Intruder (1989) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

Last Updated on April 24, 2024

Sam Raimi started directing Super 8 short films while he was growing up in Michigan, and the classmates who collaborated with him included future Evil Dead franchise star Bruce Campbell and Evil Dead II co-writer Scott Spiegel. Together, their circle of friends pumped out nearly seventy shorts. When Spiegel was given the chance to make his own feature directorial debut a decade after Raimi made The Evil Dead, he got some of the old gang back together. Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Raimi’s younger brother Ted all have roles in Spiegel’s movie, the 1989 slasher Intruder (pick up a copy of the unrated Blu-ray HERE). Which happens to be the film we’re recommending in this episode of The Best Horror Movie You Never Saw.

The story of Intruder goes back to those days of Super 8 short films. Just like Raimi made a proof-of-concept short called Within the Woods to get investors interested in The Evil Dead, there was also a proof-of-concept version of Intruder. It was called The Night Crew. Raimi was a cast member and Campbell was the cameraman on this short, which was filmed after hours in the grocery store Spiegel was working at. The Walnut Lake Market. Over the course of the short’s twenty minutes, a masked slasher causes the deaths of three people. Sadly, Spiegel lost the only complete copy of The Night Crew soon after it was made, but all of the major moments would come up again in Intruder.

The Night Crew was shot in 1979, right before Raimi and Campbell went off to Tennessee to make The Evil Dead. Once their movie had been shot, there was some thought given to producing a feature-length version of The Night Crew as a follow-up. But the post-production process on The Evil Dead went on for a while and it took years for the movie to make it to the screen. So Raimi and Campbell’s attention was diverted from The Night Crew along the way. The idea didn’t come up again until the late ’80s. That’s when Lawrence Bender decided to set aside his dream of being a dancer and get into producing movies. He approached Spiegel and asked him if he had any stories in mind that could be made on a low budget. Spiegel pitched him The Night Crew: a film that would take place entirely in one location as a handful of characters are picked off by a slasher. Bender was sold on it immediately.

An initial budget of one hundred thousand dollars was secured, and Witchcraft franchise producer Jerry Feifer was consulted. Then more money came in when Raimi and his producing partner Rob Tapert were able to get B-movie legend Charles Band to join as an uncredited executive producer. The plan was that the movie would be released through Band’s company Empire Pictures. That plan didn’t work out, but we’ll get to that later. At this point, it was looking like everything was going to run smoothly.

Intruder The Best Horror Movie You Never Saw

Spiegel assembled an interesting cast for his movie, which has a higher body count than the short version. Danny Hicks of Evil Dead II was cast as Bill Roberts, co-owner of Walnut Lake Market. Eugene Glazer was cast as the store’s other owner, Danny, who holds a majority stake in the place and has decided they need to sell it. As the employees who make up the night crew, we have: Sam Raimi as Randy, the butcher. Ted Raimi as Joe, who prepares the produce while listening to a seemingly endless song. Craig Stark as Tim, who spends most of his time hanging out by the beer supply. Future Pride and Prejudice and Zombies director Burr Steers as stoner stockboy Bub. Sleepaway Camp 2‘s Renee Estevez as cashier Linda. Elizabeth Cox, who had small roles in The Wraith and Night of the Creeps, as the final girl, cashier Jennifer, who may be entering a relationship with stockboy Dave, played by Billy Marti. But first she has to deal with her drug-abusing ex Craig Peterson, played by David Byrnes. Craig was just released from prison and now he’s stalking his lost love.

When Craig gets rough with Jennifer while visiting her at work, it leads to a violent altercation with several Walnut Lake employees. So once people start getting killed in and around the store, Craig is the prime suspect. But we can’t be sure he’s the murderer, because Spiegel keeps the slasher’s identity obscured until the cast has been whittled down substantially.

The store employees are the main characters, but we also get cameo appearances by Green Acres co-stars Alvy Moore and Tom Lester, reunited to play a pair of police officers, Three Stooges cohort Emil Sitka as an elderly customer, Lawrence Bender and Bruce Campbell as another pair of police officers, and Spiegel himself as an ill-fated bread delivery man.

