Scott Spiegel’s early association with Sam Raimi pretty much guaranteed he would get his own chance to become involved in theatrical filmmaking, and Spiegel’s first big break came as co-writer of Evil Dead II (1987), a cult hit that eventually led to a lucky opportunity to have a slasher script of his own developed from a Super 8 short (titled “Night Crew”) into a 35mm production.
Originally titled Night Crew: The Final Checkout and rebranded Intruder, the film was executive produced by Charles Band, but after Empire Pictures underwent grievous financial problems (er, it was dying), the film was released by Paramount as a straight to video production, and the real guts of the film – the brutal gore effects, as profiled in an issue of Gore Zone – were gone. It would be years before the proper Director’s Cut materialized on DVD in 2005, and Synapse’s 2011 Blu-ray edition features a sharp transfer that captures every gross nuance of KNB’s memorable special effects debut – the trio of make-up artists having just finished a contributing assignment on Sean S. Cunningham’s Deep Star Six (1989).
Spiegel’s script is very simple: an overnight crew at a soon-to-be-closed grocery store is stalked and butchered by a madman. There’s also enough character deaths to maintain interest when audiences aren’t otherwise awed by the unbridled eighties makeup & hair, and Elizabeth’s Cox’s T-shirt with sewn-in shoulder pads, giving her character of Jennifer upper-body gravitas when she’s rightly peeved at ex-boyfriend Craig (greasy, mulleted David Byrnes).
Able to run amok in a shuttered grocery store after bribing a watchman, the production of the Intruder exploited every nook and cranny of the building, including the basement, loading ramps, attic, trash compacter, butcher clinic, and the spacious main floor with shelves packed with filler products.
The cast were hungry to establish themselves, and the production team of generally twentysomethings managed to complete a commercial drive-in slasher with one extraordinary kill: the total bisection of a head during a state of traumatized consciousness. Secondary would be the crunching of a head in the compacting machine; coming in third is a Fulcian eye-poke; and the rest of the good stuff includes glimpses of the remains of the night crew, scattered in lobster tanks, descending down loading conveyors, or torsos housed in meat lockers.
As to whether Intruder is a good film, that decision is likely to be affected by the amount of one’s affinity for Raimi’s filmmaking troupe, and Spiegel’s place within that hallowed team, given his subsequent film output has been fairly sparse and unmemorable. His best-known work is probably From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, which features a wild array of preposterous shots that distracted from the film’s wan script. Intruder suffers (to a lesser extent) from the same crazy angles that exist as gags rather than functional trick shots. POV images include the bottom of a garbage pail, the floor, inside a telephone, and perhaps the most insane – a slow-turning doorknob; if ever a director deserved the Sidney J, Furie Award for Outrageous Camera Placement, it’s Spiegel. He doesn’t outdo Furie’s The Appaloosa (1966), but it’s a good effort in camera madness.
Without its gore, it’s probably safe to say Intruder wouldn’t have maintained much of a cult following, although because of its association with the Raimi clique, there is the novelty of seeing the Raimi brothers die horribly: Sam get spiked and hung from a meat hook, and Ted – playing a moron deserving a good death - is stabbed and dismembered.
Bruce Campbell also makes an appearance at the end as a cop, flanked by producer Lawrence Bender as Campbell’s partner, and some of the young actors went on to build their own careers, including Renée Estevez (The West Wing), and Burr Steers (director of Igby Goes Down, and Charlie St. Cloud). Dan Hicks, who co-starred in Evil Dead II, also had a small role in William Lustig’s awesome Maniac Cop [M] (1988), alongside Sam Raimi, and that film’s co-star, Campbell.
At 88 mins., Intruder does move at a decent pace and there are some effective sequences, heavily benefitting from cinematographer Fernando Arguelles (TV’s Prison Break) lighting skill. Synapse’s BR features a clean HD transfer that doesn’t scrub away the film’s natural grain, and colours really pop from the screen, particularly (or unsurprisingly) reds, and the extreme pink makeup imprinted on Estevez and Cox. The mono mix is uncompressed, and the sound mix is fairly clean, balancing sound effects, and the terrible stock music that still makes Spiegel cringe, 22 years later (and rightly so).
Extras include a lively commentary track between producer Bender and Spiegel filled with steady ephemera, and viewers can probably craft a drinking game based on the several hundred times Spiegel utters the words “Oh man!” and the phrase “Back in the day,” the latter short-listed in 2011 from the United Nations’ Annual Most Unwanted & Unwelcome Catch-Phrases.
Bender and Spiegel also appear in Michael Felsher’s superb 2011 making-of documentary, which covers the film’s entire production, including many new cast interviews. There’s also surviving audition footage, stills, and extended kill scenes from a rare workprint (of which the full workprint was available to the first 500 orders placed directly with Synapse).
Unlike Raimi’s Super 8 short Within the Woods (1978), which became The Evil Dead (1981) but remains unavailable due to specific rights issues, Spiegel’s Night Crew is included on the BR. Well… sort of. Spiegel painfully admits he loaned his film to an idiot who never returned the film to the director, but Spiegel did have sync sound outtakes, so for the BR he created a scenes from the unused footage to give an impression of what the original 20 min. short looked like.
Like Raimi’s own early shorts (which often included contributions by Spiegel), they’re elaborate, moody, and fun, and the brief scenes provide a taste of what was sadly lost. (Film music fans will also be amused to hear music cues from two well-known soundtracks embedded in Spiegel’s surviving sound mix: Herbie Hancock’s Death Wish, and Denny Zeitlin’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.)
The last extras include a short anecdote by filmmaker Vincent Pereira (A Better Place ) on how his outrage towards Paramount’s PG-rated video release resulted in a personal gift from Spiegel; and a pair of trailers which spoil not only the major deaths, but the killer’s identity!
This is a great package that supersedes Wizard Entertainment’s 2005 DVD, and the cover art is appropriately grotesque, hinting at the severe body trauma that awaits the mulleted and pink-tinted night crew.
Spiegel has had various bit roles in Raimi’s films, and his directorial credits include the direct-to-video films From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) (2004) and Hostel: Part III (2011), plus My Name is Modesty: A Modesty Blaise Adventure (2004). Spiegel also co-wrote Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except (1985), and Clint Eastwood’s dopey The Rookie (1990).
Bender later produced a string of hits, including all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, and the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting (1997) and An Inconvenient Truth (2006), proving ex-dancers / bit actors can find other career streams when things start to plateau.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan