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Intruder (Director's Cut)

Synapse Films // R // December 13, 2011 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 27, 2011 | E-mail the Author
If you're just looking for a quick, eight-word review, I could probably get away with leaving it at this: Intruder totally lives up to its cover art.

Okay, you know how Joe Bob Briggs coined the phrase "Spam in a Cabin" to describe one of the most tried and true horror formulas of the 1980s? Y'know, a gaggle of horny twentysomethings trot off to some hopelessly out-of-the-way cabin to drink and screw, and with no chance of escape and no one to come to their rescue, they get slaughtered one by one? Anyway, Intruder sticks to that same basic story, only instead of Spam-in-a-cabin, it's more like Spam-in-a-supermarket. Wait, I need a better analogy. Anyway, Intruder is set at a floundering grocery store, and the night crew has just gotten word that the place is gonna be leveled into an oversized parking lot or something. The store's dumping all of its inventory, and these kids have to spend all night marking every box of cereal and every can of Alpo down to half-price. 'Sjust that with some deranged nutjob having trapped himself inside the store with them, the prices aren't the only things being sliced down the middle...

Intruder wound up being a victim of hacking and slashing itself, cut to ribbons to try to score an R from the MPAA back at the tailend of the '80s when the ratings board was at its most skittish. It wasn't even just that the red stuff was wiped away; so much of the violence was gutted out that the movie wasn't even coherent anymore. This DVD/Blu-ray combo release from Synapse, meanwhile,
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serves up Scott Spiegel's rarely-seen original director's cut. Especially now with all of KNB's lovingly crafted splatter spliced back in, Intruder easily ranks up there as one of the best slashers I've ever seen, and this is from someone who's kind of seen them all.

I sort of want to save the splatter for later, though, seeing as how Intruder has a hell of a lot more going for it than that. It's one of those movies that knows exactly what it wants to be, and it's the work of people who are having a blast getting there. Most '80s slashers, as much as I love 'em, are kind of like Godzilla flicks; the guys in rubber suits stomping on Tokyo really only get, like, twenty minutes of screentime, and everything else revolves around a bunch of annoying characters doing boring, wholly uninteresting things to pad out the runtime. Intruder, on the other hand, screams along a pretty manic pace. There's not a lot of downtime, it doesn't get distracted by trying to tack on a bunch of backstories no one could really care less about, and the movie never goes more than five or six feet outside the supermarket. All killer; no filler. The most recognizable names on the bill -- Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and Ted Raimi -- all have really small roles, but they're part of a shockingly great cast that has a helluva lot more talent than you normally get in vintage slasher flicks. As thinly sketched as pretty much all of their characters are, this cast infuses them with a lot of personality,
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and there's not a Franklin in the bunch. No "hurry up!"s or "die already!"s this time around. Director Scott Spiegel has an impressively sharp visual eye, constantly seeking out unconventional angles and off-kilter places to stick the camera. He keeps Intruder visually interesting throughout without his direction ever feeling gimmicky or distracting.

Oh, and then there's the gore. Intruder is the movie that helped get the legendary KNB EFX off the ground, and even more than a couple decades later, its barrel drums of splatter still hold up astonishingly well. I don't want to give away the best stuff for anyone who hasn't seen this cut of Intruder before (and I'm guessing that's pretty much everyone reading this), but I'll just say that a supermarket makes for a hell of a backdrop in a slasher flick: meathooks, carving knives, an oversized trash compactor, that bandsaw on the deli counter... The first few kills are kind of routine, sure, but the grue gets more and more fucked up as Intruder hacks its way forward. Not only is KNB's effects work gruesome and sopping with blood, but a lot of those kills have a cacklingly clever sense of humor to them too. I mean, when one character has a butcher knife whacked through the top of his head, his headphones get split down the middle and pop off. Another poor bastard is cut off at the waist, and...well, just look at the screengrab over there. What kind of caught me offguard is that even though Intruder seems like it's just out to have a blood-spattered good time for a while there, the extended climax is genuinely claustrophobic and intense. It sure doesn't hurt that the third act is shouldered by a particularly great Final Girl, and the killer is gleefully psychopathic...a far cry from those stone-faced, silent Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers types. Intruder's final moments are also wildly unconventional for a slasher, but I'm obviously not gonna say too much about that here.

