Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Film Appreciation - Wholesale Slaughterhouse

Cody Hamman takes Film Appreciation to the market to discuss the 1989 slasher Intruder.

What was a typical day of work for the night crew at Walnut Lake Market starts to go very bad at closing time.

First, a mysterious figure in a leather jacket is seen to be watching cashier Jennifer from afar, and the musical stings on the soundtrack indicate that this guy is trouble. We soon find out that he is Craig, Jennifer's ex-boyfriend whose violent temper earned him a year in jail after he accidentally beat a man to death. When Craig approaches Jennifer to demand an explanation for why she's been ignoring his letters and calls, the situation becomes a physical confrontation involving most of the store employees.

Once they manage to get Craig out of the store (but definitely not off the property), a bomb of bad news is dropped on everyone: the store's primary owner has decided to sell the place and they will all soon be unemployed.

They get back to work on what they know will be one their last nights in the store... What they don't know is that for most of them this is the last night of their life. Cashiers, stockboys, owners, the butcher, the produce guy, no one is safe as someone stalks the aisles and back rooms, knocking off the night crew one-by-one in increasingly gruesome ways.

It's a very simple slasher set-up and it's perfectly executed.

The characters are likeable and enjoyable to hang out with and the actors give good performances. The standout of the cast is Danny Hicks, known for his role as hillbilly Jake in Evil Dead II, here playing the market's co-owner Bill, a really nice guy with a great personality. Elizabeth Cox is our troubled heroine Jennifer, and other notable members of the cast include future director Burr Steers as stoner dweeb Bub, Renée Estevez (daughter of Martin Sheen, sister to Emilio and Charlie) as cashier Linda, Sam Raimi as Randy the butcher, and Ted Raimi as Joe in produce.


There are also some fun "guest appearances", with Green Acres cast members Alvy Moore and Tom Lester reunited to cameo as cops, as do Bruce Campbell and producer Lawrence Bender. Regular Three Stooges co-star Emil Sitka appears as a customer and speaks his famous line, "Hold hands, you love birds."

The film was written and directed by Scott Spiegel, who has been involved with some of the most watchable, fun movies in my viewing rotation, including co-writing Evil Dead II and co-writing/producing Josh Becker's great "Marines vs. the Manson family" movie Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except (which also featured Sam Raimi as the Manson-esque cult leader).


Spiegel has a very cool, quirky and unique style of directing, with a great eye for angles and a fascination with unusual P.O.V. shots. Here we have shots from the P.O.V. of the floor as it's being swept, a doorknob as it's slowly turned, even one from the inside of a rotary phone.

There's also some great funny dialogue, and Bill has a memorable monologue which film fans may recognize from another movie. A friend of Scott Spiegel had told him a story, which he told to Sam Raimi, who told it to the Coen brothers, who put it in Raising Arizona, having M. Emmet Walsh tell it to Nicolas Cage.

Intruder started out as one of the many Super 8 short films that Spiegel, Raimi, Campbell and friends shot together as youngsters growing up together in the Detroit area. Shooting at the real Walnut Lake Market where Spiegel worked, they made the slasher short The Night Crew in 1979, right before Raimi and Campbell went off to Tennessee to film The Evil Dead.

The Night Crew came back up as a feature idea almost ten years later; when Lawrence Bender asked Spiegel if he had anything that could be done on a low budget, Intruder was born. Although, the feature was shot under the title The Night Crew, with The Final Checkout being a possible alternative liked by uncredited executive producer Charles Band. The title Intruder, which isn't especially fitting, was chosen by a marketing department along the way.

Bender was able to find an empty grocery store to rent for $2500, and for $1000 he scored ten tons of "scratch and dent" merchandise to stock the shelves with, giving the foods a brief layover on the film set before they were donated to charity. It's pretty mind-blowing that for just $3500, they were able to get a whole store to themselves and stock it well enough to make it look completely functional.

The most famous aspect of Intruder are the kills. Word of how gory the kills were brought a lot of attention to the film, and what stirred up even more attention was the fact that the gore was entirely removed from the film when it was released on home video. The censorship is how I first heard of Intruder, as there was a letter about it in the fan mail section of one of the first Fangoria issues that I ever read, I think in one of the November or December 1989 issues that I mentioned in my FleshEater article.

A fan had written to Fangoria to express disappointment over the fact that the gore he had heard was in Intruder was not in the VHS version that he had rented. Would an unrated director's cut be released? Fangoria replied that there were no plans for it at that time. And there was no official unrated release for many years. A few years later, I saw a reference in another issue of Fangoria, in an article where David J. Schow wrote about action movies getting away with more gore than horror movies were able to, comparing a moment in Under Siege when Steven Seagal shoves a man into a bandsaw to Intruder's excised bandsaw kill. In the mid-'90s, I was finally able to rent the R rated Intruder myself and enjoyed the movie very much despite the lack of gore.

But if you were interested enough, there were ways to find the unrated cut, as fans passed around umpteenth generation dubs of a bootleg. The picture quality was terrible, but the amazing KNB effects did not lose their awesomeness. Intruder is still a really fun movie in its R rated form, but the unrated kill sequences increase the fun exponentially.

Charles Band's Wizard Entertainment finally gave the unrated cut an official release on DVD in 2005. The picture still didn't look beautiful, but the quality was much better than the bootlegs that were all the fans had for 16 years. Band personally signed my copy of that release at a Cinema Wasteland show, I think at the first one I ever attended, spring 2006.

Today, December 13th, is the street date for the special edition release that Intruder truly deserves. Synapse Films are putting out a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack of the film with some great extras: an audio commentary by Spiegel and Bender, a 38 minute documentary with cast and crew interviews and talk of scream variations and ass biting, outtakes from the Super 8 Night Crew, workprint versions of kills, audition footage, stills, trailers, and a short interview with filmmaker Vincent Pereira.

Pereira tells the story of how he wrote a letter to Gorezone or Fangoria in '89 to complain about the R rated cut of Intruder that was released on VHS... Which makes me think that the letter I mentioned reading earlier was his. That would be kind of cool/crazy, because I've been familiar with Pereira through his friendship with Kevin Smith for years and never connected to him to that old letter. Soon after his letter was published, Pereira received a copy of the unrated cut of Intruder in the mail from Scott Spiegel. Pereira ends this short video by promising to send Spiegel a copy of his movie A Better Place in return, and on a side note I recommend that everyone check out Vincent Pereira's A Better Place. That is an excellent, must see film.

Synapse has done a 2K high definition transfer of Intruder and it looks amazing. It's nice and clear and with the color correction the lighting and colors really pop, making it apparent what a fantastic job Spiegel and cinematographer Fernando Argüelles did. Synapse have done an awesome job on this release, any horror/slasher fan should pick it up, and if you're doing holiday shopping for a slasher fan, this DVD and Blu-ray would make a perfect stocking stuffer.

I love Intruder. The style, humor, characters, and actors combine to make it one of my all time favorite slashers. It's an inspiration to me, if I ever make my own slasher movie it will be influenced by this film, from the tone to the gory kills. I did try to make a slasher when I was a teenager, and after two unsuccessful attempts I was planning to embark on a third version that would've had an Intruder touch to it (with a little bit of April Fool's Day mixed in). Unfortunately, that version was never made. But one of these days, I'm sure I will make a slasher, and if I manage to do anything cool with it, odds are that a lot of it will be thanks to the coolness with which Scott Spiegel made Intruder.

No comments:

Post a Comment