Tag Archives: Intruder

“In This Economy?” Revisiting ‘Intruder’ in 2022

A killer is stalking the aisles of the Walnut Lake market, a quaint little grocery store in Anytown, USA, but the real horror is the dead-end grind of our capitalist nightmare. Intruder is a forgotten 1989 slasher from director, writer, producer (and former grocery clerk) Scott Spiegel

Spiegel may be better known as the co-writer of Evil Dead II and producer of the OG torture porn flick Hostel, but his directorial debut is a gem of a horror film. With creative cinematography and graphic, gory kills, Intruder is one of the more interesting slashers of the 1980s.

The film follows the Walnut Lake market night crew during a particularly rough shift. Cashier Jennifer gets an unexpected visit from her ex-boyfriend Craig who assaults her after she rejects him. The rest of the night crew — Randy, Dave, Bub, and Tim — and the two owners — Bill and Danny — clumsily come to Jennifer’s aid. 

Craig swings at Bill, Dave, and Danny before throwing Randy, the meat clerk (played by Sam Raimi), into a display of diet Pepsi. With the crew distracted, Craig scurries off to hide in the backroom. The hunt for Craig ends with the crew kicking him out of the store but he continues to lurk in the shadows — terrorizing Jennifer with phone calls and peering at her through the windows.

The night gets progressively worse for the crew when Danny and Bill break the news that the store has sold. The crew reacts strongly to the news of losing their minimum wage jobs, but co-owner Bill sympathizes with his staff.

“I’ve been here for ten years. I made this store my life!” he says with the kind of sincerity of a man who is trying hard not to crack. We learn that the sale of his business has pulled the rug out from under him and it’s clear that Bill is rapidly losing his grip on reality.

Intruder is a film that many of us can relate to in the era of sacrificial “essential workers” and the current hellscape of our gig economy. The absolute horror of Walnut Lake market is the dead-end grind. It’s the soul-sucking job that takes everything and gives you nothing back in return.

The job market has changed since the 1980s, but there are many parallels to our current rat race. Stagnant wages, the juggling of multiple retail jobs to make ends meet, and massive inflation squeezing workers dry are all a part of our current reality.

Our jobs can consume our lives. We give more and more back to our careers until we can no longer remove ourselves entirely from our work. Jobs can become our identity.

Spending ten years climbing the “corporate” ladder at one business (assuming that you will retire from this job at the end of the day) seems like an unattainable goal for many Millennials and Gen Z’ers. But for Boomers like Bill, this career path was promised to him and now it has been yanked away.

Bill is a terrifying slasher villain because he has invested his entire life into the store and can’t extricate himself from it. His life is over when the market is sold. This cut-throat capitalistic nightmare drives him to slaughter everyone who stands in the way of him fulfilling his duty to the store. 

Bill sees Craig’s arrival as an opportunity. An ex-boyfriend out on parole after killing a man in a bar fight is the perfect scapegoat for a series of spree killings that will help Bill stay in his beloved market.

Co-owner Danny is murdered first in what will be a succession of increasingly disturbing yet campy deaths. An unseen assailant impales Danny’s eye on the spike of his memo holder. In his death throes, he continues to enter numbers into the calculator on his desk. Blood runs down his arm to sizzle on the bulb of the overturned desk lamp which baths the whole room in a bright red glow.

As bodies mount, horror fans who have already watched Leigh Janiak’s Fear Street trilogy (2021) will experience some Déjà vu when watching Intruder.

Fear Street: 1994 has some obvious references to 80s and 90s horror classics like Scream or Friday the 13th Part 2, but the third act’s nod to Intruder may be lost on some viewers. The protagonists’ final showdown with the Shadyside killers in the local grocery store pulls scenes straight from the aisles of Walnut Lake market. 

We have a surprise axe to the back of the head that is reminiscent of Produce Joe’s demise in the backroom. The lobster tank also plays a prominent role in Janiak’s film, where it is used to drown one of the possessed leads.

And then there is the bread slicer. 

A struggle in the bakery of the Grab & Bag ends with a character’s head going through the blades of the bread slicer in a scene that recently won big at Fangoria’s 2022 Chainsaw Awards. It’s an unsettling scene that directly references one of Intruder’s most disturbing deaths.

Stoic stock boy Dave is ambushed by Bill and hit in the head with a meat cleaver before being dragged — screaming — over to the bandsaw. Bill forces his face into the saw’s blade, splitting his jaw in two and severing his head clean in half. 

The practical effects are one of the film’s best features. Each death is creatively executed and increasingly unsettling — and we watch it all unfold through the unflinching gaze of the camera. Spiegel knows when to play camp and he knows when to darken the mood.  

Intruder also isn’t shy about its hefty use of foreshadowing and leans heavily into the principle of Chekhov’s gun. Every object in the store is necessary to the plot. If you are paying attention, you will spot the vehicle of death for all the ill-fated members of the night crew. Everything is set up with intention, making Intruder smarter than it initially appears. It is truly a labour of love for Spiegel. 

Something Bill may be able to relate to.

In the end, Craig and Jennifer are the last ones left alive in the store and make an admirable attempt to escape Bill’s wrath. After stabbing him in the chest, Jennifer calls the police from the phone booth outside the store. But Bill (like many other mediocre men) needs to get the final word in. He smashes the glass out of the booth and attacks Jennifer before Craig brutally subdues him with a meat cleaver.

The police finally arrive (with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Bruce Campbell). They stumble on a blood bath and arrest the survivors. We end with Jennifer’s frustrated scream while Bill dies with a satisfied smile on his face.

Intruder is a fun slasher that highlights ageless anxieties — dead-end jobs, unhinged bosses, useless cops, and the dangerous fragility of mediocre men. It should be at the top of your watch list this summer, maybe after another frustrating day at the office.