If you'd chalk yourself up as a slasher fan, then this unrated director's cut of Intruder is pretty much required viewing. This high-def remaster is worlds removed from the excessively soft, kind of washed-out, and heavily cut videos and DVDs that have been floating around for the past couple of decades, Synapse has assembled an impressively loaded special edition release, and...well, Intruder is just a hell of a lot of fun and without question one of the very best slashers I've ever come across. Highly Recommended.

Not surprisingly, Intruder is another check in the win column for Synapse Films. Every last frame of this brand-new high-def remaster is impressively natural and filmic, free of any awkward processing or filtering. That late
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'80s Hypercolor-style palette comes through beautifully, and speckling and wear are kept to a bare minimum. Admittedly, Intruder was shot on 35mm ends twentysomething years ago on a fairly microscopic budget, so if you waltz in demanding razor-sharp, dazzlingly detailed photography, that's kind of your fault. Intruder is a grainy and slightly soft movie, and that carries over faithfully to Blu-ray. I don't find that gritty texture to be at all intrusive, and I'm consistently impressed by how nicely defined the high-def image is in motion. I mean, as nice as the screenshots scattered around this review look, I don't think they do this Blu-ray disc the justice it deserves. This definitely looks like a movie that was aimed at scoring a theatrical run, not some direct-to-video slasher with a threadbare budget. There's never any lingering doubt that I'm watching a first-rate 2K remaster, and especially given Synapse's purist mindset, it's very safe to say this is the best Intruder could ever possibly look. I really don't have any complaints or concerns at all.

Intruder and all of its extras are spread across both layers of this BD-50 disc. The movie's served up on Blu-ray at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and has been encoded with AVC. The second disc in the set is an anamorphic widescreen DVD, and no matter which format you pull out of the case, you can rest easy that it's region-free.

This two-channel mono DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack doesn't impress quite as much, though, with mild noise buzzing around in the background, a high-end that starts to show a little strain, and next to nothing going on in the lower frequencies. I even had to dial down the volume a few notches lower than normal for it to sound comfortable to my ears. At the same time, it kind of reminded me of Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release of The Stepfather from a while back; its audio wasn't sparklingly clean either, but it also sounded so...pure and untainted that I felt as if I could see the master tapes unspooling right in front of me or whatever. Even though the audio hasn't been polished to a glossy sheen, I definitely didn't run into any trouble making out every last line of the film's dialogue, and there aren't any distracting pops or clicks along the way. Nothing remarkable, no, but the audio here is perfectly listenable, and I can't say I was disappointed.

Commentary aside, that's it for audio options: no dubs, subtitles, or alternate mixes this time around.

Synapse Films has a limited edition of Intruder that they're selling exclusively on their website, featuring an extra DVD-R with Scott Spiegel's original workprint cut of the movie. More splatter, more dialogue, and raw production audio so you can actually hear direction being barked out. That's a pretty compelling extra, although if you'd just as soon save a few bucks by ordering from Amazon or whatever, you're not being shortchanged; all of the additional
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gore from that workprint is on the standard Blu-ray set too. As I write this, Synapse still has 70 or so of the limited edition sets on-hand, so you're not out of luck if you haven't bitten yet.
  • Slashed Prices: The Making of Intruder (38 min.; HD): This lengthy retrospective easily ranks as the best of Intruder's extras, featuring interviews with director/co-writer Scott Spiegel, all three of the letters in KNB EFX, producer Charlie Band, D.P. Fernando Arguelles, and just about everyone who was in front of the camera twentysomething years ago. Some of the topics on-hand...? Getting the production off the ground, filling an abandoned supermarket with ten tons of spoiled groceries, oodles of notes about assembling the cast, the inventive cinematography, the buckets of gore being sloshed around, and the movie being neutered into something pretty much unrecognizable when it finally went direct-to-video. "Slashed Prices" is overflowing with personality, and there's just so much great stuff tossed around in here...everything from a story about a makeup artist darting off the set in tears as a dude's face was being sliced in half with a bandsaw all the way to Elizabeth Cox running through her checklist of screams. Absolutely essential viewing.

