Maybe it’ll be another Intruder.