The movie was shot under the title The Night Crew, like the short version, but it was decided along the way that a title change was in order. Band suggested that it be called The Final Checkout, and a trailer was put together that combined the two titles: Night Crew, with the subtitle The Final Checkout. Then someone in the marketing department decided a generic slasher title would be the most appealing to audiences. So the film came to be known as Intruder… which isn’t very fitting, but works well enough if you don’t think about it.

Spiegel couldn’t film this take on The Night Crew at the actual Walnut Lake Market in Michigan. They had to find a suitable alternative in the Los Angeles area. Bender came across a store that was closed, but still had all the shelves and equipment in place. The manager allowed the production to move into the store and film there for a two week period while the owner was out of town on vacation. Getting this place for two weeks only cost two thousand, five hundred dollars. For another thousand dollars, Bender scored ten tons of “scratch and dent” merchandise to stock the shelves with, then donated the food to charity once filming was over. Sadly, the dog food and slabs of meat couldn’t be donated, since they spoiled during production and started to stink up the store. Seeing how the store looks in the movie, thankfully not being able to smell it, it’s mind-blowing that the production was able to get this place and make it look completely functional for a total of just three thousand, five hundred dollars. Spiegel certainly made the most of the location, seeming to get every inch of it on camera.

Sam Raimi Intruder

Also mind-blowing – if you watch the unrated cut – are the special effects. The blood and gore were supplied by KNB, the company that had just been formed by Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger. They had never been the effects supervisors on a film before, and were stuck in a Catch 22: companies don’t get hired to be effects supervisors on productions until they’ve already worked in that capacity on another production. Knowing the three artists from their work in the Evil Dead II FX department, Spiegel assumed KNB would be out of his price range. He thought they would just refer him to some other effects artists – but they were so eager to be the effects supervisors on something, they took the job. All they asked for was credit in the opening title sequence and seven hundred dollars a piece.

The unrated cut greatly benefits from the fact that KNB were out to prove themselves with this film. The death scenes are incredible, with heads being crushed and cut in half, and blood spraying across the screen. A scene involving someone’s head being run through the butcher’s bandsaw is the standout of the bunch. Even genre fans who haven’t seen the movie seem to be aware of the bandsaw scene. It’s a repeat of a kill that was done in the Super 8 version, but there the saw cuts into the top of a person’s head. KNB told Spiegel they could create a fake head that would look so good, he’d be able to show the saw cutting the face in half, cheek to cheek. As Spiegel told the Book of the Dead website, “When we were about to shoot the sawing of the gelatin head, which really looked like the actor, he turned to me and said, ‘My mom can never see this.’ We rolled cameras and turned on the bandsaw and sawed the gelatin head in half. It was so real it upset many crew members. Joyce Pepper, our script supervisor, was crying. I seriously questioned what I was doing.”

Unfortunately, for more than fifteen years the only way to see the uncut death scenes was by watching a low quality bootleg. Like many ’80s slashers, Intruder was hacked up by the ratings board even worse than the characters are hacked up by the killer.

The movie was shot on 35mm, with Spiegel and Bender hoping for a theatrical release. That hope was crushed when Empire Pictures went bankrupt. Charles Band was able to take a few films with him when he left the company behind, and one of them was Intruder. He was quickly able to set up a new distribution deal with Paramount – but it was for movies that would be released straight to video. This deal was the beginning of Band’s company Full Moon. Before the first official Full Moon release, which was Puppet Master, Paramount gave a video release to Band’s Empire leftover Intruder. The problem was, all of the movies released through this deal had to receive an R rating before Paramount would put them out. And to achieve an R rating, Intruder had to lose almost all of its bloodshed. The amount of gore had already been hyped in the pages of magazines like Gorezone and Fangoria, so when horror fans rented the VHS from their local video stores, they were upset to find that the gore was missing. The bootleg started floating around very quickly – Spiegel himself would even send out copies. But it wasn’t until 2005 that an official, good quality version of the unrated cut was released on DVD. Multiple Blu-ray releases have followed over the years, including a special edition release from Synapse Films. Now the unrated cut is the most readily available version of Intruder out there, as it always should have been.

