Intruder, The (1975)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-08-07 07:22

The Intruder (1975)
Studio: Garagehouse Pictures
Release date: August 1st, 2017

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

The digital age has spoiled us, at least in the sense that it’s easy to assume everything has been documented and preserved. Presumably, every relatively modern movie has been documented and accounted for, even if they haven’t all been released on any sort of home video format. At the very least, we are at least aware of and can confirm their existence. But then something like The Intruder comes along and upends all of those assumptions. Recovered some years back from a storage facility housing long forgotten and abandoned film prints, it sent Garagehouse Pictures’s Henry Guerro on quite a quest to identify just what he had.

With nothing but a title and the film reel’s first 50 feet to go on, Guerro took a gamble and assumed this canister was worth rescuing. It was also a mystery worth solving, as this recovered reel went on to stump Guerro and several other cult movie enthusiasts even after watching it. Somehow, a film starring Mickey Rooney, Yvonne De Carlo and Ted Cassidy had slipped entirely under the radar, with little to no evidence confirming it should have even existed until the actual reel landed in Guerro’s lap.

Eventually, it was confirmed to be Chris Robinson’s The Intruder, a low-budget quickie shot in Florida that was subsequently lost and forgotten. The film was so obscure that even those who had heard of it before thought it didn’t really exist, which makes for an astounding story. It’s not every day you come across a completely undiscovered slasher movie boasting this type of cast. Unfortunately, the rest of this story is kind of familiar, as The Intruder is another case where its bizarre history is more interesting than the film itself for the most part.

Which is not to say The Intruder is a total whiff or anything—it’s just that it’s a really creaky riff on an all too familiar formula. There’s a certain irony to this particular film being lost: at the time of its release, it would have been somewhere near the forefront of the slasher movie craze. After reemerging on the (very) far side of it 40 years later, it mostly just feels like a retread of a formula that was totally worn out in its absence. An obvious Agatha Christie take-off, it assembles a group of people looking to claim the inheritance of a recently deceased relative who perished in a plane crash. After being dropped off at an island mansion by a boat captain (Rooney), they discover that one acquaintance has yet to arrive, which is troubling since he’s the only one who knows where the dead man stashed his loot of gold. More troubling: someone among them—or perhaps even an unseen, unknown stalker—embarks on a murder spree, causing everyone to lose their minds and go at each other’s throats.

For about half of its runtime, The Intruder is a sleepy take on this familiar theme. Long stretches unfold without much verve or suspense, as the cast takes turns speculating over the identity of the murderer and blaming one another for their plight. Most of the murders are unremarkable, with some even occurring off-screen. Occasionally, Robinson—who also wrote, produced, edited, and stars in the film—coaxes some decent dark-and-spooky night atmosphere along with some decent theatrics. For example, one of those talkative scenes—this one’s around a dinner table—is accented by thunder and lightning, heightening the already ominous mood. One of the film’s eerier moments occurs here, when a lifeless, unfamiliar face appears in a background window. Upon investigating, the remaining characters discover the dead body, somehow standing upright, though nobody seems to be surprised by this fact.

It’s right around this point that you begin to sense that The Intruder might not bother to play by the usual rules of logic or coherence. In this case, it’s all the better for it. Considering just how slow and uneventful it is as a slasher, The Intruder benefits mightily by just how strange it’s willing to be towards the end. Shots are eventually fired when the killer is seen from a distance, leading to an impromptu investigation of the bullet casings. Suddenly, everyone’s a forensics expert, though some among the group think the bullets literally bounced off of their target. Maybe they’re dealing with an actual monster, you know?

Eventually, some of the characters grow tired of talking it out and blaming each other and decide to start fighting it out. And I’m not talking about any ordinary, sloppy brawl, either, but rather an honest-to-god kung-fu fight throughout pretty much the entire house. Just when The Intruder teeters on the edge of being largely forgettable, Robinson reels it back in and saves it with this kind of gonzo flourish, ensuring that, if nothing else, the film will at least endure as the only Agatha Christie rip-off to feature fucking karate.

Its legacy will also include a positively head-scratching ending featuring an out-of-nowhere reveal—well, if you can even consider it a reveal since Robinson is hesitant to connect all of the dots. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to completely explaining the ending, including the killer’s identity. Having watched the sequence a couple of times (once with Robinson’s commentary), I still can’t claim to have a firm grip on it, and it’s indicative of how Robinson just wants you to go with it for the final 20 minutes or so. None of it really makes a lick of sense, but it’s so far out there that this make-it-up-as-we-go-along approach becomes sort of infectious. If nothing else, The Intruder seeks to entertain until its final twist just before the end credits, at which point…well, it continues to entertain. Let’s just say this is the only film I’ve ever seen with credits dedicated to yachts, electronics, karate sequences, and something called Chicken Unlimited.

While The Intruder was produced about a decade before it would really become viable for folks to just pick up a camcorder and make a film, it feels like a clear precursor to that movement. The scant backstory bears that out, as the film was apparently the result of one of Robinson’s acquaintances tossing some tax write-off money at him, so it’s not like he was beholden to producers or anyone else. Despite appearances from those veteran actors, there’s a real DIY quality to The Intruder, a film that was produced without any safety nets or even a desire to appeal to an audience. It might take the form of a genre that was quickly gaining in popularity at the time, but it’s hard to see it as anything other than Robinson producing fringe art. That it literally went unseen for 40 years only adds to that notion that it wasn’t really fit for consumption.

Of course, going missing for such an amount of time has also established an instant mythology surrounding the film. The Intruder arrives with an incredible story and benefits mightily from it. To watch it is to watch something you probably really shouldn’t be unfolding on your TV screen, and that’s cool. There’s an obvious appeal to such a situation that helps smooth over whatever flaws the film might have. No, The Intruder isn’t nearly the best proto-slasher from this era, but it doesn’t have to be when just being able to see it feels like a gift. The unexpected karate does help keep things interesting, though.

The disc:

You can hear (and read) more about this incredible story with Garagehouse’s recent Blu-ray release. Not only does it feature a sparkling transfer taking from that aforementioned reel (the only one in existence!), but it also features a commentary from Robinson and a sit-down interview with him from 2008. The Intruder only garners a passing mention there when he notes that he’d like to be able to find it; otherwise, it’s more of a rambling retrospective on his entire career, starting all the way back to his desire to act in grade school productions. His commentary—at least the bits I listened to—is interesting, if only because it seems like he’s forgotten just whatever he was up to here since he seems to be just as surprised and bewildered by some of the later developments.

Some trailers for other Garagehouse releases (The Dismembered, Trailer Trauma, and the incredible Ninja Busters) rounds out the disc to remind you that this label is really digging deep and pushing the boundaries of obscurity. I mean, there’s “obscure” and then there’s “totally recovered the depths of extinction.” Here’s hoping we see what else Garagehouse has dug out of storage facilities during the past few years.
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