Film Review: Intruder (1989)

Through the decades of horror film history, the 80s is known as the heyday of the slasher genre. The early years of the decade, heralded by the initial slasher boom Halloween created in 1978, brought in the so-called “golden years.” With the release of the spectacularly popular Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, only more were created after an initial lull after 1981. 

Intruder, a low-budget feature directed and written by Scott Spiegel, released in the incredibly late year of 1989 when the classic slasher was coming to a slow death. In many ways, the film’s plot reads as a “by-the-book” picture. The plot is standard slashing fare: a group of teen employees at a grocery store must complete the night shift at a local store where, one by one, they’re offed by a mysterious killer in shadow. In the end, only the final girl, Jennifer played by Elizabeth Cox, can hope to escape the killer’s machinations. 

Yet for all of these clichés, Intruder provides a great deal of thrills and interesting writing decisions to the mix. 

For example, in the film’s first act, Intruder sets up a stalker ex-boyfriend of Jennifer’s messing around in the store and attempting to assault our heroine. While Craig mainly works in the overall structure of the script as a major red herring for the killer, his presence offers an immediate source of tension during the major work of character introduction and familiarizing the audience with the setting of the film. 

Furthermore, Craig’s importance to Jennifer’s backstory allows us to suspend disbelief for the ultimate fate of Jennifer’s survival. Of course Jen will want to be more alert, more cautious in her surroundings, and ultimately more invested in her overall survival. After all, a dangerous ex guarantees a paranoia that’s all too useful for survival. 

Intruder’s gore effects, provided by Greg Nicotero, also make for some of the best eye candy I’ve seen in a cult slasher. The kills are effective and gruesome. Blood splatters, drips, and drenches in complete abandon. There’s plenty here for any classic gorehound to enjoy. 

Yet perhaps my most interesting observations in this film are some of the thematic choices the creators are going for. One easy example might be the gender politics of the kills. Our one female victim, Linda, dies offscreen. Meanwhile, every single male employee in the store, including Randy notably played by Sam Raimi, dies a voyeur’s death, their pain and agonizing demises splayed out for the audience to enjoy. It’s an interesting inversion compared to the usual slasher dynamic. 

Another surprise is the film’s focus on the working class element among our characters. This is a low-paid night crew forced to work overtime to prepare the store for a going-out-of-business sale. Their lives aren’t even worth police attention with officers getting their sometimes an hour after initial disturbances. Their deaths almost mimic the real exploitation of their bodies as they waste their time working in a dying establishment. In many respects, this aspect of the film feels more relevant now than in Reagan’s America. 

Now, I will say that this movie is not perfect. It can feel a little slow, and, with the exception of Dan Hicks playing Bill the co-owner, the acting is mostly mediocre. However, for such a little-known cult film, Intruder definitely works as a slasher with some lovely artistic choices. I recommend checking out the film streaming now on Shudder or purchasing the blu-ray!

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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