The gory kills make Intruder a lot more fun to watch, but even if you watch the R-rated cut this is still a highly entertaining movie. Spiegel wrote a likeable group of characters for us to watch get brutally murdered. The Walnut Lake employees aren’t the most fascinating or deep people, they don’t have a whole lot to do before we see them get killed, but they come off well during the scenes they have, and the cast did a good job bringing them to the screen for their final moments of life.

While there are dark moments and disturbing murders, there’s also a lightheartedness to the film that makes sure we never take things too seriously. There are amusing moments and lines throughout, with a lot of the humor coming from the performances of Danny Hicks and Burr Steers. Those cameos by Green Acres and Three Stooges alums are also funny to see.

Intruder The Best Horror Movie You Never Saw

The character played by Hicks goes on quite a journey over the course of the film. Early on, he seems like the nicest, friendliest person around. But toward the end we’ll discover that he’s a psychotic killer, a fact which has always been spoiled by the marketing materials. He’s just crazy about his store! By the time the credits roll, there’s not a lot of good will left for Bill Roberts. During an interview for the Synapse Blu-ray, Hicks said, “I’m proud of the work I did in Intruder. There are bits and pieces in there that might be the best stuff I’ve ever done on film.” It’s easy to agree that Bill is his greatest role, because he is amazing in this movie.

Jennifer is the other character who gets the most to do, and Spiegel really put his lead through the wringer. She’s having a bad night even before the killing starts. Her obsessive ex is out of jail, she’s terrified of the guy, he gives her a nosebleed that won’t quit, and then all of her co-workers and her new love interest are murdered. She’s left to fight for her life while stumbling over their corpses. The script gave Elizabeth Cox a lot of different types of scenes to play and emotions to convey. She took it all on and made for a fine heroine. She was so dedicated to her role, which required abundant screaming, she even came up with four different types of screams to do: the High C scream, the whistle scream, the tarantula scream, and the suck-in gasp. See if you can spot them all when you watch the movie.

A co-worker once told Spiegel the story of a volunteer fireman who reported to the scene of a fatal accident while eating a sandwich. This guy was later seen walking down the road, carrying the accident victim’s severed head in one hand and his sandwich in the other. Spiegel told this story to Raimi, who passed it on to the Coen brothers. They wrote it into Raising Arizona, where M. Emmett Walsh tells the story to Nicolas Cage early in the film. Spiegel was disappointed that the story had already been used in a movie because he wanted to put it in a film of his own. So, undeterred, he put it in Intruder… and doubled down on it. Bill tells the story twice, and it’s memorable both times. The first time he tells it, he’s in nice guy mode, grossing out his employees during their break. The second time he tells it, he’s out of his mind and actually carrying a severed head in one hand and a sandwich in the other. It’s a troubling sight, and yet also another one of the movie’s amusing moments.

The playful tone of the film is enhanced by some of the unusual camera angles Spiegel chose. He’s a director who loves point-of-view shots, capturing moments in ways most filmmakers would never think of. When Linda takes a phone call, we get a point-of-view shot from inside the base of the phone, looking at her through the rotary dial. As Jennifer sweeps up trash, we see her from the floor’s point-of-view. A conversation between Linda and Bub is shot through their reflections in mirrors above their heads. In a moment where Bill sees a doorknob slowly turning, we see him from the point-of-view of that turning knob. These goofy angles are really clever, and bring a smile between moments of seeing amiable people getting knocked off in horrific ways.

With Intruder, Spiegel delivered everything a horror fan would hope to see from a slasher: cool kills, likeable characters, a beleaguered heroine, and an exciting climactic chase sequence. And he brought it all to the screen with his own unique, fun-loving style. There were a lot of awesome slasher movies released in the 1980s, and Intruder ranks up there among the best of them. The movie has a strong cult following, but it has never been seen by enough horror fans – especially not in its proper, uncut form. We need to get more people to watch Intruder so its following will grow, and it will get mentioned as one of the best slashers of the ’80s more often.

If you’re a slasher fan, seek out Intruder. Chances are you’ll go crazy for it.

Some previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.