THE DEADLY INTRUDER (1985) is not a very good horror movie, but it’s a pretty good Slasher Search find. It’s an obscure only-on-VHS one from not-prolific filmmakers, but watchable due to okay production values, competent acting, a catchy synth score by director John McCauley (whose only other directing credit is a 1976 snake movie called RATTLERS), and a pretty fun (but very easy to see coming) twist. It’s fairly low rent, but it does have a Hollywood veteran (Stuart Whitman, EATEN ALIVE, THE WHITE BUFFALO) as the police chief and a TV star (Danny Bonaduce, H.O.T.S.) as one of the main characters, so I’m sure it fulfilled its modest intent of putting those names on the ads, circulating drive-ins for a while, and making a few bucks from people with nothing else to do.
It uses the most generic premise of post-HALLOWEEN slashers: a maniac has escaped from a mental hospital and is on a killing spree that intersects with the lives of random residents of a small town. They don’t bother with any type of holiday, anniversary or backstory besides some cops saying he killed his wife and kid. He escapes at night, and the next morning he walks up to a random house and murders a woman (a disturbing and sleazy scene where her breasts pop out of her bathrobe as he dunks her head in the kitchen sink) and steals some clothes.
We don’t see the killer’s face, but then we start to follow a guy just credited as “Drifter” (Tony Crupi, THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES HOLLYWOOD, who also wrote the screenplay) as he walks into the mountain town of Midvale (population 18,000) wearing an army jacket, looking like John Rambo in FIRST BLOOD, following a woman up a long dirt road to her house, spying on her through her windows until it’s dark, then knocking on the door and telling her “I just got laid off and could use something to eat.” She seems nervous, but not as nervous as she ought to. She makes him some sandwiches and says he doesn’t owe here anything for it, but he starts chopping wood in her backyard. Then he hangs around, but she ignores him, gets back to cooking, and doesn’t mention him to her friends when they get there.
She’s Jessie (Molly Cheek, DRAG ME TO HELL), and the movie centers around her dinner party. Her friend Amy (Laura Melton, no other credits) is coming over, and Amy’s husband John (Bonaduce) is making a cake, and bringing his blandly hunky friend from work, Bob (Christopher Holder, “Boardmember #2,” THE RUNESTONE) to try to hook up with Jessie. John is the manager of a small clothing boutique called Bouboulina, which seems to be a real place still in business in Topanga, California.
These are very milquetoast people with big hair and thick sweaters, but they piqued my interest during their dinner conversation when Bob explained his background. He says he’s from Vancouver, BC and yes, he works at Bouboulina with John, but he’s in fact a writer for “The Canadian Star” working on “a series of articles on how people feel about today’s problems” by taking on “odd jobs.” It’s unclear if John is going to be screwed over when he moves to the next job or why he’s not more insulted by being used as an “every day average person” for Canadian research purposes.
Jessie does seem to fall for this undercover Canadian journalist, but when they’re close to making out in front of the fire she tells him she barely knows him and makes him leave.
There were actually supposed to be two more people at the dinner party, but they got murdered. Their car broke down, and it’s one of those scenes where they’re checking the engine on a dark road but somehow there’s one light behind the camera shining on them. The engine is dead but the lady says, “ Honey, can’t we just get going? We’re really late for dinner and Jessie is gonna kill us!” (Get it?)
Although the acting is fine, the directing is very crude – I was amused by the way the whole dinner party is filmed straight on from one side of the table and everyone conveniently sitting on one side to face the camera, like The Last Supper. And there’s a blatant “you guys wanna jerk off?” bath scene that keeps cutting between nice shots of the actress’s face (no nudity) and cruddy shots of a double’s naked body from the neck down. You gotta wonder if these cash-in slasher directors didn’t recognize the masterful filmmaking in HALLOWEEN or were just being realistic about their inability to compete with it.
If you’re looking for “good kills,” there are two car-related ones (lowering a car onto a mechanic, shoving a face into a moving engine part). No makeup effects are used in their depiction, but at least they came up with a couple ideas beyond slashed throats. That’s more than you can say for some of these.
For the most part this is as generic as they come, but there’s a little bit of quirkiness in individual scenes and characters. The police are introduced in a scene about having to clean up dog shit in their headquarters. There’s a character named Deputy Carlos (Santos Morales, “Store Clerk,” MANIAC COP 2) who’s very odd – in his first scene he seems to be retyping something from a book, staring down through bifocals, typing with one finger. And I like that the male leads are dudes who work at this weird clothing store, talking about “that shipment of jeans” and stuff. That’s not standard.
I should note that there’s also an actor in the movie somewhere credited as “Ben Dover.” I guess he’s a porn star and musician but also was in the original Widows mini-series.
You may have figured out the twist even from my description. Obviously when they show us this drifter we’re supposed to assume he’s the escaped killer, but we know that doesn’t make any sense, because they were deliberately hiding the identity of the killer up until that point. I was even on to them when the drifter walked into the house and touched a knife, but admittedly when he abducted Jessie I started to think maybe I was wrong. It’s weird though, he just falls asleep and doesn’t notice her sneaking off, then catches up with her again, she makes him more sandwiches which they eat together, and she offers, “I could make you dinner. I could make you something really special.” Trying to offer money for her life, she says “My father owns a construction company,” which I initially misheard as “confection company,” which would’ve been so much better.
Meanwhile there’s this subplot about how Bob wants to see Jessie again, but John jokingly tells him she’s seeing some other guy named Nick (which he made up – kind of a dick move). Bob can’t get ahold of her because the phone is off the hook, and he gets increasingly jealous of this fictional Nick. This starts to seem like it could end up being some bullshit, like saying if only Jessie would’ve given it up to this Nice Guy (I mean, he’s Canadian even!) he would’ve been with her to protect her from the maniac, and luckily he’s going to assert himself, go to the house, and come to the rescue!
Nah, don’t worry, it’s exactly what we all guessed early on: the drifter is crazy, but Bob is the escaped mental patient who’s been killing everybody. The reveal happens when he shows up at John and Amy’s house all mad about Jessie and “Nick.” John is on the couch watching basketball and eating a bowl of ice cream, which he notes is home made. Bob rams his head into the TV set.
Actually it seems like maybe you’re still not supposed to figure it out until the cops find the drifter dead and say it’s not the prisoner. Anyway, I like that Jessie is caught in the middle of competing toxic men. The one who ties up her and the random lost guy who shows up at the house looking for directions (I forgot to mention that part) is actually the least bad of the two. I wonder if this is one of today’s problems he was gonna ask people’s opinions on.
There’s no strong reason for DEADLY INTRUDER not to be forgotten, but I got kind of a kick out of it, which is about the best I can hope for digging through unheralded slashers at this point. Good job DEADLY INTRUDER.