Now the promise made on the Philosophy page arises and threatens to bite us on the butt. Good luck if you choose to seek out Dark Intruder; Something Weird used to stock it, but I'm not sure they still do. Psychotronic lists ShockToons as a distributor. In the words of a friend's father, who was CEO of Republic Airlines, hey, I got mine.
Dark Intruder stands as a monument to a phenomenon which will be familiar to any Bad Movie Fan: The-Really-Cool-Movie-I-Saw-As-A-Child Syndrome. Like Attack of the Giant Leeches, which severely traumatized me as a child and is now merely laughable, Dark Intruder has lost a lot in my translation into an adult (a lot of people would say they're still waiting for that translation, but that's beside the point).
Which is not to say it's laughable, like Attack - no, there is much coolness to recommend Dark Intruder. It's actually a TV pilot, for a series that was to be called Black Cloak. When the series wasn't picked up, Universal thriftily released it as a theatrical film, much like the next year's (possibly superior, but still similar) Chamber of Horrors.
The story takes place in 1890 San Francisco, where a series of gruesome murders attracts the attention of Brett Kingsford (Leslie Nielsen), a playboy detective with a secret crime lab, a library of occult tomes, and an invaluable dwarf assistant (Charles Bolender). His friend, Robert (Mark Richman), soon to be married to Evelyn (Judi Meredith), keeps having trance-outs at the oddest times, and looks to be a likely suspect - especially since he knows the victims. However, the killer growls like a beast and kills with a set of murderous bestial claws, two attributes which Robert lacks.
Long story short - Robert had a deformed siamese twin which was separated at birth, and is not only killing everyone who knows of its existance in preparation for taking over Robert's body by occult means, but is also possibly the embodiment of an ancient Sumerian demon.
This short description really doesn't do the plot justice - there are numerous little creepy details that elevate Dark Intruder above the norm. The killer leaves an ivory carving at each murder, and with each successive murder the carving mutates more. What appears to be a statuette of a demon in the possession of Kingsford's chinese mystic friend is not made of stone, but mummified flesh and bone. The same mystic makes mention of "banished gods...forever attempting to return to Earth", making this one of the earliest Lovecraftian films ever made.
Which is probably why I found Dark Intruder so cool: I first saw it when I was discovering Lovecraft. Had Black Cloak been picked up, I wonder if the series would have gone on in a similar vein... Probably not. I also indulge in wild fantasies of an episode featuring famed San Fran eccentric Emperor Norton. Admittedly tough, since Norton died in 1880. But I digress.
Dark Intruder is flawed, in many ways, however. Though director Harvey Hart keeps the camera moving, the proceedings all too often show their small screen origin. Scenes which cry out for another take are left as is, the "that's good enough" procedure of a rushed TV shooting schedule. Much of the horrific detail happens offscreen, and we get to hear people talk about it. And the atmosphere, so important in a period piece like this, just doesn't gel. At a running time of only 63 minutes, forget about character development - we only have time for the broadest possible strokes - even in the main character.
Why is Kingsford a two-fisted master of disguise (see below)? What is his history? Why does he have this huge collection of occult paraphernalia? We tend to forget Leslie Nielsen was once a leading man, and there's a good reason for that: he wasn't very good. He is far better these days in his second career, lampooning himself in roles like this one. And though Barre Lyndon's plot is head and shoulders above most TV offerings (and a lot of cinema), the dialogue is tepid in the extreme, and the "idle ne'er-do-well" flip dialogue given to Kingsford's Scarlet Pimpernel-manque persona is incredibly irritating. Equally irritating is Judi Meredith's Evelyn, but I suspect that is more symptomatic of the time than Ms. Meredith's acting skills; as one writer has put it, "It was the sixties! We didn't know women were good for anything!"
One of the devices which would have continued through the series regards the fact that, in order to maintain his "outsider" status and not jeopardize his sources, Kingsford must don some sort of disguise whenever he wishes to confer with the police commissioner (Gilbert Green). All well and good, except that Kingsford's first disguise consists of striding into Police Headquarters with... a British accent! What a chameleon!
Flawed, yes, but an attempt at something thoughtful, and that always deserves applause in my book. Bud Westmore's make-up is good as usual, especially the killer's claws. And speaking of the killer, who goes by the name Professor Malaki - it's played by none other than Werner Klemperer, most famous for Col. Klink in Hogan's Heroes. What more could you want?
Possibly, the same film made by Hammer. Or Amicus. Or Tigon. That would have been cool.
Nice try. Better plot than any number of films I could name (who has the time?).
- November 2, 1997