  • The Slashing of Intruder (3 min.; SD): Filmmaker Vincent Pereira tells a story about how disappointed he was that the hypersplattery preview of Intruder in GoreZone didn't bear any real resemblance to the hacked apart R-rated cut that eventually found its way in video stores. Turns out that Scott Spiegel was disappointed by the censoring too, and before Pereira even realized the letter he wrote was going to be published in the magazine, Spiegel had already dropped an unrated copy of Intruder in the mail to him.

  • Original Cast Audition Footage (11 min.; SD): This impressively thorough reel strings together camcorder audition footage of Billy Marti, Renee Estevez, Elizabeth Cox, Eugene Glazer, David Byrnes, Burr Steers, and Danny Hicks.

  • Extended "Murder" Sequences from the Original Workprint (10 min.; SD): If you aren't able to get your hands on the full workprint from Synapse's limited edition, the gruesome highlights are all piled on here, including an alternate death-by-meathook and a more graphic headcrushing.

  • Outtakes from the Now-Lost Short Film, Night Crew (7 min.; SD): Although his twenty minute Super 8 short is long gone, Scott Spiegel still had enough outtakes laying around to cut together into something that comes close enough to it. This partially reconstructed short from 1979 has the same skeletal structure as the feature film, along with similar kills and even a few of the same cuts. For anyone keeping track at home, Sam Raimi is in this short as well, and Bruce Campbell's the one who's working that Super 8 camera.

  • Audio Commentary: With as much of a blast as Intruder's forty minute retrospective is, I had pretty high hopes for this commentary track with director Scott Spiegel and producer/co-writer/kinda-actor Lawrence Bender, but I have to admit to being a little let down. The two of them don't really tell a lot of stories or delve deeply into the making of Intruder, instead kind of just leaning back and quickly reacting to whatever's going on in the flick. It's not one of those commentaries that you can leave playing in the background; you've gotta be watching Intruder right along with them to get a lot out of it, but even with as enthusiastic and personable as Spiegel and Bender are, it doesn't feel completely worth it. There are a few highlights, though: accidentally talking to Martin Sheen on the phone while trying to ring up Renee Estevez, the "head in one hand and a fuckin' sandwich in the other" story that gets told in both Intruder and Raising Arizona, and cringing and laughing at all the '80s library
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    music on the soundtrack. I don't want to make it sound like this is a bad commentary, but it's not in the same league as the "Slashed Prices" doc, and I kind of wish there were one or two more people in the recording booth to spur on more of a conversation.

  • Still Gallery (4 min.; HD): This high-res photo gallery cycles through several minutes' worth of splatter-centric shots.

  • Trailers (3 min.): Last up are two trailers. The Intruder theatrical trailer is in high-def, and another clip under the title Night Crew: The Final Checkout has been sourced from low-res video somewhere. Um, if you haven't watched Intruder before, stay away from these trailers 'cause they give away pretty much everything.

In case you missed it a few paragraphs up, Intruder is a combo release, and both the DVD and Blu-ray discs in the set are all-region, so...import away!

The Final Word
I mean, I've been aware of Intruder for ages, but even with as much of an '80 slasher scholar as I say I am, I somehow managed to avoid getting around to seeing it until now. This first time through was all it took for me to say that Intruder is now one of my all-time favorite slashers: wickedly clever, inventively photographed, sopping with splatter, intense when it needs to be, and willing to buck convention. It's scored a Blu-ray disc to match too. The gore that was gutted out of so many other VHS and DVD releases has been reinstated with this director's cut, there are a hell of a lot of extras, and...well, it's Synapse, so obviously Intruder looks incredible in high-def. Highly Recommended.
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